Niek de Groot - CD booklet text June 2015:
After already fulfilling my conducting aspirations in front of the radio at the age of three, my first musical experiences consisted of marching around with my grandfather’s brass band sousaphone. At ten I was talked into taking trumpet lessons in my little hometown Middelburg. I was not quite aware at the time how incredibly lucky I was as my teacher turned out not only to be responsible for the upbringing of several Dutch principal trumpets but had played under von Karajan in Vienna and with the Concertgebouworchestra. I was drilled with the idea that it was always about the music and not about the instrument, and this remained the red thread of my musical life. At that time my biggest problem was either practicing far too little or far too much, but I was consistently drawn to the beauty of classical music. Indeed, it helped me through the hardest time of my life - school! The wisest advice of the same teacher, however, came when the only escape for me seemed to be to become a professional musician “I’ll get you to the conservatory, but with your embouchure you will kill yourself. Change instrument!” So, as an eighteen year old, what could I do? The solution came in a split second when two professional substitute bass players in our youth orchestra executed some breathtaking pizzicatos in a Rossini overture...
What followed was a catch-up race, working with several teachers and at many institutions. After doing my share in most national and international youth orchestras - a splendid six week world tour under Bernstein and Abbado included - I found myself the bassist of the Nieuw Ensemble for contemporary music, experimenting furiously and pushing all limits. Here I witnessed closely the first steps of György Kurtàg, and Tan Dun and the Chinese gang in Western Europe. One year later I got a job as co-principal bass in the newly merged Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, which I left within a year for the principal position in the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in Norway, next-door to Edvard Grieg's home. The graduation for my solo diploma took place shortly afterwards, in fact, rather poorly planned the day after the Dutch football team won the European Championships!
During the adventurous years in Norway I also took my first steps in authentic performance practice with the Norwegian Baroque Orchestra and I later joined the unsurpassed Norwegian Chamber Orchestra. The many tours there with Slava Rostropovich were not only musically very inspiring, but traveling so close to him and his four-wheel drive Stevenson cello-case brought us to all kind of hilarious airport adventures "Niek, a flight with our kind of instruments is like a one-act opera!"
Still I felt somewhat handicapped with my playing skills, going on luck rather than knowledge. I was also wondering if there was more behind the well protected limits of the double bass. Happily enough the Bergen Orchestra granted me a sabbatical to study at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada where I had lessons with many fascinating musicians including György Sebok, Peter Donohoe, Laurence Lesser, David Breitman, Karen Tuttle, Steven Staryk and Peter Damm. They all had one thing in common: they never accepted that anything was impossible on the bass. This resulted in an ongoing urge to learn more and for that I attended many inspirational master classes with cellists Frans Helmerson and Luìs Claret who were friendly enough to let me join their elite troupes.
Back in Norway I was awarded the Klæsted legacy with the connected debut recitals in Bergen and Oslo. After more studying in Banff it was time for me to return to Amsterdam. Jeopardizing the well being of my hands by building a houseboat, in 1993 I made my debut in Concertgebouw's Kleine Zaal in the 'Young Dutch series' being the first bassist ever to give a full solo recital there. I also gave many chamber music and other solo concerts, among them very dear encounters with Kurtàg at tours with his Rückblick quartet and exiting meetings with Stockhausen, rehearsing for the EMI 'Halt' recording with his son Markus.
Then in 1996 I had the privilege to become principal solo bass with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and simultaneously was appointed as Senior Professor for double bass at the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen, Germany. The latter thanks to the great help of some colleagues who, against the odds that some claim the importance of becoming a bass-playing musician lies in the way one holds the bow, managed to make me the first non-German bow player to get such a position.
Just a few years before I slowly started to get involved in chamber music festivals, and that refined high-pixel music-making became my oxygen for the orchestra routine during most spare time. It put me in contact with fantastic musicians and composers and the most diverse repertoire. There really is so much great repertoire and yet still so much to discover. Together with teaching, this became such an important part of my life that it was increasingly difficult to combine that with the heavy orchestral workload. So, in 2006, I left the Concertgebouworchestra where the torch has been passed on to several of my great students.
One of the most difficult challenges in a bass players life is to find a good and reliable instrument. Few were built and many destroyed mainly due to the instrument's non-ergonomic sizes. Despite a hazy world of many ‘would be’ instruments I have been lucky enough to have had the chance to play on some rare genuine examples by Cerutti, Candi and now the Amati for which I have the lifelong playing privilege.
My main goal has always been to transcend the double bass to the same musical and technical level as any other instrument. I hope this recording will contribute to that. As long as we stay being the only instrument where at most competitions and auditions the use of historical informed editions is forbidden and hopelessly outdated cadenzas are required, there is lot's of work to be done!
Niek de Groot
Tatjana Kukoc with Niek de Groot in Howard Bashaw HOROS BUY
Markus Stockhausen plays Karlheinz Stockhausen
Markus Stockhausen with Niek de Groot in HALT BUY