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Chamber orchestra newbie questions

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by tornadobass, Apr 2, 2006.

  1. tornadobass

    tornadobass Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Iowa City, Iowa
    Last year, you guys helped my out quite a bit for my debut in a community theatre pit orchestra for Secret Garden.

    This year, I'm playing in a chamber orchestra of 4 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, 1 bass (me) and for at least one piece 2 oboes, 2 french horns, flute and piano.

    One piece is actually written for bass and is short and simple.

    The other two are bass/cello parts and they're tough for me in spots. One is Vivaldi's Spring. The other is Mozart's Symphony No 29 in A major.

    Two basic questions. First, on the doubled bass/cello parts do some bassists simplify the higher/quicker parts to help keep them cleaner? Or is there another way of dealing with these parts besides laying out for a measure here and there?

    Second is a question of bows. I play French style and have two. One is an older (probably German) bow with black hair. The other is a newer Asian import with white hair. I've asked about these recently in the Bows forum here, because the black hair is much darker sounding.

    Which bow would be more appropriate for the chamber orchestra setting? I'm worried that the white hair bow would show intonation problems more obviously, but perhaps that can be managed by playing closer to the fingerboard on exposed parts?

    Thanks for any suggestions to help make my debut more successful...I have three weeks to learn the parts. We have only one rehearsal the night before the performance in a local church.
  2. Dr Rod

    Dr Rod

    Aug 19, 2005
    You are up for some of the most fun you'll ever have as a bassist. Chamber orch is real fun.

    One shouldn't simplify the parts, it used to be considered acceptable 60 years ago, but not nowadays. If you really can't play the parts, then you have to fake them, just do the best you can to follow the line and try to hit the notes that are on strong beats/notes (1 and 4 in a 4/4 bar or 4 note group, for example). This is a very important skill to have.

    White hair or black hair will have no effect on your intonation. You'll just have to work on being in tune. You will have a big responsibility as only bassist, you will determine whether the lowest note of the chord is in tune or not. If you have a hard time listening, you can put your left ear against the neck/fingerboard/scroll. This will allow you to hear yourself better in acoustically difficult situations.
  3. JoeyNaeger

    JoeyNaeger Guest Commercial User

    Jun 24, 2005
    Houston, TX
    Bass Specialist, Lisle Violin Shop
    Just use whichever bow does what you want it to. I play in a slightly larger chamber orchestra and I can tell you you're in for quite an experience. While faking is a very useful skill, you're going to much more exposed than if you were playing in a full sized orchestra. This means you ought to have a good handle on all you parts basically. It's going to be hard, but it'll force you to get better. It wasn't untill I began playing in a chamber orchestra that Ibegan to listen to whats going on and learn to fit into the sound of the esnemble.
  4. tornadobass

    tornadobass Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Iowa City, Iowa
    Thanks for the ideas. I'm working on the parts and hoping for the best. I've actually owned a double bass since 1983, but other than practicing arco at home and doing two musicals in the past year, I haven't played in an orchestra since right after I started

    Most of my playing is on EUB in a blues band...how's that for a contrast with chamber orchestra?

    BTW, is it common to find the bass part doubled with cello? Anything to work on the help it mesh nicely?
  5. Dr Rod

    Dr Rod

    Aug 19, 2005
    Yes, it is actually quite common to have the bass and cello part in the same music, and for them to be identical or almost. This happens until about Beethoven and then the romantics tend to write separate parts.

    Just listen carefully and try to blend/tune/phrase/etc...with the group.

    Good luck
  6. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.

    I have done both Mozart and Vivaldi in a Chamber Orchestra as well as the Trout Quintet twice. This week we will do an all Mozart symphony concert. The Bass mostly doubles the Cello but has 'tacit' sections where the Bass is too heavy sounding. Some of the lines the Bass plays were really written for the Cello but there is no mercy for a Bassist that I have seen so far.
  7. tornadobass

    tornadobass Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Iowa City, Iowa
    In working on this today, I had to stop a few times and wonder if some parts would be easier for cello tuned in 5ths, such as octave jumps or quick arpeggios. I did find a few spots in Vivaldi where just one cello plays and the bass/other cello drop out...and then back to tutti.

    Still nervous...but how to learn otherwise?
  8. Ashley Long

    Ashley Long

    Jan 3, 2004

    In the Mozart Symphony 29 there are little bits that are not played on the bass as part of 'authentic' perciod performance. Perhaps the most important part in this is in the first movement where there should be trills written on the first quaver of a three note sequential-type cell; my advice would be to leave these to the celli (ie: play only the written note at its correct duration) , in my experience played on bass also they tend to make the texture too heavy when the texture should be light and jovial. Also, the articulation should always be short. The arpeggios at the end of the first movement are quite possible with practise on regular double bass its just unfortunate that due to the key signature they require a lot of shifting! Yes some parts are more suitable for fifths tuning but at the period in which this was written, many players were still using violone, often with Viennese tuning which outlines triadic patterns thus making these type of phrases much easier. When Ive played this piece a few times in the past Ive always done it with early music ensembles on period instruments and therefore played Violone. Ive got the bass and continuo part in my archive at home so if you would like any more specific help just give me a shout and we can chat about it then!

    Best Wishes
  9. tornadobass

    tornadobass Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Iowa City, Iowa
    Great ideas! Thanks so much...
  10. tornadobass

    tornadobass Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Iowa City, Iowa
    Different piece, different puzzle...

    I'm working on Vivaldi's Spring from 4 Seasons (are we all?)

    On the 3rd movement, there's a section at bar 29 that has a series of 8th notes...F#-G#-A or E-F#-G# etc. with a slur over each group of 3 that is hard to play smoothly because of a shift in each group.

    What a good way of playing these cleanly?

    I'm trying each group in one bow, but the string cross is hard to execute. Should I just articulate each note instead?
  11. Dr Rod

    Dr Rod

    Aug 19, 2005
    as far as articulation goes, I would advise you to take a look at the conductor's score. Very often our parts are not very accurate. If the score does not articulate, then you shouldn't either.
  12. I don't know the piece well enough to comment specifically on that phrase.

    That said, slurs with a string crossing and a shift, can be done smoothly, even at slow tempos, but alot depends on bow technique.

    Sometimes, depending on tempo and octave, it is actually easier to keep all the notes on a single string. In fact the tonal quality is often better when the slur is kept on a single string.
  13. tornadobass

    tornadobass Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Iowa City, Iowa
    This is something new for me...the single string bowing seems cleaner...I keep hitting the crossed string when I try it that way.
  14. dbassnut


    Apr 1, 2008
    Hi guys,
    I too have a similar question. I'm currently playing in a small orchestra and am the only bassist there. The thing is, some of the parts assigned to me are actually cello parts. Normally, I try to play everything but a new conductor commented that the bass section including the cellos (there are 6 cellos + me on the double bass) were sounding too heavy.
    Now, as I am the only double bass player there, I have the freedom of modifying the scores a little. What I was thinking of was playing pizz instead of arco where the cello scores show a 'p', & switching back to arco on the louder passages.
    Any advice? The piece that I am currently working on is "Por una cabeza" from The Scent of a Woman". There are also a few similar pop pieces that are also written for the cello.
  15. One thing you can do, if your technique is up to it, is shift up an octave if it's too heavy. Or lay out, or, as you said, switch to pizz. Whatever you do, ask the conductor. If the conductor just wants less volume, simply play quieter.
  16. dbassnut


    Apr 1, 2008
    Thanks Andrew. Will check with the conductor but will try to shift up an octave as well. :)

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