Contrabass Conversations Episode 22 – Rabbath interview part 2 and music from Leon Bosch 2

This week’s Contrabass Conversations episode features a continuation of our interview with double bassist François Rabbath plus some music from U.K.-based bassist Leon Bosch. You can check out episode 16 of the podcast for the first part of this interview with François, and detailed information for both guests is available in the show notes below. Enjoy!

CBC 22: Rabbath interview part 2 and music from Leon Bosch

Show Notes

Release Date: 5/27/07
Length: 40:16
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News and notes:-Thanks for the positive feedback on Eric Hochberg’s interview last week. There has been some very positive buzz about the episode on various jazz blogs, and it is great to see it get out there and to see the podcast start to cover non-classical musicians.

-Scott Spiegelberg (Musical Perceptions) just put out an updated list of the top 50 (actually 52 due to some ties) blogs in the world of classical music. You’ll notice that my blog is number 22, just below Scott’s own blog(!). I wasn’t included on the list last time around, so it is good to see the bass blog getting more and more popular:

1 The Rest is Noise: 508 Alex Ross (Crit)
2 About Last Night: 347 Terry Teachout (Crit)
3 A Singer’s Life: 248 Michelle Bennett (voice)
4 Opera Chic: 193 (O) [two listings of 106 and 87]
5 Sequenza21: 182 Jerry Bowles (C)
6 Night after Night: 149 Steve Smith (Crit) [two listings 96 and 53]
7 On an Overgrown Path: 145 Bob Shingleton (producer)
8 PostClassic: 129 Kyle Gann (C)
9 Ionarts: 123 Charles T. Downey (A)
10 Diaries: 114 (violin)
11 Sandow: 107 Greg Sandow (Crit)
12 Think Denk: 96 Jeremy Denk (piano)
13 La Cieca: 94 James Jorden (O)
14 Soho the Dog: 87 Matthew Guerreri (C)
15 Jessica Duchen: 86 (Crit)
16 Dial ‘M’ for Musicology: 67 Phil Ford and Jonathan Bellman (A)
17 Aworks: 65 Robert Gable (L)
17 The Concert: 65 Anne-Carolyn Bird (voice)
19 Sounds and Fury: 62 AC Douglas (L)
20 Terminaldegree: 61 (kazoo) [57 + 4]
21 Musical Perceptions: 58 Me (A)
22 Jason Heath’s Double Bass Blog: 57 (bass)
23 Adaptistration: 54 Drew McManus (orchestra management)
23 Mad Musings of Me: 54 Gertsamtkunstwerk (O)
25 Deceptively Simple: 53 Marc Geelhoed (Crit)
25 Loose Poodle: 53 Peter Kaye (C)
25 The Rambler: 53 Tim Rutherford-Johnson (A) [41 + 12]
28 Roger Bourland: 52 Roger Bourland (C) [43 + 9]
29 Oboeinsight: 50 Patty Mitchell (oboe)
30 Meanwhile, here in France: 43 Ruth (cello)
31 The Standing Room: 40 Monsieur C (L and voice?)
31 Sieglinde’s Diaries: 40 Leon Dominguez (O)
31 Classical Music: 40 Janelle Gelfand (Crit)
34 A Sort of Notebook: 38 Waterfall (L)
34 ANABlog: 38 Analog Arts Ensemble
36 The Well-Tempered Blog: 37 Bart Collins (piano)
36 The Iron Tongue of Midnight: 37 Lisa Hirsch (Crit)
36 My Favorite Intermissions: 37 Maury Dâ??annato (O)
36 Renewable Music: 37 Daniel Wolf (C)
40 An Unamplified Voice: 34 JSU (O)
41 On a Pacific Aisle: 30 Josh Kosman (Crit)
41 Chicago Classical Music: 30 (L)
43 Listen: 29 Steve Hicken (C and Crit)
43 Wellsung: 29 Alex and Jonathan (O)
43 Twang twang twang: 29 Helen Radice (harp)
46 Trrill: 28 Nick Scholl (O)
46 Am Steg: 28 Kris Shaffer (A)
48 Musical Assumptions: 26 Elaine Fine (C and viola)
48 Sounds Like Now: 26 Brian Sacawa (saxophone) [18 + 8]
50 Eric Edberg: 25 (cello)
50 Collaborative Piano: 25 Chris Foley (piano)
50 Catalysts & Connections: 25 Evan Tobias (education)

I’d also like to congratulate double bassist Phillip Serna for receiving his Doctorate this month from Northwestern University. Phillip gave his lecture recital for the degree this month, and he is finally done with all of the coursework and requirements for the degree, so congratulations to Dr. Serna. You can hear more from Dr. Phil on episodes 5 and 8, as well as his recital showcase from April.

Today’s interview guest: Francois Rabbath

Today we will be continuing our conversation with the great double bass performer and composer Francois Rabbath. This interview continues the discussion that we had on episode 16 in April, and I know that double bassists from all musical disciplines will get something out of our talk.

Topics discussed:

-the origins of Rabbath’s bass – how he ended up with it and the benefits of its construction
-mistakes bassists make when buying basses and bows
-how wood has a memory
-how every note has the right spot for the bow, for the speed, for the weight, and what happens when all of these factors align
-you make the wood of your instrument sound bad by playing badly, and you make it sound good by playing well yourself

Rabbath has traveled extensively with his double bass during the course of his career, and he offers some real insight into what it is really like hauling a bass all over the world through various customs and security checks, as well as dealing with airline baggage bureaucrats.

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

Musical Guest – Leon Bosch

You will be hearing the Bottesini Elegy and the Bottesini Gavotta from Leon Bosch’s recent solo album called Virtuoso Double Bass, which is available from Meridian Records.

Leon’s website:

Album information for Virtuoso Double Bass:

Click here to order this great album from Leon Bosch:

Meridian Records website:

About Leon Bosch:

(Visit his website for more information about this great artist’s career and the challenges he had to overcome during his early years in Apartheid South Africa.)

From liner notes to his recent release as well as an interview with Lawrence Milner -published in the Summer 2003 edition of Double Bassist magazine:

Leon had to overcome many difficult circumstances in the early years of his career. He was arrested by members of the Cape Town special branch when he was just 15 years old for demonstrating against the Apartheid government outside of parliament. He faced a month’s detention and torture, only to be found not guilty on all charges. This experience fired up his ambition to become a lawyer, but this field of study was forbidden to him by the regime at the time. He then chose to study a subject that would be the least likely to mark him out as subversive – music.

Had Bosch been able to pursue his prime aspiration to become a lawyer, the cello/double bass debate might never have occurred. Born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1961, Bosch
was forbidden by the repressive regime of the time to study law, so applied to the University’s music faculty instead `as a light-hearted prank.’
The `prank’ soon turned more serious. Once enrolled at the University, Bosch studied with Zoltan Kovats, principal double bassist of the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra at that time. A single year into his studies, the young student was invited to
play in the Symphony Orchestra’s bass section alongside his mentor. Only another 12 months passed before he was giving his first solo performance of Dittersdorf ‘s concerto in E major. Completing his Batchelor of Music Performance degree at the
University, he received the highest mark ever awarded there in a performance examination.

Post-university, Bosch quickly realised that he would have to study abroad if he really wanted to further his performance career, but was thwarted once again by the apartheid laws which decreed that overseas scholarships could only be given to white performers. However, Bosch was undeterred. `I had a passionate commitment to the double bass and never enter- tained the idea that I would fail in my pursuit’, he asserts.
Fortunately, a number of private individuals came forward to sponsor his travel to England where he was heard playing by Rodney Slatford, the former Head of School of Strings at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), who offered to
teach him. Bosch enrolled at the RNCM following a successful interview with Eleanor Warren to study with Slatford and Duncan McTier. He describes his time at RNCM as
`extremely fruitful’. Bosch’s prestigious record of achievements also continued there, as he received the College’s PPRNCM (Professional Performer of the RNCM) with
distinction, the first such award to a double bassist in the College’s history.

Studies completed, Bosch embarked on the varied professional orchestral and chamber career that continues to this day. His first assignment was with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, moving onto The Manchester Camerata as principal in 1985. His playing career has also taken in the BBC Philharmonic, Hall, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Opera North and Scottish Chamber orchestras, plus the Moscow
Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, Brodsky Quartet and Goldberg Ensemble as a freelance performer, a career path that he chose to `give me greater variety in my playing.’
A decade after his first principal appointment, Bosch began his current association with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, touring with the orchestra’s founder, Sir Neville
Marriner. `Chamber music represents the most enjoyable part of my musical life,’ he enthuses, explaining why he has focused on this area through most of his professional career – which has taken in almost all of the major chamber orchestras in the UK.

Listener feedback:

………..from Seth:

Hi Jason,
Just a note to say thanks very much for your show – I’m finding it really stimulating and inspiring – I’d say it’s added an extra hour to my daily practise, just from hearing so many fantastic bass players. Lord knows I need it. it’s easy to feel isolated when you play an unusual instrument, especially here in the u.k. – eg I know five other double bass players in Leeds, where I live, and it’s a city of 700,000 people – not a good ratio – so it’s great to have some support and inspiration from so many fine players. Thanks again, and keep up the good work!

………from Alex:

Hi Jason,
I love your blog and podcast man!
Thank you SO MUCH for interviewing Larry Hurst. What an amazing guy who has
done so much for the bass family. I really enjoyed the interview.
Looking forward to hearing and reading much more of your fine work.
I also wanted to say that I think Jeff Turner would make a great interview
Thanks man,


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About Jason

An active double bass performer and teacher, Jason teaches double bass at DePaul University and served on the Board of Directors of the International Society of Bassists for many years. Jason is the current President of the Illinois chapter of the American String Teachers Association. Jason has been a member of the Elgin Symphony since 2000 and has played with the Midsummer’s Music Festival in Door County for the past decade. He is a past member of the Milwaukee Ballet and IRIS Orchestra, and has performed with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Grant Park Symphony, and numerous other professional ensembles.

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2 thoughts on “Contrabass Conversations Episode 22 – Rabbath interview part 2 and music from Leon Bosch

  • Benjy

    Thanks for posting this 2nd part of Rabbath’s interview Jason.

    We should all feel honored having lived during his lifetime, in order to be able to say that we have known, listened, watched and learned from him.

    François will certainly have left an imprint in bass history as a composer-performer-teacher, as much as Dragonetti, Bottesini, and Koussevitzky have done.

  • rainer.lewalter

    Fantastic show, a lasting inspiration! Jason, your work is invaluable indeed… You truly deserve being up there in the top ranks of music blogs. I’m particularly impressed with the way you manage to contrast the rather bleak aspects of freelancing musicians’ lives with such encouraging, upbeat items as this latest Contrabass Conversation. I find it impossible to listen to Francois Rabbath (talking or playing, no matter what) and not cheer up immediately.