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ASU bassist moves from the back of the orchestra to center stage

Double bass soloist Catalin Rotaru
August 21, 2013

Musicians who play the double bass – that big wooden fiddle that stands tall in the back of the orchestra – have a deficiency most classical musicians don’t suffer: a shortage of music. An instrument so large and low, along with the physical challenges of making it sound musical, mean it has never been the first instrument to leap into most composers’ minds when they want to create a new piece of solo literature.

So bass players devised a solution. If composers weren’t going to write down to their range, bassists would move up; specifically, up the fingerboard of the bass, into the range of the cello, where many composers have been happy to write beautiful pieces of solo literature. This shift brought challenges of its own. Playing that high up the fingerboard where the pitches are very close together on thick, double bass strings is extremely difficult. But you wouldn’t think so watching Catalin Rotaru. This associate professor in the ASU School of Music makes the double bass sing – and makes it seem effortless.

Rotaru, in demand around the globe as a double bass soloist and clinician, will be featured Aug. 24 in the solo role with the local chamber orchestra Arizona Pro Arte, doing what he does beautifully: playing a work for cello and orchestra on his double bass.

This is familiar territory for Rotaru, whose 2007 solo CD release “Bass*ic Cello Notes” features three such adopted cello works. That album was praised by Gary Karr, widely regarded as the world’s greatest living double bassist, as “a high-standard example of superb bass playing and great musicianship.”

For his performance with Arizona Pro Arte, Rotaru selected Haydn’s Concerto in C for cello and orchestra. The orchestra will be featured without a soloist in the second half of the concert, performing Schubert’s Symphony No. 9, nicknamed “The Great.” In fact, it was the combination of that symphony and Rotaru’s appearance that inspired APA’s artistic director and conductor Timothy Verville to title the program “Two Greats.”

Verville, who received his doctor of musical arts degree from ASU in 2012, describes Arizona Pro Arte as “a flexible ensemble model for innovation in the performance of classical music through expert-level collaborative performances. Arizona Pro Arte offers audiences an opportunity to explore music through an unusual mix of the arts.” The orchestra attracted considerable media attention in its inaugural season last year for performances that mixed music with visual arts, theater and classic film, through partnerships with other Valley artists and ensembles.

This Saturday’s performance – the finale of Arizona Pro Arte’s summer series – begins at 7:30 p.m. in the studio of the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 West Rio Salado Parkway, on the south shore of Tempe Town Lake. Information and tickets are available at Audience members are advised to purchase their tickets early, as seating is limited, and to arrive early. All tickets are general admission and the last APA performance sold out. Audience members who arrive by 6:45 p.m. will receive an extra treat, free of charge: a pre-concert conversation with Catalin Rotaru and Timothy Verville, hosted by Sterling Beeaff, KBAQ-FM music director.

One question Rotaru is likely not to answer during the conversation is, “What is your all-time favorite piece to play?” As he told an interviewer in 2009, “I take a lot of pleasure in performing everything I learned and I know so far; and in a way, this is the final and most sublime stage a performer can attain: you’re not playing anymore – you are merely a vessel, serving the music and letting the emotions flow out into the heart and soul of your audience.

Music lovers who want to know how that feels should get their tickets early.