In music, one good gig often leads to another. For Chris Burns, principal bassist of the Tacoma Symphony, it was exciting enough to be asked to play the Nino Rota concerto with the TSO two years ago (under then-auditioning director Sarah Ioannides). But while he was preparing for that concert, the University of Washington’s double bass artist-in-residence Barry Lieberman heard Burns and liked what he heard. The result is a solo recital this Sunday in the Barry Lieberman and Friends series, held in the UW School of Music auditorium and featuring a program of challenging pieces from classical to contemporary.
“I’m very excited about it,” says Burns, who previously has been a soloist in Tacoma concerts including the University of Puget Sound’s Jacobsen Series and Second City Chamber Series.
While the program includes a classical sonata by Johannes Sperger, Bottesini’s opera-inspired tour-de-force “Fantasia di Lucia Lammermoor” and the short “Psy” by 20th-century Italian composer Luciano Berio, the piece Burns is most looking forward to is one he’d never even heard of until two years ago: “Angel of Dusk,” by contemporary Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara.
The piece, written in 1980, was originally a bass concerto with orchestra, but in 1993 Rautavaara wrote a chamber version for bass, piano and percussion, and it’s this that Burns will play with pianists Lidia Kotlova and Kay Yeh and percussionist Melanie Voytovich.
“It’s a very complex piece,” Burns says. “It’s really deep. The language of the piece, the sonic atmosphere it creates — well, let’s just say the title is really evocative, with a lot of brooding angst.”
Rautavaara is known for mythically inspired works, such as his seventh symphony, “Angel of Light,” and his “Canticus Arcticus” for taped birdsong and orchestra. And while he obviously had no particular narrative in mind for the piece — the movements are simply called “First appearance,” “Monologue” and “Last appearance” — his use of sound effects plays on the archetype of the angel. Special techniques, something Rautavaara uses often, include ponticello, or bowing open strings with the wood of the bow or near to the bridge, and pizzicato, or pulling the bow up and down the string vertically to get different overtones. One fascinating technique Burns likes is using the ebony frog (the part of the bow you hold) to slice up and down the string with simultaneous left-hand pizzicato.
“It’s a kind of metallic growl,” says Burns of the sound. “It’s pretty cool. It’s a great piece.”
The program, book-ended by the two contemporary pieces, also reflects Burns’ desire to only play works written for bass — a challenge, since his is a less-than-common instrument.
The recital begins at 2 p.m. Sunday at Brechemin Auditorium at the University of Washington Seattle. Admission is $15. 206-543-1201, music.washington.edu.