A native of Tacoma, Washington, double bassist Matthew Heller joined the Calgary Philharmonic in 2007. He has appeared frequently as a recitalist and chamber musician, including performances with the Mountain View Chamber Music Festival, Land’s End Chamber Ensemble, Kensington Sinfonia, and Instrumental Society of Calgary. He was awarded the Instrumental Society’s inaugural Janice Waite Scholarship in recognition of his contributions to Calgary’s performing arts community.
Mr. Heller was previously a member of the New World Symphony (Miami, Florida), Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and Civic Orchestra of Chicago. He has been an orchestral fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center and the Verbier Festival in Switzerland, and performed chamber music with the St. Lawrence String Quartet at Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina.
Matthew completed studies at the New England Conservatory and at Northwestern University. He has studied with some of today’s most accomplished bassists, including Donald Palma, Harold Robinson, Michael Hovnanian, Matthew McDonald, and Joel Quarrington. Mr. Heller performs on an Italian double bass attributed to Antonio Gilbertini, dated 1841.
Who do you think are or were the masters of your instrument?
I’ve heard that when double bass soloist Gary Karr performed on the Ed Sullivan Show (in 1969), the audience was bigger than every previous bass solo performance, combined! Now that YouTube is available, anyone can hear a bass recital, and the level of playing may be the highest ever: Joel Quarrington, Hal Robinson, Edicson Ruiz, Roman Patkolo and Francois Rabbath are some of my favourites in the classical world.
Tell us a little about your instrument.
It’s labeled Antonio Gilbertini, 1830. Labels often lie, but it probably is Italian, and from the mid-19th century. Another, more plausible label says it was repaired by a luthier in Buenos Aires, and I’ve toured with it to Europe and South America as well.
I am the only member of our CPO bass section who plays with a German-style bow, as opposed to French – audience members sometimes ask me about my weird, underhanded bowing technique! In fact, both styles are legitimate, and there’s roughly an even divide among bass players worldwide. My bow was made by Thomas Dignan in Boston, Massachusetts.
Do you play in any groups/ensembles outside of the orchestra?
I’ve performed with the Mountain View Connection, Land’s End Chamber Ensemble, Kensington Sinfonia, Instrumental Society, Bach Festival Society, and the Fort MacLeod International Festival. In 2011/12, I’m looking forward to playing again with the Instrumental Society and Mountain View, where we’ll perform a rarely-heard piano quintet by Vaughn Williams.
What kinds of music do you listen to when you’re “off-duty?” What’s currently on your iPod?
Lately I’m into the Decemberists, Aimee Mann, Rufus Wainwright, and Mavis Staples. I’ve heard so many great bands and musicians at the Calgary Folk Fest, and I’m really grateful to be in a city with so much great live music.
How do you prepare for a concert? Any “pre-game” rituals?
A nap never hurts, or failing that a coffee, though the excitement of performing always gives me a second wind! I like to be at the hall in plenty of time, if only to confirm that I brought the right colour of socks.
How old were you when you started playing?
I started the violin at age 9, and the bass at age 12.