This article was originally published on the Double Bass Blog on January 17th, 2008. For other installments in the Early Bass Performance – Early Music Interview Series, as well as many great resources for the amateur, student and professional double bassist, please visit the Double Bass Blog and the Contrabass Conversations Podcast.
Jerry Fuller directs the Chicago-area period instrument ensemble Ars Antigua in Chicago’s Quigley Chapel. Photos by Robert Osterlund
Contrabass Conversations and the Double Bass Blog continues its series on early bass performers. It will highlight many different perspectives on early bass/ violone performance. Our next guest is Ars Antigua music director Jerry Fuller. We hope that you will enjoy these interviews and glean a good deal of information from our esteemed guests.
About Jerry Fuller:
Jerry Fuller began studying the double bass at age 16 and was invited to join the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra three years later. Within two years he was promoted to first desk of the double bass section in addition to performing with the Santa Fe Opera. Mr Fuller has also served as solo double bass of The Musikkollegium Winterthur Switzerland. While in Europe, Mr. Fuller became interested in historically-informed performance practice and has achieved international recognition for his work with period instruments. A Chicago Artists Abroad grant recipient, Mr. Fuller’s performances in London, Rome, Geneva and Edinburgh have been broadcast worldwide. In addition, Mr. Fuller has performed at the Ravinia and the Aspen Music Festivals and both the Boston and Berkeley Early Music Festivals.
His recordings on the Musical Arts Society, Cedille and Centaur labels have been hailed by both critics and colleagues. Mr. Fuller also writes on period instruments and performance practice for The Strad, Double Bassist, and Bass World Magazines, serves on the editorial board of theOnline Journal of Bass Research and is webmaster for the Double Bass and Violone Internet Archive. Mr. Fuller served as an officer of the Board of Directors of the International Society of Bassists 1990-1996 and has appeared as a guest artist with the American Bach Soloists of San Francisco, the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston and the Newberry Consort of Chicago. He is principal bassist of the period instrument forces for Chicago’s Music of the Baroque and Chicago Opera Theater and serves as director of the period instrument chamber ensemble Ars Antigua.
To listen to audio web cast performances of Ars Antigua, visit ArsAntiguaPresents.com.
Jerry Fuller performing with the Chicago-area period instrument ensemble the Callipygian Players. Photo by Robert Osterlund
When and how did you become interested in early music, and how has it shaped your life musically?
In 1984 I was Principal Double Bass of the Musikkollegium Winterthur in Switzerland, and was asked to perform “Per Questa Bella Mano”. We had our first rehearsal at the Schola Cantorum in Basel and after the rehearsal, I remember walking down the hall and hearing some of the most wondrous music I had ever heard. I knocked on the door of the practice room to ask the musician inside what instrument he was playing and what piece he was working on. I was told the instrument was the viola da gamba, the piece was a Recercada by the 16th century composer Diego Ortiz, and the performer was Jordi Savall. I was hooked by what I heard. I was lucky enough to study early music in Europe, and then return to Chicago and focus my musical life on performing music from the middle ages through the baroque and classical periods with many of the leading early music groups in America including the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston, the American Bach Soloists in San Francisco (check out the newly released compact disc of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony performed on period instruments), Chicago’s own Newberry Consort, and in 2001 I became Director of Ars Antigua, a period-instrument chamber ensemble here in Chicago. I’m very excited that Ars Antigua is launching a monthly audio web cast program starting January 2008, so you can hear us anytime and anyplace for free at ArsAntiguaPresents.com!
I think one of the most powerful aspects of studying early music is that one quickly learns there are many right ways of performing music. While today’s symphony orchestras can make a powerful case for 19th and 20th century music played on modern instruments by performers schooled in the romantic tradition, I find it most compelling to perform or hear music played using the instruments and techniques with which the composer was familiar. I find this notion of “many right ways” is useful in many aspects of life, so I have gleaned much from early music that is applicable to my nonmusical life as well.
Who were some of the early music performers who have had a lasting affect on you?
I have learned the most from great singers including Danielle de Niese,Natalie Dessay and Cecilia Bartoli. As an instrumentalist, I strive to create and put across a dramatic story as much as these singers do in their performances.
Where did you go to college?
I went to Northwestern University and while in college performed as Assistant Principal double bassist of the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra. I received my master’s degree from the University of Chicago.
What would you recommend to college students looking to focus on early music?
1. Learn the basics of how to play the viola da gamba. The techniques one learns will inform your work on the double bass and violone.
2. Spend some time in Europe absorbing the art, cultures and languages.
3. Find a good period double bassist to coach you. There are excellent period bassists in almost every part of the world.
Did you do any summer festivals during your college years? If so, were these valuable experiences to you?
What are the advantages of using period instruments?
One of the biggest advantages of using period instruments is the natural musical balances that occur when using them. I often find that in modern instrument ensembles balances often need to be forced–for example, the basses need to force in order to be heard while other instruments need to underplay in terms of volume. When using period instruments, satisfying musical balances naturally occur without having to force instruments to extremes.
Have you undertaken any research in regards to period instrument performance?
Not from a scholarly perspective, but from a practical performance point of view I am always learning. For 16 years I interviewed leaders among period instrument bassists for Bass World Magazine and participated in the early music programs of the International Society of Bassists conventions. Through those experiences I learned much from my colleagues. I also make sure to participate in a number of Early Music Festivals to keep up with the latest thinking in the field. I have tried to document much of this learning at earlybass.com.
What information would you impart regarding what kinds of instrument played at the bottom end in the 17th to 18th centuries?
What sorts of materials (articles/treatises, etc.) would you suggest for an aspiring period instrument performer to understand performance practice issues regarding early bass instruments?
What, in your opinion, are among the most controversial issues regarding performance practice and bass instrument performance?
The union regulations of major symphony orchestras and opera houses which sometimes make it difficult for conductors to utilize period instrument ensembles.
What aspects of period instrument performance do you feel that the majority of musical field are unaware of? What assumptions and misconceptions do period instrument performers need to present to future audiences?
I think one fascinating area of performance practice that is just now being explored is the physical placement of the performers (for example, the practice of opera orchestras facing the stage during the baroque era or the placement of the principal double bass next to the principal cello in a classical era symphonic performance.)
Jerry Fuller working with students of the Midwest Young Artists. Photo by Robert Osterlund
What kind of basses and violone do you play on?
I have three main instruments: an 18th Century five string double bass, an 18th century g violone, and a D violone adapted from an instrument by Hans Vogel, Nuremberg, 1568 made by Dominik Zuchowicz.
Do you play German bow, French bow? When you play violone, do you use a violone bow (large viola da gamba bow)?
When playing baroque music on the double bass I use a bow by HF Grabenstein, when playing classical repertoire I use a hybrid German-style bow created by Scott Wallace and Steve Reiley. For the g violone I have a violone bow that is very similar to a bass viola da gamba bow made by Grabenstein (see above) and for the D violone I have a violone bow that is very similar to a small German style bass bow made by an anonymous maker that was given to me by a collector. I wish I knew who made the bow, it is fabulous and I’d like three more just like it!
What kind of strings do you use?
Research on string making using historical methods is always evolving and I try to stay current with the latest thinking. I’m currently very impressed by the work of George Stoppani and am using his strings.
What kind of rosin do you use?
I like to use Gaston Brohan’s Oak Rosin on gut strings.
Any final comments?
I hope more bassists will experiment with different performance practice techniques to widen the repertoire of colors they have at their disposal to bring great music alive. And don’t forget to listen to early music performances on ArsAntiguaPresents.com!
Jerry Fuller performing with the Chicago-area period instrument ensemble Baroque Band. Photo by Robert Osterlund