The Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra

The Moscow  Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra  directed by Vladimir Spivakov, Violin,  at the Chan Centre, Vancouver, B.C.  Thursday, May 8th. 2002

Vivaldi, Violin Concerto in E Minor;   Rossini, Sonata for strings No. 3;  Boccherini,  Sinfonia op. 12 No. 4 in D minor, “La Casa del Diavolo”.;  Tchaikovsky, Serenade for Strings in C Major, op. 48

It is forty-five years ago since I played with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, directed by Rudolf Barshai on viola.  I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, whether the Moscow Chamber Orchestra has been disbanded and been replaced by the Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, which is approximately the same size and composition of the MCO, and consists of top-ranking soloists and principal chairs of the great orchestras of Russia.

Last night’s concert confirmed that they were virtuosi, indeed.  There was a shimmering, brilliant sound from the strings and the niceties of  dynamics were strictly observed as well as cohesion in attack.  This, to me, separates the truly fine orchestras from the mediocre.

I was surprised to see the  two bassists playing with French bows.  Most of the bassists I knew in Russia played with the German bow.

Spivakov played the Vivaldi Violin Concerto with great ease and with a lovely sound.

I have usually played the Rossini Sonatas with string quartet, but with  7/7/4/3/2 strings it came off wonderfully well as an orchestral show-piece.  The basses sounded good in their little solos as did all the other strings.

The Boccherini was exquisite.  The two horns played well and never obtruded.  Instead of two oboes, as in the MCO, there was an oboe and a trumpet who nevertheless combined well.

Maybe it’s only the Russians who can work up a spirit of homeland in the Tchaikowsky, especially in the last movement, but the performance of the “Serenade” was one of the best I have ever heard.

Then followed encore after encore until finally Spivakov came out on to the stage with an accordionist who brought the house down. There were many Russians in the audience who clapped in time with the  music and in my mind’s eye I could picture a rollicking gathering round a campfire somewhere in  the Steppes of Central Asia.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the whole performance.  Spivakov is a fine conductor, and I thought he obtained much zest from his group with his tempi, always on the fast side, yet he could dwell on a little bit of schmaltz when it needed it.

I’ll end on a humorous note.  I was glad to see there was no, or very little tuning on stage, as with all the Russian orchestras I have listened to.  I think we in the West could well learn from this.

There was a famous Arab Sultan who was invited to listen to an orchestra when he visited London.  Afterwards he was asked what was to him  the best part of the concert and he said “The conjurers seated at the back of the orchestra who made their instruments disappear (the trombones) and the piece the orchestra played before the man with the stick came on stage”!

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Professor Meyer’s advice to those taking up the double bass #2

So, you’ve decided to make bass playing your career, so what should be your first step?  Answer, find the best teacher you possibly can, but where do you search?

In North America the route seems to be to attend a recognized university and obtain a degree.  There are pros and cons to this.  The pros are that you will receive an all round musical education, and also enjoy the experience of playing with a university orchestra.  The cons are that university professors come in various degrees of competence, and, also, if you want to be a professional bassist many of the arcane classes that you will be forced to attend won’t necessarily advance your main goal.  Every professor thinks that his/her subject is the most important and all their students are given piles of work to do which leaves very little time for practicing the double bass, which should be your major concern.

I have taught at Conservatories , Schools of  Music, Universities etc. so I know of what I speak.  Some teachers are excellent, but, alas I have to admit there are some professors who shouldn’t be holding down (or trying to hold down) their job.

Schools of Music and Music Conservatories seem to allow much more time for a player to concentrate on his/her instrument.  I played many concerts with the Moscow (Russia) Chamber Orchestra and got a very good sense of  their musical education which I greatly admire.   Firstly, they had to gain admission to one of Russia’s big Music Conservatories, which was very difficult to do. Secondly, they were all sorted out  for their perceived ability.  It depended on their final marks what sort of job they were offered. If the marks were low, they could , maybe, get a job in a circus or music hall, if they were higher they would have the entrée to a symphony orchestra and if they were in the highest echelon they would be eligible for the Moscow Chamber Orchestra or similar groups. Soloists were another matter.  If they showed exceptional talent they were groomed right from the start in a class all of their own.