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

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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

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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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A Master class comment…

Yesterday, I received a nice letter after a recent master class… I am very happy because it describes an aspect of my pedagogy. Sorry for publishing it…

« Dear Thierry,
I want to thank you once again for taking the time to come for the
masterclass.  I have since talked to all  students and the everyone was
overwhelmingly enthusiastic. 

I, personally, was very impressed by the thoroughness and analytical manner in which you approached the technical aspects of the instrument.
Definitely food for thought for the students.
Aside from the lessons, I very much enjoyed your recital.  You have a lovely, warm, round sound.  That, combined with the beautiful lyrical approach to the instrument is a joy experience.
One thing in particular that you mentioned is something I will keep with me.  You told the students to practice something for ten minutes every day and then go on.  That is not new, but the notion that your body and mind will eventually gravitate to what is right and good is a nice way of putting it.  Students tend to want to force things to happen, but trusting that your mind, body and musicality will learn towards it naturally is a good piece of wisdom.
Thank you for pointing that out. »

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French bow question

Today, I was asked this question:

Hi Monsieur Barbé!

I’m a 20 year old doublebass student in …. and hope to someday study in Paris. I’ve looked at many bass players bow technique (…) but since adopting your technique it has really done wonders for my playing. Since I’m on the subject you spoke of putting finger 2&3 under the frog.  However do you still « pull » the bow with the first finger (down bow) and forth finger(up bow).
Thank you so much for replying and giving me free advice!
All the best and hope to see more videos soon!

This is my answer

Very honored, …, thanks and I am happy to count for you, near all those fabulous french bow players who are all my great friends.
For your question: I see what you mean. Well, I don’t feel exactly that way for explanations.

  • I rather consider to grip up the group thumb, 2, 3 against the 1( index). For me the 1 is the non-moving part of the lever. The lever’s action is to conduct the bow toward the string as soon as we exceed the frog in order to keep the power of the sound, its density, to play crescendo or any color we need. The lever action varies from 5% to 100% after the frog.
  • To explain fully, the lever system is actionned by the pronation of the forearm, (rotation cubitus-radius toward the string). At the  finger contact points , this pronation is transmitted and even increased by the thumb and the last phalanx of the 2, 3 which are catching upward the frog against the 1.
  • Generaly in the bass world, the big hands often don’t consider to use the 2, 3 griping upward by the last phalanx positionned under the frog, but I do.
  • For very little hands, I advise a very little frog or if not possible, to place the fingers 2,3 4( yes, even the pinky) not under the frog but under the stick and in the frog’s hole. I use myself this position very often to have a nice clean and warm sound with easy attack of the string, specialy in the low register. This position is also able to play spiccato notes ( balsato), but not for a long time. I use the first grip in that case ( switch in one second).
  • When we play at the frog, or balsato (spiccato), the grip is a simple prehension, without pronation. The pinky becomes important. I like a comfortable ruber for the thumb and the index finger.
  • Here are some photos. I use all of those grips, it depens the situation, the color that I need, ….  in one word, there is not one french grip, it depens which hands you have, and which color you want…

I think the explanations where clear, the result was:

Hello again Monsieur Barbé!

I apologize for not writing this mail earlier. But it so happens that I have been on tour with my orchestra, and have had a great many opportunity’s to try out my new bow technique!

I just wanted to say thank you for your elaborate answer it really helped a lot! And I hope that I can ask some more questions regarding bass playing in the future. There are probably more people with the same type of questions on their mind as me.

Merci beaucoup!



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Catalin Rotaru

My good friend Catalin is an amazing musician. He belongs to the « singing double bass  » familly, as I think I do. His Kreisler transcription is not easy and he performs it with a nice sound like the violin. This type of transcription played on a modern double bass, easy regulation, solo tuning, bright and warm sound, brings to the musical community the sound of a « cello-alto » as the viola does for the violin. I like it!

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