Double Bass Concerto

I have already written quite a few concerti for less familiar solo instruments, such as Recorder, Horn and Trombone, in a desire to acquire more intimate knowledge about the mechanics and characteristic sounds of each instrument. I am familiar with Enno Senft's playing from a variety of concerts of different repertoire he has given with the London Sinfonietta, including some of my own compositions. It was partly as a result of his versatility and partly because of his humorous criticisms of the way I was writing for double bass that I decided to write a concerto for him and embrace the opportunity of working with such an outstanding player to better understand the instrument's character and even its limitations.

In advance of the concerto I had a chance to write a work for solo instrument in celebration of the London Sinfonietta's anniversary; naturally I chose Enno and his double bass. The piece entitled "es" was born. The bottom string of the instrument is detuned to E-flat which is "es" in German (and other three strings are also detuned to B-flat, D-flat and A-flat). Enno Senft is German, and his initials E.S. are the same for E-flat in German. I spent many hours at his house during which he patiently illustrated just what the double bass is capable of and explained how it differs from the other stringed instruments.   I like writing a small solo piece as a "seed" of the concerto, but normally don't use it directly in the final concerto. This time I had to promise Enno I would, so it was a challenge for me to develop the concerto from the starting point of the 3-minute work, rather than starting from scratch.

For the concerto, I wanted to describe the journey of a human picking up the instrument for the first time, playing it with the palm/flesh of his/her hands, hits the Double Bass strings by hand to produce a gentle, gong-like sound (This is only effective because, despite its size, the double bass is so sensitive).

After this section, a human learning to play with his/her fingernails, here he/she plays percussively, playing harshly across the strings rapidly and strumming the strings between the left hand on the fingerboard and the scroll, as if playing a Spanish guitar on its side (unorthodox for the Double Bass.).

And then by pizzicato, which is  one of the essential characteristics of the double bass. at last picking up the bow playing lyrical phrases while the ensemble is playing energetic contrasting materials, then finding the natural harmonics (with tremolo) at the end. (Since all the strings are detuned, hopefully the natural harmonics also sound unique).

The ensemble reacts to what the Double Bass plays. The ensemble consists of higher pitched instruments and they act as the distorted harmonic series which flies into the ensemble from the notes the soloist plays.

Dai Fujikura (edited by Miranda Jackson)

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