I’ve heard a lot of live music in the past month, but what sticks in my head is several minutes from a casual afternoon benefit concert at the National Arts Centre on Sunday. First bassist Joel Quarrington and cellist Carole Sirois played some Rossini, and then they joined violinists Jessica Linnebach and Yosuke Kawasaki for some more Rossini. (There was other stuff in between.) What stood out was Quarrington, a big guy who plays what is normally regarded as an ungainly instrument, the string bass.
I know Joel Quarrington by reputation — he is considered one of the best classical bassists in Canada and indeed beyond — and I’ve seen him presiding over the bass section in the NAC Orchestra. But hearing him up close was something else. His technical skill is formidable. Apparently he tunes his instrument in fifths instead of fourths, and he’s a bit evangelical about it, and it makes things easy that other bassists find nearly impossible. Fine. But it was his musicality that blew me away. Rossini is fizzy, funny music, written to give the musicians plenty of opportunity to show off. Quarrington (and the others, but especially Quarrington) got into the mood of it, digging deep into every phrase, smiling broadly while he played. I laughed out loud a few times. I wasn’t the only one. Nobody seemed to mind. Days later I’m still in a better mood than I would have been if I hadn’t heard it.
Quarrington has two CDs of music by Bottesini, a 19th-century Italian bass virtuoso whose music is loved and feared by bassists and ignored by almost everyone else, on Naxos. I’ve had both CDs for a while. They are tremendous fun.