Double Bass Auditioning Material

Some time ago I noticed an advertisement for a principal bass in the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam, Holland.  One of the requirements for the candidates was that they play a Bottesini and Vanhal concerto.
In the early days of my career I gave many auditions and was told on several occasions that they didn’t want to hear a lot of harmonics and skating around the  top of the instrument but  they wanted to hear solos from the lower part of the bass.  The sound one made seemed to be the main concern. Because of this I changed my audition pieces to the orchestral range and without boasting, I got a lot of  jobs by doing so.

Willem Mengelberg, a onetime conductor of the Concertgebouw, made his feelings known very forcibly as to what a true double bass sound should be, especially a principal bass – strong and authoritative.  I can’t write the words he used because they are unprintable.

Edouard van Beinum who became principal conductor of the Concertgebouw sometime later, also had this concern for a big bass sound. I played many concerts for him and, I can tell you, he really loved the sound of the basses, at times flogging us to pull out that extra bit of tone.

In 1946 I listened to the Concertgebouw conducted by van Beinum, in London.  The main piece on the programme was Berlioz’ Symphony Fantastique, and the basses made a great sound. Later, I listened to the Czech Philharmonic, and their bass section sounded magnificent in Dvorak’s New World Symphony.

Considering that 99% of bassists make their living by playing in an orchestra, (everybody cannot be a Gary Karr – Gary is unique,) I can’t see why some audition requirements are for bass concertos and not the repertoire.  True, there are many bassists quite capable of playing concertos beautifully,  but  they play on a small solo bass, the strings are set lower on the bridge,  solo strings are used, and  usually the bass is tuned up a tone, thereby making it a kind of bastard instrument,  with a much different sound than that of an orchestral bass.

Often transcriptions are made of violin, cello, oboe etc. sonatas and concertos, but what’s the point of playing them for an orchestral audition?  I felt so strongly that the average listener would probably like to hear what an orchestral bass sound is like that I made a CD on an orchestral bass tuned GDAE The sound is gruffer than a solo bass, I grant you, but then, a bass is a bass is a bass!

So, all you young hopefuls who have been practicing for years and are now out there auditioning for jobs, take heed of my advice; I’ve been there and done it.

Published in: on November 15, 2008 at 12:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Professor Robert Meyer’s Guide to Auditions. Some Unusual Difficult Pieces #6

You will always find some difficult passages in Leos Janácek’s works. Two examples are a) in the opera “The Cunning Little Vixen”. Commencing at the Allegro after Fig. 4 Act 1 there are 31 bars of harmonics for one bass solo and following that 2 bars 4/4 before fig. 29 there is a long difficult passage.

b) In the opera Katya Kabanova there are a couple of bars bass solo that are a trifle difficult. I forget exactly where they are but you can find them easily by perusing the score You would do well to find both of these excerpts and put them in your scrap book as they have come up occasionally in bass auditions for principal bass positions in opera orchestras. Some conductors like to catch you off guard so be prepared!

Published in: on June 15, 2008 at 12:41 pm  Comments (1)  
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Professor Robert Meyer’s Guide to Auditions. Some Unusual Difficult Pieces #5

No doubt you have been practicing some of the many difficult bass parts that Prokofieff wrote- his symphonies, Lt Kijé etc, but there are a couple of his ballets that you might not find in an excerpt book which you should look at if you happen to have to audition for a ballet job.

The first I can think of is his ballet “Cinderella”, round about Fig.34. It is one of the main themes; first written in the minor later changing to the major a couple of bars later. Although it l looks quite simple I have known some bassists who have fallen down on it.

The second is his ballet “Le Fils Prodigue” (The Prodigal Son), which I have known to be given at some ballet auditions. Starting at Fig.1 it carries on for 20 bars, then at Fig. 5 there is a very exposed 7 bar soli passage.

Another ballet of his, “Romeo and Juliet” is not too difficult but it’s well worth casting an eye on it beforehand if you know it’s coming up in your repertoire.

Professor Meyer’s Guide to Double Bass Auditions. Unusual Difficult Solos.

Further to my other articles on auditions I thought I would mention some unusual pieces that I have been asked to play at auditions during the course of my career.

The English composer Sir Granville Bantock’s compositions are not played very much nowadays.  He was a prolific composer, having written operas, ballets, choral works, orchestral works, chamber music, music for harp, cello, violin and viola and many songs.

He lived from 1868 until 1946 and was Principal of the Birmingham and Midland Institute School of Music where I first studied the double bass with Arthur Cockerill, the principal bass of the City of Birmingham Orchestra as it was then known, and the BBC Midland Orchestra.

His pieces were often performed by the BBC orchestras.  Sir Adrian Boult was a champion of his compositions.

You can always count on a little bit of solo bass in his works.  There is his Comedy Overture  “The Pierrot of the Minute” which contains a difficult, exposed solo that I was once asked to play at a BBC audition.  Another one to look out for is his Tone Poem #3, “Fifine at the Fair”.

If you care to spend time browsing through his works you will find many other bass solos.

There are many  books of extracts of  difficult bits for the bass but in future I shall try to give some relatively unknown ones which to the best of my knowledge aren’t in any collections.

Professor Meyer’s advice to those about to take up the double bass #4

Several years have elapsed during which time you have been studying and practicing assiduously, and one day your teacher tells that you are now ready for an audition.  Are you really?  Maybe you have a fine technique but have you spent much time learning the orchestral repertoire?  You can buy many books of orchestral excerpts and you should work your way right through them particularly Richard Strauss, Wagner , Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms etc. Also it is a good thing to have a scrap book to jot down any difficult passages you come across, because you will certainly be given some sight reading.

Perhaps one day you will notice an ad for a bass player in a magazine or hear it by word of mouth.  If you decide to try for it arrive early so that you can have a warm up. Enter the room with a confident, pleasant air, try to be clear and articulate in answering any questions

At some auditions you may feel that they are trying to intimidate you, but as a rule most people are pleasant and understanding.

Sometimes there are so many applicants, all of a high standard, that I wonder if it wouldn’t be a bad idea to choose them as some people choose  horses in a race, by sticking a pin randomly in the list.

Whatever you do, don’t be too disappointed if you don’t get the job, don’t forget that it has been good experience and you may be luckier next time. But, keep trying and if you really have worked hard, and also have the talent then eventually you will succeed.  Good luck!

Published in: on March 31, 2008 at 9:15 am  Leave a Comment  
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