It has become a right of passage for double bass players to perform movements of the Bach cello suites, especially or orchestral auditions. But to hear them played well is a rare feat.
So when we found this video of National Arts Centre Orchestra Principal Double Bass Joel Quarrington performing J.S. Bach’s Sixth Cello Suite, we dropped everything to take notice.
Performed at St-Stephen’s Parish in Chelsea, Québec, the video shows Quarrington navigating the 30-minute work with such incredible agility, that one could wonder if the piece might have been originally written for the bass.
The challenge for the cello is difficult, let alone the bass, which often requires the original key and octave to be transposed.
Why this is so astonishing is because the double bass sounds an octave lower than written, and is typically tuned in fourths, rather than in fifths as is the case for cello. Here, Quarrington plays it at pitch, and has tuned his Giovanni Paolo Maggini bass in fifths, exactly like a cello, which allows him to make the piece sound idiomatic to the instrument, providing a rich, more hearty colour to the sound.
This video is a testament to the incredible virtuosity of both J. S. Bach and Quarrington — a match captured in wonder in this extraordinary video.
Joel Quarrington is a former principal bass of the London Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and currently principal of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa.
You can catch Quarrington perform in Toronto with David Jalbert (piano), Yehonatan Berick (violin), Jethro Marks (viola), and Carol Sirois (cello) at Walter Hall, Feb. 28. Details, here.