Developing Bass Instincts

On November 12, Juilliard was privileged to host a master class with Klaus Stoll, principal bassist of the Berlin Philharmonic. Mr. Stoll began the class with an exuberant entrance, displaying great affection for the Juilliard students and double bass faculty while lightening the mood with a reference to the default debate among players: “We will have no war today,” he said, “to speak about the French or the German bow.”


The performers in the master class were Mark Wallace, Eric Shetzen, Salima Barday, Chungyang Wang, and Andrew Roitstein, playing repertoire that included Haydn’s Symphony No. 31, Brahms’s Second Symphony, Mahler’s First Symphony, the last act of Verdi’s Otello, and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, among other works.

Mr. Stoll’s orchestral expertise stems from the span of decades he has spent since 1965 as a member of the Berlin Philharmonic. He posed valuable technical suggestions, ranging from recommended amounts of bow hair usage to the specific manner in which the Haydn solo should be played, addressing how grace notes and turns serve only an ornamental function and should not express stresses in the same manner as main beats.

But Mr. Stoll also focused on the more abstruse aspects of the act of performance, persuading students to strive for a better connection between their music and the audience. In an excerpt from “Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle” from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Mr. Stoll interpreted legato indications not simply as long notes but as emotional statements. He compared playing music to opening a book or writing a letter: everything must have a clear direction and a well planned emotional arch.

Speaking to master’s degree candidate Mark Wallace about the bourées from Bach’s Third Cello Suite, Mr. Stoll emphasized how strongly “dance-like” they must be, asking Mr. Wallace to play in a way that would invite listeners to dance with him. He also stressed the importance of initiating a drastic difference between the major and minor modes, also making students aware of the counterpoint in the accompaniment to the solo.

Listening to a segment from Haydn’s Symphony No. 31, Mr. Stoll noted the importance of this excerpt—for the past 17 years, it has been in the last round of auditions for the Berlin Philharmonic. Stoll’s vast knowledge of Baroque performance practice gave students a fresh perspective on approaching ornaments and general playing style.
Because this master class was geared toward Juilliard’s orchestra auditions, Mr. Stoll felt compelled to give advice on leading a bass section. While the principal has a number of solos to play, he believes that a section should be led by all of its members. Citing this environment as establishing a sphere in which everyone feels comfortable, Mr. Stoll emphasized its link to experiencing—and thus expressing—music in union.

Mr. Stoll articulated a genuine sentiment of support toward New York’s bass community. And his interaction with Juilliard’s entire double bass faculty at the end of the class exemplified a remarkable international dialogue that students feel fortunate to have observed and learned from.


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