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.
Heller also performs as Principal Bass with the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra, a summer orchestra in Boulder, Colorado. He 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.
Heller 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. Heller performs on an Italian double bass attributed to Antonio Gilbertini, dated 1862.
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, 1862. 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 wrote about this a while ago on the CPO blog.
I am one of just two members 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 really enjoyed playing chamber music ensembles and even jazz ensembles with my CPO colleagues, and with others outside the orchestra. Recently this has included recitals at the Instrumental Society of Calgary, ProArts Society, and University of Lethbridge, and I frequently play outreach shows with Michael Hope (who doubles on bassoon and voice) and violinist Laura Reid. I’ve also played concerts with Luminous Voices, Honens, Mountain View Connection, and other local groups.
My biggest outside project, though, is a First Mondays series at Cafe Koi called Classical Revolution Calgary. We started the series in 2012, and it has grown into a wonderful community of professional and amateur musicians, often presenting offbeat repertoire in a really intimate, inclusive way. You can find the group on Facebook, and the events are usually the first Monday of each month at 7pm.
What kinds of music do you listen to when you’re “off-duty?” What’s currently on your iPod?
Calgary just has so much to offer right now, musically. This season I’m looking forward to hearing concerts by Sarah Slean and the entire Calgary Pro Musica season, Luminous Voices, as well as the ensembles on the Calgary Phil presents series.
Unfortunately, my last iPod broke in 2008, but on my surviving devices, I love Cuban and Latin music, jazz, Canadian indie bands, and of course classical. I listen to lots of radio (CJSW, CBC, BBC3), and am always looking for new sounds through the Calgary Public Library’s CD and digital collections.
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. I’m also really into Ashtanga Yoga – though I usually practice at around 6:30am, not before a concert.
How old were you when you started playing?
I started the violin at age 9, and the bass at age 12.