Thierry Barbé

Friday, 01 November 2013

The principal double bassist of the Opéra Nationale de Paris describes a week of practice and performance

Their complete and honest devotion to their art was a perfect example to us all

Practice Diary Thierry Barbé


Today, I head the jury for the solo competition. The playing styles of the ten contestants display a range of different qualities. Some have a good round sound, with excellent vibrato. However, some vibratos are far too wide and slow, while some others are completely inexpressive. This reminds me how important sound quality is. A good combination of articulate bowing and vibrato reveals richness, imagination and sensibility, and it reflects our personalities.


I practise part of my recital programme today – Poradowski’s Double Bass Concerto. I work on 3rds and chromatic details in the fast movement and the cadenza, playing the passages slowly, my fingers like hammers, before repeating them at tempo. I practise with the same intense vibrato I use in concerts, because it is good training for my muscles.


Today I perform Poradowski’s Double Bass Trio with Catalin Rotaru and Irena Olkiewicz. I like playing with Catalin because we have the same conception of sound and singing phrases. I play with a French bow, he plays with a German one, but we achieve exactly the same phrasing. Very often, when I’m practising a particularly difficult phrase, I compare how it sounds using both grips. Often one will create the desired effect immediately where the other couldn’t.


Today I practise four of Bartók’s violin duets arranged for two double basses with Yung-chiao Wei. We play them in thumb position, and we have to practise slowly using all the strength we can muster in our left hands. Harmonic notes help a lot because we can relax the muscles of the left hand while we play them.


Today is the day of my recital, so in the morning I find some space to practise. My left hand is in good shape so I leave it as it is, but I decide to borrow a different bow from one of the exhibiting instrument dealers so that I can produce a more rounded sound; on Wednesday, when I practised Poradowski’s trio, I had difficulty maintaining the unified, wide sound – like a good French horn – that I was looking for. Later in the morning I rehearse Zbinden’s Double jeu for two double basses with Dan Styffe. We focus mainly on the rallentando passages, and, again, there is an amazing understanding between us. You can never underestimate the human factor!

Originally published in The Strad, August 2011. Download the digital edition of the issue or subscribe to it as part of our 30-day free trial

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