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Bass soloist defies expectations

  • Jan 29, 2013
The double bass is rarely in the spotlight of a classical concert. But that’s one of the unexpected pleasures when violinist Monica Huggett and Portland Baroque Orchestra chamber soloists join Nigerian-Irish double bass virtuoso Chi-chi Nwanoku for music featuring the instrument in a uniquely soloistic role. The ChamberMusic@Beall concert takes place Sunday February 17 at 3 pm in Beall Concert Hall. Listen to her KWAX interview Buy tickets The program numbers five works from the 1780s, the golden age of the double bass. Most of the music emanates from Vienna, where a great flourishing of music for bass led to players stepping out of their supporting role to stand alongside their fellow strings as soloists in concertos and chamber works alike. Standing out in this surprising role for the instrument is the soloist Nwanoku, something of a surprise herself. Described by critics as “superb,” “elegant,” “athletic”—she was nearly an Olympic track competitor—and “vivacious,” she brings not just virtuosity and musicianship to the instrument, but a story and charisma to her performances. Born in London of Nigerian and Irish parents, she first discovered music at age seven. A year later she was encouraged by an athletics coach to begin intensive training as a 100-meter sprinter, reaching national level competition. After a knee injury ended this career, she took up the double bass, eventually studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London and with Franco Petracchi in Rome. In a trailblazing career she has worked as principal and soloist with such prestigious ensembles as the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, English Baroque Soloists, London Classical Players, and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, of which she is a founding member and currently principal double bass. The subject of a recent documentary, “Tales from the Bass Line,”Nwanoku plays a 1631 double bass built by Nicolas Amati (Cremona), uniquely suited to her 5-foot stature. Concert program:
  • Mozart: Divertimento in D major, K 136
  • Haydn: Divertimento in C major, Hob II:C5
  • Vanhal: Divertimento in G major
  • Dragonetti: Bass Quintet, No 18
  • Boccherini: Quintet. G 324: Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid
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