Double bass moves to center stage in Chamber Music Society concert
October 21, 2015 (Davis Enterprise)

The Chamber Music Society of Sacramento will highlight the double bass — an instrument that often plays a background role in classical music — as the group hosts bassist Thomas Derthick at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24, at Congregation Bet Haverim, 1715 Anderson Road in Davis.

Derthick is principal bass of the Sacramento Philharmonic, Sacramento Ballet and Sacramento Choral Society. He frequently performs with the Chamber Music Society of Sacramento and has recorded and toured with the Empyrean Ensemble of UC Davis.

Derthick has subbed with the San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera, and was for many years principal bass with the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music; he has also performed in the pit band for various Music Circus musicals.

A faculty member at Sacramento State and UCD since 1982, Derthick additionally joined the faculty at the University of the Pacific in 1988.

Earlier this month, he performed a well-attended bass recital at the Mondavi Center, and he will return there in May to perform the Koussevitsky Bass Concerto with the UCD Symphony Orchestra.

On the program for Saturday’s concert will be the String Quartet in B flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6 by Ludwig van Beethoven, the Quintet for Piano and Strings by Ellen Taaffee Zwilich and the “Trout” Quintet for Piano and Strings by Franz Schubert.

The Schubert is a popular piece, dating from 1819, and the music represents the composer in a natural, unaffected and carefree mood. The pairing of the Zwilich and Schubert quintets on this program is deliberate. Zwilich composed her quintet in 2011, and wrote “My Quintet (for the same instrumentation as the great ‘Trout’ Quintet) is in three movements, the second of which has the title ‘Die Launische Forelle’ (roughly translated: ‘The Moody Trout’). I couldn’t resist using a very small quote from the Schubert song on which his Quintet is based.

“I also took the liberty of allowing that movement to spin out musical images of a ‘moody’ trout. In all three movements the weight and character of the contrabass is an important element in the overall design. I’m especially interested in the possibilities offered by the contemporary contrabass player’s virtuosity and artistry which allows the composer to reach for that chamber music ideal of equal partners.”

The Zwilich Quintet was premiered by the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio (pianist Joseph Kalichstein, violinist Jamie Laredo, cellist Sharon Robinson) joined by violist Michael Tree, a longtime member of the Guarneri Quartet, and bassist Harold Robinson, principal bass of the Philadelphia Orchestra. They performed the quintet in a dozen cities.

Derthick said he has done some Internet research, and “So far as I can tell, the Davis performance will be the first done by anyone other than the KLR Trio plus Tree and Robinson, and the first West Coast performance.”

Zwilich has composed numerous orchestral pieces and chamber works. In 1983, she was the first woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music, for her “Three Movements for Orchestra,” also known as her Symphony No. 1.

The Beethoven Opus 18, No. 6 is often said to be something of an homage to Haydn, who was briefly Beethoven’s composition teacher. The music is full of wit and invention, and recalls Haydn’s fondness for sudden stops, changes of mood and rhythmic elegance.

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