Contrabass Conversations Episode 16 – Interview with François Rabbath

The latest episode of Contrabass Conversations is now out! This episode features the first part of our interview with François Rabbath. I had a great time doing this interview, and I hope you all enjoy it!

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CBC Episode 16 Show Notes

Contrabass Conversations Episode 16 Show Notes
Interview with François Rabbath

Welcome to Contrabass Conversations – life on the low end of the spectrum!

Episode Length: 27:02
Release Date: 4/15/07
E-Mail: contrabassconversations@gmail.com
Voicemail Line: 206-666-6509
Website: www.contrabassconversations.com
Blog: www.doublebassblog.com
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Last week’s episode featured the first part of a great interview with National Symphony Orchestra bass section member Ira Gold. You can check out the episode with Ira here.

François Rabbath was in Chicago recently, and we got a chance to sit down with him for a Contrabass Conversations interview while he was in town. This is the first part of the interview, and the second half of the interview will be released in the next few weeks.

François Rabbath biography (from Liben website)

Every now and then, just when you thought you had things all neatly arranged in their proper order, someone comes along and not only upsets everything you’ve done, but demands that you change your entire way of thinking before you can even begin to put them back together again. François Rabbath is one of those people.

Born in Aleppo, Syria into a musical family of six boys and three girls, François discovered the double bass at the age of thirteen when one of his brothers brought an instrument home and allowed him to experiment with it. When the family moved to Beirut, Lebanon he found an old copy of Edouard Nanny’s Contrabass Method in a tailor shop and with some difficulty, since he read neither music nor French, began to teach himself. After nine years of work in Beirut, François saved enough money to move to Paris for a year. He was eager to go to the Paris Conservatory, meet with Monsieur Nanny and show him what he was able to do with the bass. When he applied at the Conservatory he was disappointed to learn that Nanny had died in 1947. He was also told that auditions were to be held in three days and that he would never have enough time to learn the required pieces. He asked for the music anyway and returned three days later to finish first among the applicants. However, his stay at the Conservatory was a brief one, since it didn’t take very long to see that he was not only far ahead of the other students but of the professors as well!

While in Paris he began to earn his living as an accompanist for Jacque Brel, Charles Aznavour, Gilbert Becaud, Michel Legrand and others. In 1963 he made his first of many solo record albums. Although never advertised or promoted, the Phillips album Bass Ball became one of the most sought after recordings of its time.

From 1964 he became active composing much music for movies and the theater. At the same time he started to play solo recitals, first in France, then throughout Europe. His American debut was in Carnegie Hall in 1975.

François Rabbath’s uniqueness stems from his refusal to accept any traditional limitations. Whether performing his own fascinating compositions, the music of others or the classical repertoire, one is always moved by his profound musicianship and dazzling virtuosity. You quickly discover that he brings you such a sense of security that the most difficult passages sound effortless.

In 1978 Rabbath met the American composer-double bassist Frank Proto. A close friendship quickly developed when the two discovered that they had many shared musical experiences and philosophies. Neither had any respect for the boundaries that separated classical, jazz and ethnic musicians. Both were as comfortable playing chamber music at a formal concert one day and improvising with jazz musicians the next. In 1980 the Cincinnati Symphony asked Proto to compose a concerto especially for Rabbath. The resulting Concerto No. 2 for Double Bass and Orchestra was premiered by Cincinnati in 1981. Two years later the Houston Symphony asked Proto to write another work especially for Rabbath. The Fantasy for Double Bass and Orchestra was premiered in Houston in 1983. Rabbath has since played the work around the world. Their third collaboration, the Carmen Fantasy, began life as a work for double bass and piano. Rabbath again premiered the work in Cincinnati in July of 1991 with the composer at the piano. Proto orchestrated the work in the spring of 1992. All three works have been recorded and are available on the Compact Disc Frank Proto: Works for Double Bass and Orchestra. (Red Mark 9204). Their most recent collaboration has been on Proto’s Four Scenes after Picasso – Concerto No. 3 for Double Bass and Orchestra.

We are fortunate in that Rabbath has recorded constantly through the years. His sequel to Bass Ball – Multi Bass ’70 (Red Mark 9202) is still available, as is Live Around the World (Red Mark 9201), a collection of his own compositions recorded in concert. The original Carmen Fantasy for Double Bass and Piano with the composer at the piano, was recorded recently along with his own Concerto No. 3 and Two Miniatures – Carmen! (Red Mark 9203).

The importance of François Rabbath to the development of double bass playing can be compared with that of Paganini to the violin. Since the early 1800s when Nicole Paganini established the violin as a virtuoso instrument, solo violinists have practiced the most brilliant of instrumental art. Meanwhile, the development of double bass playing had been seriously neglected. The great and popular 19th century composers did not consider the bass worth their attention and in turn the bass repertoire did not attract potential virtuoso performers with enough genius to change the situation. It demanded an artist with the unique qualities of François Rabbath to break this impasse.

Recordings and Publications by François Rabbath

Art of the Bow DVD

A New Technique for the Double Bass

Solos for the Double Bassist
Two Miniatures for Double Bass and Piano

Bach: Suite No. 1 in G Major for Solo Double Bass
Bach: Suite No. 2 in D Minor for Solo Double Bass
Vivaldi: Concerto in F (or G Major) for Double Bass and Piano

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CD02 – Live Around the World
Breiz, Poucha Dass, Ordis, et al.

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CD03 – Multi Bass ’70
Poucha Dass, Incantation, et al.

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CD04 – Carmen!
Proto: A Carmen Fantasy for Double Bass and Piano. Rabbath: Incantation pour Junon; Reitba; Concerto No. 3.

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CD05 – Rabbath Plays Proto
A Carmen Fantasy for Double Bass and Orchestra; Fantasy for Double Bass and Orchestra; Concerto No. 2.

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CD06 – François Rabbath: 60
Rabbath’s recordings of the 1960s, including the legendary “Bass Ball” album.

Check out even more recordings of François Rabbath here

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Jason discusses the Virtual Master Class Project

Jason also congratulates double bassist Matt Heller’s recent successful audition for the Calgary Philharmonic. Check out his excellent blog at http://hellafrisch.blogspot.com.

2 thoughts on “Contrabass Conversations Episode 16 – Interview with François Rabbath”

  1. Hi, Jason,
    Thank you so much for posting this interview!!!!
    I really enjoyed it. Francois Rabbath is the only master in my heart. When he was playing, I even forgot that he’s 76 years old already!
    Greeting from China.

  2. Hi Jason,
    I had been searching for so long to find a technique of playing that wouldn’t hurt to use. I was using the Simandl (the old standard) method, which did nothing but frustrate and cause muscular strain. I have discussed this with many individuals, including Dr. Mark Morton, of the American School of Double Bass, and even he recommended the sitting position, which allowed complete access to all the strings with both arms using only the weight of the arms to do the work.
    It is my dream, one day, to meet and take lessons from Francois Rabbath. I hope I have the opportunity. I am a great admirer of not only his technique and his playing, but his level of professionalism in performance and teaching astounds me. I agree, it is difficult to find such a unique “professor,” who has the open mind of a child, and who is willing to let his students make mistakes and learn from them without causing them some psychological damage. I own and have watched the Art of the Bow 20 plus times now and each time I learn something new from it. His demeanor, his approach to teaching, his love of his students, is all very clear to me. This is VERY rare.
    I hope that many of the bassists out there who still experience pain while they play are reading this. Perhaps they will take a chance on the Art of the Bow, it could change their lives. I know it did mine.
    Thanks again, keep on Contra-bassing!

    Eric Markley

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