Brian Perry, double bassist with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, adjunct lecturer at SMU Meadows School of the Arts, husband, and father to two young daughters, answered these questions for your enjoyment. Brian, along with four colleagues from the DSO, performs Saturday in our Bancroft Family Concert at the Dallas Museum of Art’s Horchow Auditorium. Doors open at 2:30 for the 3:00 concert. As always, the concert is free.
Saturday’s concert includes work by Claude Debussy, Gioachino Rossini, and Ralph Vaughn Williams. The Vaughan Williams work, Quintet in C Minor for piano, violin, viola, cello, and double bass, was never published during his lifetime. Though written in 1903, the Quintet was only released to the public in the 1990s.
What excites you about the Vaughan Williams Quintet you’ll be playing on Saturday?
It’s a unique and stunning piece of music with a very active double bass part. Some of the most well-known chamber works involving double bass don’t have quite as busy a part and range as the Quintet, so it’s always an exciting piece to explore. The musical language is very Brahms-y, particularly the first movement, which I think the audience will enjoy very much!
What do you love about chamber music? How is it different from playing in a large symphony?
It’s the intimacy of the experience which I love. In fact, orchestral musicians are often striving to emulate the chamber music experience on stage in our performances, and when it happens it’s magical. With chamber music it’s generally one person per part and you are completely in charge of your voice and its contribution to the ensemble. The musical personalities of each player are more discernible, particularly string players, in a chamber ensemble. It’s a subtle contrast to my role in the orchestra which is to blend more with my colleagues and our leaders and conform to what is going on around me or being dictated from the podium.
Chamber music selections for bass seem a bit limited: what other chamber works for bass have you played?
Actually there are many great ones, but the famous ones could be counted on one hand. Of course I’ve done Schubert’s “Trout” many times, Beethoven’s Septet, Dvorak’s String Quintet Op. 77 and Serenade. I’ve even performed a terrific arrangement of a Metallica tune for four basses! One of my greatest experiences was performing the U.S. premiere of a reconstructed and expanded original version of Prokofiev’s Quintet Op.39 at Tanglewood in 2003. He had originally composed it to accompany a ballet called Trapeze which I would love to see resurrected for a performance at some point. It’s a fiendishly difficult bass part and a real challenge for the ensemble (violin, viola, double bass, clarinet, and oboe). But, it’s an absolutely amazing piece. There is also a Bruch piece and the Schubert Octet I’m hoping to perform at some point. I’m always searching for great newly discovered repertoire, which is what led me to the Vaughan Williams.
The bass is a huge instrument! Did you have to buy a car specifically so it could fit a bass (about six feet in length)?
Ha! It’s always a part of the equation! Add two kids into the mix and then you really start to narrow down your options! Actually, basses fit in many vehicles as long as they have some sort of hatchback or tailgate. Bassists are pretty ingenious people when it comes to figuring out how to get around. I’ve had since the age of 9 to figure it out!
What types of music do you like to share with your kids? What type of music do they like?
They actually like lots of different kinds of music. Madeleine, our oldest, is playing the violin and she and her sister Margaret both enjoy classical music. But we do keep things pretty eclectic on the radio and at home when we’re not studying our music for our symphony weeks [Brian’s wife, Kathryn, plays violin for the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra]. Madeleine knows lyrics to everything from the Frozen soundtrack to the band Of Monsters and Men, which is great, I think!
What is your favorite thing to do to pass the time while you’re waiting in D-FW traffic?
I listen to NPR quite often. I love everything from news and politics to The Moth radio hour and TED Talks. I find that when most of my day is spent intensely rehearsing music I need a bit of a break or at least a style change. Musically speaking, I love the Punch Brothers and think Chris Thile is a modern-day, Mozart-level genius on the mandolin. I could listen to them all day. I have pretty eclectic musical tastes and enjoy KXT (91.7 FM) quite a bit as well: R.E.M., Mumford and Sons, Phoenix, Daft Punk, Muse, Midlake, etc. I pretty much abide by the rule that great music exists in every genre. I’m behind on jazz: I need to explore it more, next.
Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play?
It is often said, but frequently the composer whose music I’m rehearsing on any given week is my favorite to listen to. I’m constantly either discovering fascinating works by composers I have not had the opportunity to perform (like last week’s In the South by Sir Edward Elgar at the DSO), or rediscovering little nuances of famous or often-played masterworks I had not noticed before. For instance, I’m looking forward to revisiting Mozart Symphony No. 39 next week. As well as I know the piece, I’m sure Jaap [van Zweden, DSO Music Director] will highlight a detail I had not noticed before. And, I always seem to forget how great the music of Shostakovich, Britten, Barber, Prokofiev, and so many others can be until I’m immersed in it for the week.
What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? Least favorite?
My favorite sound is a nice, warm, low A-string on an old double bass or a beautiful singing cello melody. My least favorite sound, at least lately, is when my kids are bickering in the next room. Ha!
Once you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert are you looking forward to? (i.e. Bach at the organ, John Lennon at the piano, etc.)
Wow! What an intriguing question. Had not thought of this before. The thought of Michael Jackson having a piano lesson with Bach interests me. I also would really enjoy hearing Gustav Mahler rehearsing an orchestra of angels – maybe he would be a little less demanding?