Posts Tagged ‘Tony Osborne’

Make No Little Plans

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized.

I’ve decided to take this famous quote from Daniel Burnham (1846-1912) to heart.

For too long, this ensemble has been built on little plans. Mostly, the plan has been to wait by the phone for some arts organization to call, inquiring about fees or offering a performance. This has not proved a productive way to get lots of performance opportunities. When a performance has arisen, I’ve scrambled to pull together some repertoire and assemble a cast of players (drawing on a group of familiars).

While I’ve been basically satisfied with the results, it’s not the ultimate goal.

I hesitate to state the true ultimate goal, for fear of sounding insanely over ambitious, but maybe in a future post.

Back to the subject at hand: bigger plans! I have decided that I need to prepare a program that is ambitious and interesting, in advance of any planned performance. I need to find the players that can execute it, and then schedule several performances, as a goal or target. And then work like the dickens to make a great show of it. And really, I’d like to record the result and make it available for sale.

(I’ve spent a fair amount of time at this, with not a whole lot to show for it. A recording would be handsome documentary evidence of the work I’ve done.)

And I want to pick ambitious, challenging and interesting repertoire for this endeavor. At the moment, I am trying to decide between two pieces as the anchor for the performance:

There is a third possibility, Bjorn Berkhout’s Rise, which we have performed in the past, but I feel a need to acknowledge some of the ‘history’ of the double bass quartet.

The program would be rounded out with some lighter fare, probably one of Tony Osborne‘s recent compositions, perhaps some transcriptions.

Or perhaps there is some epic work for bass quartet that I’m not aware of.

I would love to hear what you think in the comments. Which is the work more in need of a current playing? Which would you rather hear, or buy a copy of? (And if you’re a member of the strings subgroup of the Professional Musician’s Network on LinkedIn, I’ve created a poll there asking the same question.)



Creating a Program (for March 10, 2013)

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

One of the challenges of organizing a performance is to decide what to play and what order to play it in.

At the 2013 Chicago Bass Festival, we played a short concert. And I mean, really, short. When we got done and I looked at my watch, I realized that we would not have a full set for the March 10 performance. So we added a couple of pieces.

At our last rehearsal, I wanted to make sure we would have a program of a decent length. So I sketched out the pieces in what I think is a good order, and timed each piece as we ran through it. Add ’em up and we’re just under an hour of music. (See the column of figures in the picture below.) With some conversation in between pieces, this will be a nice concert.

Program for March 10, sketched out on the blackboard in our rehearsal space

Program for March 10, sketched out on the blackboard in our rehearsal space

The other aspect of a program is to try to have a nice flow from beginning to end. “Wildebeests and Warthogs” by Dan Armstrong is fun way to open the concert. It will show the versatility and flexibility of our instruments, and probably many audience members will be surprised at how nimble we can be. It’s a good opener.

Next, we move to transcriptions of motets by Tomas Luis da Victoria. This is a super sharp jump in style from “Wildebeests.” Arranged for bass quartet by Michael Cameron, these three motets will sound great in a nice resonant space.

As it turns out, one motif in this concert will be the movement across time — meaning across the eras in which pieces are written. Jan Alm‘s Kvartett is a contemporary piece, published in  1988. That’s followed up by the tender and short Lullaby by contemporary composer Paul Ramsier.

The peaceful mood laid out by Lullaby is however, short-lived. Because Teppo Hauta-Aho‘s Why? is a dark and brooding lament. It may be a bit of a shock! So we will probably insert a short period of conversation with the organizer of Sounds of the South Loop, Kim Diehnelt to put some space between these pieces.

Why? is so emotionally intense that I want to offset its impact before going on. At the Bass Festival, I programmed Lullaby to follow Why?. But I’ll be honest with you, that combination was really draining. I said as much from the stage at the festival. So this time, I’m following Why? with a transcription of a Georg Philipp Telemann sonata for four violins (TWV 40:202). It has the kind of motoric rhythm and simple, classical harmonies that should serve as an antidote for the passion of Teppo’s piece.

If you look at the image on the blackboard (yes, the Chicago Waldorf School is kind enough to let us use their music room as a rehearsal space, and they have big, beautiful blackboards, lovingly seasoned by the teachers–yes, there is an art to seasoning a blackboard, but that’s not our subject now), you’ll see “Fugues 9, 5.” Joel DiBartolo arranged two fugues from Bach’s second Well-Tempered Clavier. Since number five has a motif very very similar to the final movement of the Telemann sonata, I decided during our rehearsal to play the ninth fugue before the fifth, in order to avoid a repetitive feeling.

Finally, we’re reprising Tony Osborne‘s Rocket Man, a piece the Chicago Bass Ensemble had a hand in commissioning, and which we premiered last month. Due to its high energy and virtuosic playing, it’s a good closer!

So, that is a summary of my thinking behind the program. I’m posting this at 9:30 pm on Thursday, and haven’t taken the time to link all the pieces — though most of them do have links somewhere on the web. If you read this before I get back and add all the detail, you can enjoy finding more information via our friends at Google. I do intend to get back here shortly and add more links for you.

Cheers! I hope you enjoy Sounds of the South Loop on March 10!

– Jacque


(updated 8 March, 2013, with links for most of the composers, arrangers and pieces. Many links selected using the “hmm, that looks good even though I didn’t read it” method. You may use your discretion when following and reading.)

Second Presbyterian Church Chicago – March 10, 2013

Friday, February 8th, 2013

We’ll be playing at the Second Presbyterian Church, March 10, 2013.

2:30 pm

1936 S. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60616

This is the first season of a new music series at Second Presbyterian, Sounds of the South Loop. We’re honored to be a part of it!

Suggested donation ranges from $8 for seniors buying online up to $18 for non-seniors at the door. Follow the link above.


  • Dan Armstrong’s “Wildebeests and Warthogs”
  • “Three Spanish Motets” by Tomas Luis de Victoria, arranged by Michael Cameron
  • Jan Alm’s “Quartet #1”
  • Paul Ramsier’s “Lullaby”
  • Teppa Hauta-Aho’s “Why?”
  • Telemann’s Concerto #2 in D for four Violins — arranged for four basses in G
  • Two Bach Fugues arranged by Joel DiBartolo
  • Tony Osborne’s “Rocket Man”

I’ve written some thoughts about creating a program.

We’re also honored to have Michael Cameron joining us for this concert. Michael is a tremendous bassist. He has performed with many great ensembles and composers, and has a number of recordings to his name. And, if you were reading carefully above, you’ll see that he is an arranger and composer as well. You can read his full bio on his website. All you need to know now is what kind of car he drives, which you can find on our website.

Please visit this post again to learn of any updates to the program.

(Posted Friday, February 8; updated February 27; updated March 6 and 7)

Chicago Bass Festival – 2013

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

We’ll be playing at the Chicago Bass Festival on February 3, 2013. Our performance will take place at 2:00 pm.

The festival itself runs from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Registration information can be found at the link above, or go directly to the registration page. Registration costs $100 (save $25 if you register before January 30).*

Bennett-Gordon Hall at the Ravinia Festival grounds in Highland Park.

We’ll be playing:

What’s the theme for this concert? Ummm, mostly I guess it’s “living composers!”

“Why?” is a dark, brooding lament written in memory of Ovidiu Badila.

“Rocket Man” is one of two pieces composed by Tony Osborne during 2012, a joint commission sponsored in part by the Chicago Bass Ensemble. No, it’s not about David Bowie or Werner von Braun, its accelerating rhythms are in honor of Robert Stephenson, an engineer who designed the “Rocket” steam locomotive. According to the publisher, this is the premiere performance of this work.

It wasn’t until doing research for this post that I learned of the passing of Joel DiBartolo, longtime Tonight Show bassist, who made many arrangements for bass ensembles. Two we’ll perform are fugues from Book Two of J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, nos. 5 and 9. If you’ll tolerate a bit of irony, this dead composer and dead arranger are the exception on this program. Of course, we’re honored by the contributions of both to our musical world.

Likely to follow “Why?” in the program, “Lullaby” is a sweet, simple little lullaby. It will be a nice tonic to the much darker piece. Ramsier has written a lot of music for the double bass, including pieces performed often by Gary Karr. Here’s an interview as part of the Contrabass Conversations series. “Lullaby” is available as a piece for bass and piano, as well as a version for bass and orchestra, but I’m told that the original conception is for bass quartet.

Once upon a time published by Discordia Music, “Wildebeests and Warthogs” is snappy, challenging and fun. The notes refer to an in-joke in the composer’s family. Dan has previously been a clinician at the Chicago Bass Festival.


* If you’re a fan of ours, and really can’t make it to our March 10 concert, talk to me, maybe I can get you a pass to the festival.