What an experience we had making music together under the Tuscan sun!

With Gabriele Ragghianti · Lucca, Italy

I’ve been looking forward to BASS2018 LUCCA ever since attending the 2016 event in Prague. There’s nothing like the energy of a major gathering of like-minded double bass players, and I leave events like this feeling energized, refreshed, and inspired.

Putting together an event like this is no easy task! A huge congratulations to Gabriele Ragghianti and Alberto Bocini for their hard work organizing this event. They, along with fellow artistic directors Furio di Castri and Jimmi Roger Pedersen, were the force uniting the 870 participants at the congress and 3,000 people at the evening festival concerts.

About Bass Europe

Bass Europe was launched in 2008 by Paris Conservatory bass professor Thierry Barbé. I was serving on the Board of Directors of the International Society of Bassists along with Thierry at the time, and I fondly remember his enthusiasm and energy surrounding this project.

Thierry and I did an interview a few years ago and dug into his inspiration behind launching the European Bass Congress. Thierry has transcribed excerpts of this conversation on his website, including this segment regarding his association with the ISB and the initial Bass Europe Congress:

Thierry: My first convention was in Oklahoma city in 2007. I liked it so much! At that time, I had met Hans Sturm in François Rabbath’s kitchen, and He invited me to go and play in Oklahoma, invited me to the ISB board, and gave me his support to organize my project, the big évent of my life, the Paris Bass 2008 convention in my conservatoire. Since this one, the européen bass society is born and I am proud to be the first who kicked the bass.

When I go in the ISB convention, I feel myself exactly as a bridge between the american people, that I like very much, and the européens. But before that, I must must say that I am still président of the ABCDF, the french bass society. I was editing 4 reviews per year, organizing mini bass compétitions each year, interviewing like you do a lot of bassists from all over the world for the french review. After Bass 2008 event, my very good team was tired, and we are now in search of people with new energy, which is not easy to find in France.

The Emerging Need for a European Bass Society

Why, one might ask, did the need for an independent European bass society emerge if there’s already an International Society of Bassists? That’s a fair question.

The ISB is an international organization, with approximately 3000 members in over 40 countries. The conventions, however, have all taken place in the United States. There are a number of logistical reasons that make hosting a major non-US convention a challenge for the ISB, at least for the foreseeable future.

There’s tremendous power in live events. First of all, they foster unity and cohesion in the bass community of a host city. We see this in the biannual ISB conventions, and it’s evident in Bass Europe as well. Also, local talent is featured, pieces are commissioned, research is presented, and new technology in instrument making and accessories is demonstrated.

Why these events are helpful

It’s so easy to get trapped in your own silo as a musician. Day after day is spent seeing the same colleagues, going to the same old studio to teach the same bunch of students, and performing well-trodden pieces with familiar faces.

Events like the European Bass Congress are an opportunity to explore new territory, make new friends, and to get inspired once again.

We began to come together as a bass community 50 years ago when Gary Karr launched the International Institute of String Bass. In 2008, Thierry Barbé made tremendous strides in uniting the European bass community. Each and every year, we’re seeing more events like these spring up all over the world, from James Oesi’s Dutch Double Bass Festival to the Central American Bass Festival in Guatemala.

Learn more

Past Bass Europe Events

Bass Europe CEO manager Ursula Dieterich-Pedersen has been working along with her husband Jimmi to organize the past several conferences. I interviewed her before the 2016 Bass Europe event in Prague, and this conversation is what inspired me to book my ticket for Prague to attend BASS2016.

There have been six biannual conferences so far from Bass Europe. Each takes place in “off years” from the International Society of Bassists Conventions. Here’s where they’ve taken place along with any applicable links:

Ramp up to BASS2018 Lucca

I had the pleasure of meeting Gabriele Ragghianti and Alberto Bocini in person for the first time back at BASS2016 in Prague, and the three of us have collaborated on several projects for various event promotions ever since. They’re both outstanding artists and great people, and I was so excited to learn that they’d be artistic directors for BASS2018.

Gabriele and Alberto did a presentation on BASS2018 at the previous ISB Convention, and I recorded it for Contrabass Conversations. We also chatted for the podcast before the event with some final pre-Lucca details.

Challenges of organizing

Putting on an event like this is incredibly complex, and it’s a different experience in every city and venue. Lucca is an ancient city with an incredible number of cool venues for performing, and it was a pleasure to explore the city and take in some great bass playing all at the same time!

BASS2018 was documented in great detail, with a staff of professional photographers and videographers. It was also, of course, documented by the participants on Facebook and Instagram. In addition to the following write-up and my own photos and videos, I’m including material from the BASS2018 Facebook page as well as that of some of the participants. Be sure to check out the official BASS2018 Facebook page and press the ‘like’ button to follow along with updates about future Bass Europe events!

Events like this are a personal “choose your own adventure,” and they always involve seeing some events and missing others. That’s the nature of multi-track conferences. I do my best to represent the spirit and excitement of the event, but I of course was only able to see a small percentage of everything that was going on.

Sunday, July 29 – Arriving in Lucca

Like so many other bassists in attendance, I decided to come to Italy a week early and build an Italian vacation around BASS2018. My wife, who typically avoids bass events like the plague, was totally into the idea of tagging along with me to Italy, so we had a great time seeing the sights in Rome and Florence before making our way to the Tuscan town of Lucca.

First impression: Italy in July is hot! The high was nearly 100 degrees throughout the event, and air conditioning is not a standard thing in Italy like it is in the United States. If you see footage that looks like someone dumped a bucket of water on the performers, that’s why!

I’d love to know how much water was consumed that week between all of us bassists….

My wife and I found an Airbnb right next to Boccherini Hall with a truly epic view.

There were a total of 12 venues along with Boccherini Hall in which BASS2018 events took place. Here’s a map of the venues and of the city.

The city of Lucca is quite compact. You can walk around the top of the city wall, which is 2.5 miles total. Within that small city, though, you’ll find layers upon layers of history. The city was founded in the 3rd century BC and was used by Julius Caesar. It’s also the home city of Boccherini and Puccini, so there’s a wonderful combination of medieval and Renaissance architecture.

Almost immediately upon arrival, I ran into my good friend Claus Freudenstein. Claus and I have struck up a friendship ever since I interviewed him back in 2016, and running into him was a great way to kick off the week.

Monday, July 30 – Day #1

The week kicked off officially Monday morning at the Lyceum on the north side fo town. The Lyceum would serve as BASS2018 Headquarters for the entire event. I picked up my badge that morning and was warmly greeted by Ursula and Jimmy Pedersen and a crew of Bass Europe volunteers.

I ran into Lyris Hung of D’Addario Orchestral almost immediately. Lyris and I chatted about how strings are made for the podcast last year.  D’Addario has been a longtime supporter of my double bass activities, and it was great to reconnect with her in person.

The event kicked off in earnest with Gabriele Ragghianti’s Recital and Welcome at noon in the Lyceum Auditorium. Gabriele was joined by Alberto Bocini on an all-Italian program. What a fitting way to kick off a week of Italian bass adventures!

I spent much of the afternoon wandering the Lyceum and connecting with old friends, with many breaks to rehydrate. Running into ISB past president Douglas Mapp, I joined him for some jazz performances in the afternoon, including Lisa Mezzacappa and Giovanni Sanguineti.

Next up for me was the Bassmonsters concert. Though I’m quite familiar with the group and have listened to them live before, this was the first time that I’d actually sat down and absorbed an entire performance of theirs from start to finish. I must say, the artistry of these four bassists–Claus Freudenstein, Thomas Hille, Lisa De Boos, Ricardo Tapadinha-—is extraordinary.

That evening, the festival component of the event kicked off. Each night, performances were featured in Boccherini Hall, much like the headliner concerts for the ISB conventions. That first night featured Alberto Bocini and a variety of collaborators, including Gabriele Ragghianti, Hans Sturm and Jackie Allen, and the Bassmonsters, plus a formal welcome from the mayor of Lucca.

Franco Petracchi, the legendary Italian bassist and pedagogue, was seen throughout the week in Lucca. Gabriele called him up onstage that first evening after the mayor, to great applause and enthusiasm. Though me contact with Petracchi has been limited, I feel such gratitude to him for the technical materials he passed along to the bass world in his Simplified Higher Technique book.

Tuesday, July 31 – Day #2

Each morning, Lisa De Boos led congress participants through a session of Qi Gong, though I must admit that I stayed out too late partying to rouse myself for these sessions!

Classical, jazz, and maker competitions took place throughout the week, as did youth, jazz amateur, and classical amateur camps. Adam Booker and Diego Zecharies, two good friends and past podcast guests, led the amateur camps plus a multitude of other activities throughout the week.

Hans Sturm and Massimo Pinca had engaging morning sessions, but I spent the morning reconnecting in person with Leon Bosch, the former principal bass of Academy of St Martin in the Fields and one of the most inspiring people I know. Leon and I had a great “round two” chat for the podcast, and I then had the pleasure of seeing him teach in master class.

I learn so much from watching great artists like Leon teach in settings like this, and I return home with so many great ideas and new tools to use in my own teaching and playing. Leon has what he calls an “accelerated learning” approach to repertoire, which we dig into in great detail in this latest interview. Look for it soon on the podcast!

Later that day, I got a chance to connect with Pál Molnar of Anima Nova. Anima Nova makes carbon fiber sound posts, and these have been getting a lot of positive attention recently. I had the chance to check out this soundpost in action at the Violin Society of America / Oberlin Bass Workshop earlier this summer, and it was great to sit down with Pál and talk in detail about what a carbon fiber soundpost can do for an instrument.

I also had the chance to reconnect with my good friend Lloyd Goldstein. Lloyd performed a recital and did a lecture on the work he does in the Arts and Medicine program at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. It’s always a pleasure to spend time with Lloyd and catch up on his latest activities.

The final performance of each evening took place in the beautiful gardens of Palazzo Pfanner. Dr. Pietro Pfanner was Puccini’s surgeon and mayor of Lucca in the early 20th century. Later that week, I’d take a tour of the Pfanner mansion and its set of grisly 19th century medical devices.

Jimmi Roger Pedersen kicked off the first night of late-night jazz concerts. I love Jimmi’s
distinctive musical voice on the bass. You know it’s him playing after just a couple of notes. These evening jazz concerts were a great way to unwind after the long day and enjoying an outdoor hang in the relative cool of the Lucca nights.

Wednesday, August 1 – Day #3

I spent the morning and early afternoon exploring Lucca with my wife. Though there are events morning, noon, and night at events like BASS2018, I need to take a breather every now and again. We missed a lot fo great sessions, but we headed into the afternoon recharged and rejuvenated.

Both of us headed over to Andrès Martin’s solo recital at the beautiful Palazzo Ducale Sala degli Staffieri. Paganini used to perform in this hall!

Andrès’ recital was one of the top musical highlights of the whole week for me. I recently wrote a post about the commissioning process of his new work Sueños (Dream Suite). Andrès played this piece in its entirety along with his Concerto No. 1.

After getting some well-deserved drinks with Diego Zecharies, Andrès, Lloyd Goldstein, his wife Mary Grace, and my wife Courtney all went out for dinner after his recital. This was the first time my wife had actually met Andrès in person, and we all had a great time chatting about bass, music, and al sorts of topics.

Later that evening, I made my way to Palazzo Pfanner for Adam Booker’s spirited late-night session in the garden. Adam was definitely one of the busiest bassists in Lucca that week, and it was great to see him in action in person.

Thursday, August 2 – Day #4

Lyris Hung did a great session on how strings are made and best practices for taking care of them. I had Lyris on my podcast last year discussing these issues, and it was great to hear her dig into this important topic in person.

Geoff Chalmers of Discover Double Bass joined me in a live taping session about how technology is shaping the bass world. We dug into Geoff’s journey with online learning and what he sees for the future. Both Douglas Mapp and David Heyes were in the audience, and both offered their own perspective on the online world and how it is shaping things for musicians.

To me, this was an update of sorts to a panel discussion that I participated in back at the 2009 ISB Convention. Titled Music in the Digital Age and including knowledgable bassists like Mark Dresser, it was a great talk on the past, present, and future of music and technology.

This day was chock full of performances that I wanted to check out. I hit up Adam Booker’s recital as well as Christine Hoock’s before departing for dinner.

That evening, Andrès Martin played his dark and moody Solo Suite as well as selections from Juan Soldado Suite, the first piece he ever wrote.

The Bass Gang, one of my all-time favorite bass ensembles, brought the house down with an epic concert. Made up of Antonio Sciancalepore, Andrea Pighi, Alberto Bocini, and the hilarious Amerigo Bernardi, they manage to blend great arrangements, fabulous bass playing, and incredible humor into their show. I featured them on the podcast a decade ago and have been a huge fan ever since.

Kristin Korb wrapped up the evening with a great set at Palazzo Pfanner. She’s such an outstanding performer, and I can’t believe that this was my first time actually seeing her perform live. As a past ISB president, Kristin is no stranger to bass events like this, and it was so was really cool to see the garden packed with attentive fans.

Friday, August 3 – Day #5

Alberto Bocini invited me to co-host a panel discussion on double bass educational trends in various countries, and I found myself part of a fascinating discussion of how things are evolving in Italy, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, the United States, and other countries. I love dialogues like this, and I came away from this event with a greater understanding of the similarities and differences that our educational systems have in terms of music instruction.

Vassilis Papavassiliou, the wonderful bassist from Athens, Greece, has been doing a great deal of research on vibrato, and I sat down with him to discuss this topic for the podcast. I love the experience of pulling out my microphones at a bustling cafe and seeing the look of surprise on the faces of severs and patrons. Everyone seems to give us a wide berth once those mics come out of the bag!

I caught a brief bit of Volkan Orhon’s recital. The last time I saw Volkan play live was at the 2009 ISB Convention, and it was wonderful to see him play again in Lucca.

I also had a chance to sit down with Hagai Bilitzky, the Israeli bassist who has been exploring Middle Eastern double bass for many years. I’ve been hoping to chat with Hagai for quite some time, and it was such a pleasure to do it over a beer in person in Lucca!

We had to depart for Rome Saturday morning, and I missed so many wonderful events the final two days of the congress, including Simón García’s recital. Here are a few highlights from the last two days:

Saturday, August 4 – Day #6

Sunday, August 5 – Day #7

Final Thoughts

There’s something so special about wandering the streets of an ancient city like Lucca, listening to performances in historic halls and dining outside on the street with friends from across the globe. I have had a world-class time at both BASS2016 in Prague and BASS2018 in Lucca, and I plan to make every future Bass Europe event as well.

Again, a big shout-out goes to Gabriele Ragghianti and Alberto Bocini for their tremendous work organizing this event, and also to the dozens of volunteers and behind-the-scenes people. Events of this size and complexity are always a challenge to pull off, and it’s because of the hard work of all of these folks that this event was such a success.

The big question is now… where will BASS2020 take place?

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I had a blast hanging out with folks like (L to R) Kate Jones, Nicholas Walker, Lloyd Goldstein, Johnny and Leon Hamil, and Dennis Whittaker.

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International Society of Bassists Convention 2017

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