Ever since its origins, from the Enlightenment to today, the concerto genre has never ceased to inspire the most audaciously extreme composers, whether in its form (a surprising entry by the soloist, breathtakingly liberating developments, a rhapsodic movement...) or its structure (concertos for string quartet with orchestra, concertos for orchestra...). Oscar Bianchi and his new concerto project, which will be a highlight of the upcoming Parisian season of musical creation, are undoubtedly writing a new chapter in this “tradition of innovation” - to be discovered without further delay in this exclusive interview.
You have accustomed us to many new instrumental adventures (such as Orango) but the one currently being prepared for 17 September at the Radio France Auditorium exceeds them all: a concerto for... 6 double basses. We know that this project goes back already several years: could you tell us about its history, the people who were behind it and those who will ultimately bring it to life?
Like all moments of “gestation”, it is in fact the result of a stimulus that dates back a long time, about five years ago. The moment I first felt the need to give space to a possible new definition of the double bass. I realised that the double bass was a musical being that was difficult to categorise, that is to say, that one could not simply fit this instrument within the idiomatic framework of an instrument which produces low sounds, with a relatively low reaction speed, with virtuosic writing without it becoming a cliché.
It is in fact a highly tangible and deeply poetic instrument, with nothing to envy from other stringed instruments more often found in soloist roles.
But beyond that, I wanted to highlight the sense of the collective, with an almost fraternal aspect (common in this orchestral section) and to draw a new musical pact from the depths of the instrument.
In this concerto we sometimes feel a virtuosic impulse, instrumental surprise, but it is above all this paradox of a solo role carried by the collective of a small group that struck me, the idea of generating a primary acoustic space between six solo double basses which blossom into the overall orchestral acoustic space.
It's the story of empowerment and sharing.
Your audiences had gotten used to titles with a strong programmatic connotation. This does not seem to be the case here...
The title here is very simple, it is simply the decibel threshold below which we can no longer hear a sound (six decibels), it is a threshold that the double bass can embody by producing delicate, fragile and intangible sounds.
How do you write a concerto for 24 strings (or 30, it depends), all located in the lower register of the orchestra, the least "audible"? The challenges seem almost insurmountable...
It is precisely due to their lower register that double basses are best placed to produce almost palpable harmonics. They don't produce the high-pitched harmonics of a violin or a viola, but high-pitched sounds in a medium-high register, between the mezzo-soprano and the lyrical soprano. Sometimes the colours of these harmonics are close to those of a countertenor, a voice that changes, that goes through a physical shift, a "passaggio" between the natural and the ethereal (or harmonic). It is not a coincidence that in this same register one hears throughout the work a reference to a theme of Paisiello, a theme that Beethoven or Bottesini (the great double bass virtuoso of the 19th century), used in their variations. .
How are the preparations for the world premiere coming along? Have you set up a particular program with the double bass desk of the Philharmonique? This is not the usual case of a soloist preparing on their own but rather that of the concertos for quartet and orchestra (Lachemann, Rihm, Dusapin ...), which all required long preparation times. How will the national premieres of the other co-sponsors unfold?
Yes, the almost novel nature of the project (with this unusual team) required a structure and a methodology somewhat out of the ordinary. I found myself in front of a complex instrumental device whose true essence I was searching above all else. It was therefore not only a question of immersing myself in a different sound universe, but of defining the level of integration between this multitude of voices, this sound space of the "soloist choir" that I sometimes conceived as a Monteverdi madrigal, sometimes as a fugue, while retaining the vision of a pure, raw, almost electronic sound source. This led me to work firstly in close collaboration with the double bass desk of the Orchestre philharmonique, with a series of meetings so that I could soak up this rich and generous universe, and other sessions of instrumental experimentation and necessary negotiations (especially concerning the kinetic and acoustic limitations of these instruments).
As when writing for the voice, the sound of the double bass is highly subjective as it is determined by the size of the instrument and the physical characteristics of the performer. This induces a great sound and performative latitude between the different performers. I am therefore very happy that this score can and will be performed, following the formidable desk of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, by other orchestras in Switzerland, Germany and Russia.
Oscar Bianchi - 6 db
Concerto for six double basses & orchestra
World premiere: 17 September 2021
Maison de la Radio et de la Musique - Auditorium
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
Boris Trouchaud, double bass
Lorraine Campet, double bass
Édouard Macarez, double bass
Weiyu Chang, double bass
Lucas Henri, double bass
Yann Dubost, double bass
Marc Desmond, conductor
Russian premiere: February 27, 2022
Closing Gala Concert of the XIV WIAFS
Nikolai Tsinman, conductor
April 2nd, 2023
Stadtcasino Basel (Suisse)
Baldur Brönniman, conductor
April 3rd, 2023
Festival Archipel Geneva
Baldur Brönniman, conductor
Watch the video of the work: