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Double Bass Masterclass

Matthew McDonald at Trinity School of Music, 27 April 2011

This was a most rewarding experience, held in the delightful carpeted Stuart Room at TCM. McDonald, Australia born Prinicpal Bassist of the Berlin Philharmonic, is a relaxed, friendly and natural character and an ideal teacher for the pressured situation of a college masterclass.

He put 5 pupils through their paces in a public class, for nearly three hours. I had intended to sample the lessons for an hour or so, but remained enthralled through to the end.

The greater part of Matthew McDonald's teaching was directed towards melodic expressiveness, to develop tone, and to improve projection through controlled vibrato which sometimes required drastic change of left-hand position over the instrument; hard to achieve quickly, but they all understood.

Some came with virtuosic preparations (e.g. Monti's popular Czardas, a sentimental "café" fiddler's money-spinner). McDonald demonstrated how to milk the audience so that they'd stuff money-notes into the S-holes - risky with a bass, they might get lost for ever inside?

But Matthew McDonald quickly got all his student bassists down to basics, with extended work on tone quality of long single notes. His main concern was to simulate vocal expressiveness; all the chosen pieces in the first half were slow - slow movements of concertos by Dittersdorf and Koussevitsky, the great bassist who became a famous international conductor.

McDonald demonstrated with disarming ease on the students' own instruments and with their bows, spurning one for himself, and he sang the way he wanted the melodic phrases to be heightened in a pleasant light baritone. One felt that this class could equally, for the most part, be for violists and cellists - certainly those who came would have learnt as much as I did.

One or two of the players were of course less able to produce what was wanted immediately; all of them will have worked on the teaching back in private practice.

Videoing would surely help them to digest the lessons? And Matthew McDonald would be as good a candidate for the The Masterclass Media Foundation DVD collection as any of the famous soloists represented in the series.

Peter Grahae Woolf