240: Thierry Barbé on expressive music, German bow, and French basses, by Jason Heath

Many thank to Jason Heath for his warm audio interview by skype in july 2016 http://contrabassconversations.com/2016/08/18/240-thierry-barbe-expressive-music-german-bow-french-basses/  Here is a written resume:

- tell us about your early years in music

Well, I am not from a mucician familly. I took piano lessons at 10 and began the double bass at 15 because my piano teacher was also double bassist in the city orchestra ( Metz, east France). Her husband was the double bass professor and principal bass. Maurice Leblan was a student from Delmas Boussagol

- what was the experience of studying at CNSMDP like? it must be interesting to now be teaching at this conservatory after having attended there

In 1979, CNSMDP was a great school, with traditions coming from Cesar Franck, leading to Debussy, Ravel, Messiaen. I not only studied the double bass with Jean-marc Rollez, but also High levels of solfège, famous in France. I decided then to continue with the real class of music analysis with Jacques Casterede ( Chemins, Leduc) harmonie and counterpoint with Jean-Claude Raynaud, the top of the finest traditional french professors. What was not enough developped at that time in the conservatory was the Move of contemporary music and the new historicaly informed wave for early music. We played contemporary style music only at the end of the year because it was an obligatory piece commissionned by the conservatoire. Later, I played Theraps from Xenakis 2 times with Xenakis in the audience, and I opened my mind more to new ideas.

Nowadays, things has changed in the more contemporary music sense. For instance I pushed to the fact that Valentine from Druckman  became a classic pièce for my students.  However, me and my class are remaining  expressive music players, in baroque, classic, romantique or modern music, solo and of course orchestral.  This seems to be my nature and character of students coming to me.

- association with the International Society of Bassists.

My first convention was in Oklahoma city in 2007. I liked it so much!   At that time, I had met Hans Sturm in François Rabbath’s kitchen, and He invited me to go and play in Oklahoma, invited me to the ISB board, and gave me his support to organize my project, the big évent of my life, the Paris Bass 2008  convention in my conservatoire. Since this one, the européen bass society is born and I am proud to be the first who kicked the bass. When I go in the ISB convention, I feel myself exactly as a bridge between the american people, that I like very much,  and the européens. But before that, I must must say that I am still président of the ABCDF, the french bass society. I was editing 4 reviews per year, organizing mini bass compétitions each year, interviewing like you do a lot of bassists from all over the world for the french review. After Bass 2008 event, my very good team was tired, and we are now in search of people with new energy, which is not easy to find in France…

 - you have studied both electro-acoustic music – have you

Yes, it was my interest to study every kind of music. I wrote then pièces for db and electronic

 - you have a background in conducting as well – have you

Yes, but it is  humanly a very difficult job !  I prefer my double bassist job…

- you are a composer as well as a performer – what are your major influences compositionally?

I compose in the style of Debussy to Shostakovitch, which are extensions from my musical studies. This is what I like : expressive phrases with nice subtle harmonies

- tell us about your approach to teaching double bass technique

For me, first, the shape of db, the mesures of vibrating string, the position of the bridge on the top, the action of the strings, the tension of the string must first be in harmony with the body of the student. DB is a so big instrument, that it must be adapted to the player’s body, and not the reverse. Even if we play big basses at the orchestra, we can make a personnal régulation for each of us. For solo playing, I prefer modern instruments because we can adapt perfectly those détails. This is the first point to see with the makers, and I insist about that, because everybody  are not  tall with long arms and big hands.

Then, we can work to get a good technique. The technique I teach is inspired by  techniques that I from all over the world. Roumanian, french, italian, … it is a cello-like technique. The fingerings are based on Simandl and can be extended with thumb position in the neck, and thumb pivot, for the fast tempi. I play and teach both french and german bow. I think we need both bows to save our shoulders in a pit Opera orchestra to which I belong. Also, for me, vibrato and expressivity are very important, as well as precise attack on the bow.

- you have experienced with several technical styles over the years

Absolutelly,  first was the traditionnal french school coming from Nanny-Boussagol- Leblan, then the expressive Rollez style, with his spécial bow grip, then The Rabbath school ( he was my colleague in Opera orchestra), then the german bow schools that I experimented with Catalin Rotaru, Gottfried Engels, Miloslav Jelinek, Volkan Orhon and many…

- how is the French style of bass playing different from other styles?

It is not different, but the basses are different. They are more cello like, with clear sound. Some french bows have also clear sound, so it makes solo instrument rather than orchestral… however, all our 19th century basses are big and noble. But still it is harder to play in section than old italian or german basses, which are darker.

Considering the playing, it dépends on individuals, but we play most of french people play expressive with more vibrato generally.

- give us some details on your new CD/DVD release

Well, this CD illustrate the french expressive composing school for double bass. I play only one transcription, Debussy cello sonata. The 3 other pièces are original, Florentine Mulsant Sonata, Richard Dubugnon sonata and Henri Tomasi concerto hère with piano. The DVD is the same than cd, it is for students who want to Watch my playing.

what projects do you have coming up over the next few months?

-       I Go in Taiwan for a summer camp the 13 july, with Tom Martin Catalin Rotaru and Fu Yungho, the organiser. The Taiwan db school was founder by professor Ran Dah-O who began the dbasse in France, so we have a filiation there. We have many students from there in FranceTaiwan .

-       Then I will be in holidays in Norway with familly, but ending with 3 days master classes with my friends Dan Styffe, Gabriele Raggianti and Rudiger Ludwig

-       Then I begin a new summer camp in Biarritz the 14 august, it will be gréât with  Petru Iuga, Diego Zecharias, Simon Garcia, Edmond Cheng, Han jui Chen and Marin Bea the organizer, professor in Biarritz conservatoire.

-       Then in september I hope to record another CD with my transcription of the Schuman cello cto, New pièces from Valentin Villenave and the Franck Sonata















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Thierry Barbé in Bassist & Composer Questionnaire, by David Heyes.

Many thanks to David Heyes for his questions published on one of his facebook pages – Bass notes:  https://www.facebook.com/BASS-NOTES-1742109579393257/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1748383288765886


 1)  What first attracted you to the double bass and at what age did you begin lessons?My piano teacher, Yolande Leblan, was double bassist in the Lorraine Philharmonic orchestra and her husband Maurice Leblan, student from Delmas Boussagol, was professor in the city’s conservatoire (Metz, Lorraine, north-east France). She introduced me, and as I liked the violin’s sound very much, but 15 year old, I felt curious and then in love with double bass that I discovered.

2)   Which teacher or teachers have had the biggest impact on you?

Maurice Leblan was such a huge player and absolute musician, with a so nice sound and vibrato… ( R.I.P. He died in august 2016 at the age of 96). Gary Karr was at that time the example, rare bass artist who produced so many recordings. Then, Jean-Marc Rollez influenced me so much, revelling my sense of phrasing. François Rabbath then made me free and more open to the world.

3)   When did you know that you were a bassist?

When I passed successfully the Opera de Paris orchestra’s audition in 1983, I was 21.

4)  Which bassists have inspired you and why?

My meetings with so numerous world talented friends double bassists and ways of playing gave me more pure technique and re-enforced my identity. I am definitely part of the bass singer’s side, but very respectful of any kind of good playing. We do have to stay curious without judging and learn from everybody, about technique, repertoire, musics, instruments… You can see who are my favorite bass friends on facebook, by exploring my timeline.

5)   What were your original aspirations? Have you achieved them?

My professional career is successful and fulfilled. Beside, you know I am president of ABCDF, French bass society. During 8 years, I worked a lot for bassists and students, writing 4 reviews per year, organizing each year with the ABCDF team some  mini-bass competitions for kids of all ages, and then this wonderful Paris bass convention in 2008 (in CNSMDP), of which I am so proud, which started the idea of a european bass society. I would like to continue in that way.

6)   Do you teach? If so, what do you aim to give to your students?

I do and I like it. I try to open students’ minds and encourage them to deeply love double bass and really enjoy playing it with the music they like. I focus them also on their individual physical parameters and adjust in consequence their instruments and regulations. Sometime, it is very important to avoid spoiling a talent due to a not suitable instrument.

7)   Which musicians or composers have inspired you and had an impact on your career?

My harmony teacher Jean-Claude Raynaud and my music analysis professor Jacques Casterede ( I did the whole 2 classes in CNSMDP), because they gave me more domination on the music language like composers have. We studied the master composers as Bach, Mozart, Schuman, Debussy Ravel, imitating their styles. I like Haendel, Hindemith and Bartok in particular, all composers in general, and all styles of music as well.

8)   Do you perform as a soloist? If so, why? Which repertoire do you enjoy playing?

I do and I like it, humble and unpretentious. I like making nice sounds with my bow and left hand vibrato that I can listen myself, which is the exact contrary of what I do in the orchestra: I almost can’t hear myself, and I have to play a section sound. We spend our whole life as accompanists, ( what I also like), but please let us take a few time to listen ourselves in melodic phrases!

I enjoy playing all expressive solo music with piano, from all periods, but rather modern, original for bass or not. I could maybe say that french music with fine harmonies are my favorite. My recent DVD illustrate it:


Inside, you can find 2 contemporary composers friends of mine, Florentine Mulsant and Richard Dubugnon who wrote a sonata for me, the Debussy cello sonata that I transcribed, and the Tomasi concerto that I revived.

Another reason to play as soloist is for teaching: in a way, it is like research for science: The experience practicing piece gives us more advanced techniques that we can transmit to students. Bass solo playing needs constant researches. All technical methods which are published come from practice.

9)   Which is your favourite work for double bass, or a work which you think is important?

Every pieces are important, but, It could be the Henri Tomasi concerto I revived in Mexico, Japan, USA, Taiwan, France after Pierre Hellouin in 1973.


10)   Very few of us leave footsteps in the ‘sands of time’. What do you think your legacy will be?

I only would suggest it could be:

“Dear friends musicians and humans, be proud, continue to share and develop creativity with your instrument”.


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French Impressions CD+DVD was released in May 2016

Here is the critique article from Edit Weber in:


« French Impressions ». Thierry Barbé, contrebasse, Jean-Yves Sebillote, Valentin Villenave, piano. 1CD TRITON (www.disques-triton.com ) : TRI 331206.  TT : 66’08 + DVD.


Mettant à l’honneur la contrebasse associée au piano, cette réalisation (CD + DVD) regroupe des Impressions françaisesoriginales, à la fois sonores et visuelles. Cette formation rare propose trois Sonates et un Concerto, avec le concours de Thierry Barbé — contrebassiste super-soliste de l’Orchestre de l’Opéra de Paris, remarquable pédagogue, de réputation internationale — et de Jean-Yves Sebillote — pianiste soliste du même Orchestre, très apprécié en France comme à l’étranger, ainsi que Valentin Villenave, professeur de piano, pianiste et arrangeur.

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) est représenté par la transcription pour contrebasse de Thierry Barbé (2013) de sa Sonate pour violoncelle et piano (1915), avec Prologue lent, expressif, Sérénade et Finale. Elle se rattache quelque peu à l’esthétique française classique, dans laquelle le compositeur spécule sur les quintes à vide typiques de la musique ancienne, mais aussi le triton et la quinte juste ; le Finale est, en fait, une toccata bien enlevée. Henri TOMASI (1901-1971) figure avec la transcription pour contrebasse et piano par Valentin Villenave de son Concerto pour contrebasse et orchestre de chambre, composé l’année de sa mort, et interprété avec énergie par Thierry Barbé et Valentin Villenave.

Quant aux œuvres contemporaines, la Sonate pour contrebasse et piano (op. 52) de Florentine MULSANT (née en 1962), très développée, et la Sonate pour ces mêmes instruments de Richard DUBUGNON (né en 1968), ont le mérite d’être commentées par leurs auteurs, ce qui permet aux discophiles de mieux saisir les intentions compositionnelles et partis pris esthétiques. Ces commentaires contribuent largement à la qualité du livret d’accompagnement avec l’Avant-propos de Thierry Barbé  qui conclut : « J’aime beaucoup ces quatre pièces très expressives, lyriques, impressionnantes. Bonne écoute… », tout en visionnant le remarquable DVD réalisé par Barbara Serré.

Ces trois interprètes proposent un regard sur la musique contemporaine et permettent de découvrir de nombreuses possibilités expressives de la contrebasse jumelée au piano. L’originalité de cette réalisation discographique d’Impressions françaises n’est pas à démontrer. Donc : « Bonne écoute », par curiosité contagieuse.

Édith Weber.

You can find this CD-DVD on amazon or


Publié dans Master classes and recitals | Commentaires fermés

Recording Session in Paris, July 2015

With Jean-Yves Sebillote and Valentin Villenave, piano.

Pieces from Debussy, Mulsant, Tomasi, Dubugnon.

Thanks to Diederik Suys for his help and loan the SE electronic microphone!

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Dans notre classe de contrebasse au CNSMDP, nous essayons d’illustrer tous les nombreux aspects stylistiques ainsi que l’amour de la musique et de notre instrument.

Tout d’abord il faut parfaire tous les aspects techniques si besoin est.

Je vous inviterai à vous départir de tout préjugé, afin d’ouvrir votre curiosité à toutes les techniques dans le monde. 

Egalemment, la pédagogie de la contrebasse doit beaucoup tenir compte des paramètres physiques de chaque individu afin d’adapter au mieux sa technique au profit du résultat.

Les buts: acquérir toutes les techniques d’archet indispensables dans le patrimoine de notre famille des cordes, et concernât la main gauche,  imaginer sans cesse de meilleures combinaisons de doigtés au profit du son selon les tempi et notre volonté de style d’expression.

C’est donc une passionnante recherche que je vous propose, enrichie par les intervenants en master class ou échanges Socrate qui sont invités le long de l’année, ainsi que par mes propres voyages et récitals dans le monde.

Les styles d’interprétations sont tous illustrés : l’expressivité dans le baroque, qui n’est pas la même que dans le classique ou le romantique (Marin Marais, Sperger, Brahms et autres).  

On perfectionne aussi l’expressivité musicale aussi dans la musique moderne du 20eme s, d’écriture traditionnelle, (Tomasi, Henze et autres) ou contemporaine, écriture du geste, d’effets sonores combinés, théâtre …

( Druckman, Xenakis, Boivin et autres….)

Et toujours une active collaboration existe aussi avec les compositeurs d’aujourd’hui.

Enfin, les traits d’orchestre et la préparation  mentale aux concours monopolisent beaucoup de temps pour ceux qui s’y destinent. Ma fonction de contrebasse solo de l’orchestre de l’Opéra de Paris ainsi que celle de mon assistant Jean-Edmond Bacquet à l’Orchestre National  nous permet de vous livrer toute notre expérience. A bientôt avec plaisir , n’hésitez pas à nous contacter …

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ISB convention 2015

Dear friends, In Fort Collins University ISB convention, june 3 2015, 8 pm, I will have the pleasure to perform the Henri Tomasi concerto, premiere in USA, « Celestial dance » from Rufus Reid, Sonate from Florentine Mulsant (2014), world premiere , Dvorak cello concerto (mvts 1 and 2 ) with pianist Dianne Frazer.

Here is my portrait by Christelle Tea https://christelletea.wordpress.com/

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How to practice at home a new piece

Dear frieds, today,I was asked this question on facebook:

Hello Master. I would like to receive some advices from you about the moment when one is going to play a new master piece. How should I start with it? And, what do you think about how long must be the time to study? I will be so gratefull with you, because I feel that I have a trouble with my studies´s technique. I hope don´t be bothersome with all this questions. Thank you so much!

My answer:

Preparing a piece must be carefuly done. First read the notes and sing in the same time. If you are experimented, you can play first view, but never play without hearing and singing the note before ( inside you, or really). Then second time, add the rythm, count… you have now an idea of the style, of the composer, and imagine which king of sound he( she) was thinking, in comparaison with all your musical culture. You can now also make an analysis of the structure of the piece. Look at the piano part and note on your bass part all the indications you need to be able to lead the piece when performing. The pianists or conductors have a big advantage: they have the score! We must prepare also our « score », noting for instance the rythm of the piano when we don’t play, etc… Notice the dynamics asap. Then begin to fix the fingerings and bowings. The one depends on the other, you will experiment yourself which fingering is well with a bowing, discuss with your teacher, etc… no bowing is obligatory, no fingering, it must just fit to your hand and be logical with the music, that’s all… innovate for yourself, take lessons with many professors as possible to be rich on fingerings.Then you can practice, enjoy, rehearse and rehearse, you will be soon able to play by memory, that is great…

How much time per day?         Are you a big wardrobe, or a normal person? it depends on you, never exagerate. For instance, if you don’t have big hands and arms, never more than 3 hours per day…. it is a question of health… so, in this case, choose between the scales and technique and the music pieces… or do both not too long… respect your body and stop immediately if you feel a tendinite could come…

Enjoy bass!  :-)     Thierry Barbé

Publié dans Hints and tips, Technique | Commentaires fermés

Donat Zamiara asks 10 questions to Thierry Barbé


Hello! These are the questions that I would like to ask you:

1. Why did you choose the double-bass? Was there any other instrument, that you have played before?

TB : Yes I played the piano from 11 to 16 years old in a little school of music, and my piano teacher was also double bassist in the Philarmonique Lorraine Orchestra ( my native city, Metz, east France). As I was serious, she presented me to her husband, principal bass in this orchestra and professor at the Metz conservatoire. My dream was to play violin, ( I liked so much the sound) and I said, yes, double bass is a big violin, I like so much music, that with double bass I will enter in the conservatoire. Professor Maurice Leblan, pure french school, was talented, and played really good with a nice vibrato. I was passionnate with classical music, and after 2 years, I forced him to let me go in the conservatory ‘s orchestra.

2.Who was your first teacher?

TB : Mr Leblan is coming from Lille, and entered Paris conservatory under professor Boussagol. He was perfectionnist and played wonderfull. He had very big hands and muscles…. a best, to play bass naturaly… In his hands, any bass and bow sounded perfect… the mass of his body and his great technique, his perfect pitch, his sense of exactitude made all. Some first pieces that I heard him playing with advanced students where Dragonetti and Dittersdorf concerti, pieces from Serventi, Desenclos and Hindemith sonata. Delightfull lessons to hear for a beginner… Then I heard a recording of Henze cto by Gary Karr. He had at this time a nice vibrato too. Those both expressive ways of playing convinced me that double bass had to be played as a violin. The very nice sound of my second teacher Jean-Marc Rollez in Paris conservatory confirmed me also in this opinion, with more virtuosity.

3. Who was the person that influened you the most?

TB : From those 3 persons, I will advantage the first, because his sense of perfection was more equilibrated. He was the typical case of un unknowed artist very talented. Touching, isn’t it?

4. As I remember from our chats, you’re very interrested into expressing yourself on the stage. What is your conception of teaching this your students. In other words do you have any special method to convince them to do so, or you just support their natural inclinations?

TB : Some of us have naturaly the sense of the scene, which means that their attitude is convincing for the public. For instance some artists are playing with sincere passion, warm sound, demonstrative gestures ( not too much please), they engage all what they are humanly, it must go out… Of course the public in its diversity reacts differently sometimes. We can like or not. In order to correct this, it is highly recommended to think , as it should be normal, first to the composer, style and period of the piece, and to rend what is truely written. This way should make it better, because it can domesticate an excessive personality.

On the other hand, some of us are opposite: they don’t want to express themselves, prefer staying in the section of an orchestra. They play exactly what is written, but we don’t feel anything, because the human artistic expression is absent. For them, I try to simulate the personality, to activate the internal fire .

Of course, we are never only black or white, we have a mix, but there is a dominant, against it is not possible to fight.

This is why those individual characters orient us more rather to barock, or classic- romantique, Jazz, or contemporary music.

5. How important was for you to work as a principal bassist. How strong did it influence your solo playing and your teaching?

Beeing a principal bassist means that : 1- you can hear yourself playing in the orchestra because you are first, and the conductor and others also…  2- you have the responsability to give the attack to the section, keep the tempo and take care to the rubatos and to the dynamics 3 you play the solo when there is one 4- You decide the bowings 5- you have the responsability to maintain a good work ambiance and you have to be in constant sociable mood. 6- you are supposed to have good relations with the conductors… 7 It is recommended to like this responsability naturaly.

This fonction stimulate my practicing and my recital activity, because we need to be in good condition in the orchestra. About teaching, we know better how things happen in the professionnal life, we are more often in the orchestra jurys, so we have a better experience for the orchestral excerpts and the attitude to have in auditions, as coach for the students

6. what are your impressions about french or german bow? What was the reason for you to play the first one?

TB : I learnt first french bow as used in my country. The common ideas of french (not very open people) is that the under hand grip manipulate the bow less easily, like a long scale that we carry from the botton and not in the middle. They always defended the over hand grip, first against the Dragonetti bow and Cherubini around 1830. They invented a mix with the Tourte french bow frog with the head of the Dragonetti bow.  Then I understood that french bow grip, similar to cello as I had been taught, requires big strong hands to avoid tireness. Rollez invented a new grip to avoid that and to get more density, but it was bad for a naturel spiccato because it was based to much on the First finger and thumb, the hand completly balanced on their side. I invented another one more in the way with the french and italian traditionnal schools : finger more perpendicular to the frog, but what was new is the second and third finger gripping under the frog, to help the thumb and to have also a dense sound. When I studied Under hand bow, I found the same different characters of the grips about density, between austian, tcheque, american, polish school grips. I even, you can imagine invented mine, a mix between all, in order to have the density I like. Of couse, speaking about sound is the main purpuse for me, and I am convinced that the differences between the bass sounds are not coming so much from the bows, but rather frome the basses and their regulations. The orchestras sound different in Germany than in France because the basses are different, not so much the bow. I can get the same sound with any bow on a bass. The sound is in our internal ears. The tastes and tradition of sound are different. This is why I like double bass, a very interesting instrument. Now, I over-passed 30 years in my orchestra, and yes, I use both bows during my long evenings in Opera. The under hand grip is taking care better of my shoulder than the over hand, but the over hand takes care of my elbow better than the Under hand grip. You see that the one is complementary to the other, considering the matter of health.  For my recitals,  I keep my native bow, as like a cello recital. My conclusion is so that we need both bows for question of health in our long professional orchestral life, and because it is so interesting….

7. You perform a lot of transcriptions. What is the reason of this decision? And what new challenges did it bring for you?

TB : We fall in love with a nice piece that is well known from the violin or cello repertoire: let’s play it ! the public needs to listen confortably some knowed pieces in a recital program, and some discovers.  We have a huge original repertoire for our instrument. Hard contemporary music bassists, who dislike romantique and classic music,  generaly say that repertoire does not exist, but this is not true. What is true is that our numerous composers are generaly not so well known for a normal public. But we would need a life to play all our original music…

Playing a cello , viola, violin piece is challenging. We have to find new fingerings, new combinations. But the fondamental reason is that I am a singer in my nature. In any instrument community we find the two kinds of natures : rather rythmique or rather melodique. If all double bassists where only from the rythmique side in the classic music, our life accompagniement fonction would be less sensible.  Let some of us sing if they want, and let the others playing rythmic music. But in Jazz also, we find melodic bassists…. ( Scott Lafaro where one of the first for instance…)

8. You are a member of jury of many competitions. What are your impressions about this work and how much did it influence your own playing?

TB : I regret that being a jury member cut a normal human contact to share with the candidates. I am happy when I can speak to them after the competition. But it is too much rare. We must also be carefull to suceptibility. The competition is for me a great observation moment of our various parameters, technique, basses, bows, bodies, hands, arm proportions, attitudes, postures…  I always note about the instruments,  strings, sometime I draw the player with his ( her) bass position. I appreciate the good candidates, and I engage my personal taste only for the final round. This  expérience does not influence too much anymore my own playing, but gives me expérience to affinate the bass techniques according to the different kinds of bodies-players. My pedagogic passion is to observe the relations between the physical caracteristics of people’s body and the double bass.

9. You’ve gained experience as a professor of Paris Conservatory, and giving a lot of masterclasses. How much it is important for you to get a contact with younger bassists, and does it influence your own development?

TB : Of course, I learn always much with students, ( same reasons that said 8) and here the contact is great, with a real exchange, which can include also by transitivity exchange with their teachers.  I really appreciate. I like also the process of « explaining » to people and to get results, even if it is later. I don’t like to be superficial in master classes, I try to speak on every parameters that the student needs to improve. It can be like a doctor. We fix the goals for making music, I mean phrases, dynamics, ambiance, sound quality and this lead us on technique and body parameters considerations. In my classes in the CNSMDP and the CRR St-Maur ( east suburb close to Paris), this is of course not diagnostic, but a longer building process, assited by me, plus the work of the huge repertoire.  The more people we meet, the more reachest we become…. And the more reachness we can give… this is life…

10. What are your plans for the nearest future?

TB : The nearest future which will give a lot of fun for me is to play Dvorak concerto with an amator orchestra with a High C in solo tuning. ( means High D). I want to explore more this tuning, that I already tryed with the Dubugnon Mikroncerto, and that we need for the Poradowski concerto if with orchestra.

TB : In conclusion, thank you Donat for your intelligent 10 questions, I am sure that you knowed already the answers, and that you share my opinions….

Thierry Barbé, 17-sept 2013

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Hans Werner Henze died…. hommage

Our composer of  Serenade and San Biagio… for solo double bass died the 10-27-2012 in Dresden.


Hans Werner Henze Henze’s output was prolific

One of the most influential composers of the late 20th century, Hans Werner Henze was noted for his many operas, symphonies and ballets and for a commitment to political art which informs much of his work.

Born on 1 July 1926 in Guetersloh, Germany, the son of a schoolteacher, Hans Werner Henze was initially educated at schools with a socialist outlook. But, following the Nazi Party’s ascent to power in 1933, he lived a dual life.

While dutifully studying the official curriculum at school, he played chamber music at a partly Jewish family house and there steeped himself in proscribed literature, including Mann, Wedekind and Brecht.

He developed his greatest love, music, through listening to Bach and Mozart and playing the cello.

In 1942, Henze entered the Brunswick State Music School, where he studied piano, percussion and musical theory.

Even so, the modern repertoire hardly ever intruded into a wartime milieu dominated by German Romanticism.

Henze’s father was killed on the Eastern Front and Hans was conscripted into the army in 1944, ending the war in a British prisoner-of-war camp. His experiences left Henze with a lifelong hatred of fascism which informed much of his work.

As he later told the BBC: « Everything that the fascists persecute and hate is beautiful to me. »

Street scene 10th Nuremburg rally Henze’s life was coloured by his hatred of Nazism

It was only after the war, studying in Heidelberg, that Henze first heard composers like Bartok, Berg and, most importantly, Stravinsky. He also composed his first work, the 1946 baroque-style Kammerkonzert, which won him a publishing contract.

The following year came the first of Henze’s 10 symphonies, a neo-classical work featuring a viola solo.

Commissions soon mounted, most notably for stage music. Henze composed ballets – including Jack Pudding and Georges Dandin – and operatic works, like Boulevard Solitude.

In 1953, seemingly overloaded with work, and jaded with intolerant attitudes towards his homosexuality, Henze moved from Germany to the Italian island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples. That year he completed Ode an den Westwind, a cello concerto based on Shelley’s iconic series of sonnets.

Increasingly political

He enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with the Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann, most notably with Prinz von Homburg (1958), an adaptation of Heinrich von Kleist’s powerful psychological play.

Henze also enjoyed great success with the opera Elegy for Young Lovers, penned by WH Auden and Chester Kallmann.

Henze, Auden & Kallman in a BBC studio Collaborating with Auden & Kallmann on Elegy for Young Lovers

In April 1964, Henze received the accolade of having all of his first five symphonies performed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Herbert von Karajan, together with the premiere of his opera Being Beauteous.

From the mid-1960s onwards, Henze’s work took on an explicitly political tone. The oratorio, Judische Chronik, was followed by a fugue, In memoriam: Die Weisse Rose (the White Rose), dedicated to the young anti-Nazi martyrs Hans and Sophie Scholl.

After students hung a red flag from the conductor’s podium, both the orchestra and choir refused to perform. The ensuing riot, while perfectly in tune with the spirit of the times, did nothing to enhance Henze’s reputation.

Shrugging off criticism that he was an armchair revolutionary, Henze premiered his Sixth Symphony in Havana, Cuba. In 1973, his avowedly political Voices features 22 revolutionary poems and drew comparisons with Kurt Weill.

Hans Werner Henze with baton in 1970 The piece Voices featured 22 revolutionary poems

In recent years, Henze’s works took on a more reflective mood. His Requiem (1990-92) was a moving, wordless, meditation of life, death and war. Classical themes also came to the fore, for instance in the theatrical Venus and Adonis (1993-5).

Hans Werner Henze mixed neo-Classical themes with a decidedly modernist approach. But underlying all his many works – symphonies, operas, concertos, oratorios and ballets – was a refreshing subversiveness born of his hatred of Nazism.

In this way, Henze was as important as a chronicler of the darkness of the 20th century as he was as a musician.

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Conference Cello-Bass ESTA

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