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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