[Why?] … belongs amongst the best pieces written for this instrument combination.
I first met the great Romanian virtuoso Ovidiu Badila at Kloster Michaelstein Bass Workshop (Germany) in 1998. He was the ‘star-act’ of the week, amongst many great players, and we met almost by accident. The workshop featured masterclasses and lessons each day alongside recitals every evening. Thursday’s recital began at 7.00 pm and “a rather disgruntled Badila” took to the stage at 11.00 pm, my diary entry reads, but it was certainly worth waiting for! I sat through the entire evening concert programme but my wife, Sarah Poole, had had enough by about 9.00 pm and returned to our room for a well-deserved glass of wine. She returned about 90 minutes later, and there, waiting to play, was a leather-coated Badila, although at the time she didn’t know who he was. They started talking, and she told him that she had come back to hear Ovidiu Badila play because I had told her how good he was! I know he liked the flattery…
Ovidiu played Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations, amongst other pieces, and was simply the best player I had ever heard. His technique was impeccable, his musicianship supreme, and he simply oozed quality, confidence and charisma. He knew he was the best and didn’t need a big ego to demonstrate this. From this point on, we became firm friends. We kept in contact and met again two years later in Odense (Denmark) at Bassissimo 2000 and continued our friendship where we had left off, two years before. Sarah, Ovidiu, Teppo Hauta-aho, the iconic Finnish bassist-composer, Alex Forbes, one of my students, and I spent every evening together, alongside most coffee and meal breaks, talking about our families, careers and great plans for the future. We celebrated his 38th birthday in Denmark, and he bought many bottles of wine for the tutors. At one point, he leant across and quietly said to me, “These bottles are for us — these are the best!” Ovidiu knew his wines, and we celebrated his birthday in style.
We left Odense after a wonderful week of playing and teaching, much laughter and good humour, and had made plans for both our families to holiday together in Sardinia the following summer. Ovidiu phoned us on Christmas Day. We had a wonderful conversation about his future concerts — there were so many, and they were so varied — and about our joint Sardinian adventure that summer.
On Saturday, 24 March 2001, after a long day of teaching in London, I opened an email from my great friend Mette Hanskov (Principal Bass, Royal Danish Orchestra) in Denmark, who shared the terrible news that Ovidiu had died a few days earlier at Kloster Michaelstein (Germany). Sarah and I were in total shock. Ovidiu, our amazing friend, was so full of life, had so much to give as a musician, also as a husband, father, son and brother, and one of the brightest of musical lights was suddenly extinguished.
Much of the international bass community was shocked, and the loss is still keenly felt twenty years later. Many of us still talk about Ovidiu Badila, and I have been quite touched that so many younger bassists want to know more about him — they only know him through his recordings and our memories — and I feel honoured to have been his friend.
A few months later, I received a music package from Teppo Hauta-aho in Helsinki, which included a handwritten copy of a new double bass quartet called Why? and was a tribute to our great friend.
Why? is surely one of the most powerful and original works in the double bass quartet repertoire and demonstrates a composer at the very height of his powers. Teppo Hauta-aho and I had both studied in Prague with František Pošta (1919-1991), who was Principal Bass of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra for over 40 years, Teppo in the 1960s and me in the 1980s. František had said we would become good friends, and he was correct in this. Teppo is one of the most unique figures in the double bass world today as a player and composer. He has written a wealth of accessible, evocative and challenging music for every level of performer — he is the most prolific double bass composer in the instrument’s history. This piece reflects our great friendships, respect and love for each other, alongside much laughter and good humour, wonderful memories but also tinged with sadness.
Why? was written in memory of Ovidiu Badila and was premiered on 6 April 2002 at Downe House School (Newbury, Berkshire), as part of Bass-Fest 2002, by Teppo Hauta-aho, David Heyes, Mette Hanskov and Peter Leerdam. In one extended movement, it employs a range of musical and percussive skills to explore a wide range of sound worlds and powerful emotions. The opening pizzicato theme is also used in Two Dances for double bass quartet but develops to encompass the entire range of the bass quartet.
The composer describes:
…a feeling of sorrow — a sudden stop when everything is going well — the dramatic end to the work after a powerful climax — the shock of Ovidu’s sudden death. The start is both happy and sad and uses an Indian scale, which my piano trio also uses, and it’s a scale I heard a lot in the 1970s — it stayed in my mind and is almost Jewish in feel.
…the piece begins with an introspective blues-like melody which is passed from voice to voice. The work moves through a variety of emotions, from tranquillity to sorrow to anger, and belongs amongst the best pieces written for this instrument combination.
ESTA – News & Views:
“Why?” was written in memory of the Romanian bass player Ovidiu Badila, and is a work of unusual poignancy for double bass quartet. Its beginning looks back to the melody used in Teppo’s “Two Dances,” and as this material is developed it is, by turns, reflective, heartfelt and sad. There are some lovely harmonies and the closeness of the parts often creates an anguished tension. The impassioned climax, with its alternating chords, comes to an abrupt stop, leaving three silent bars of reflection. The upper parts are sometimes high and the work is advanced, but this quartet is worth exploring.
Why? is a double bass quartet like no other. Here is a work of great drama and passion, of power and friendship, of love and loss — so many emotions that we feel in our everyday life — but here distilled into a ten or eleven-minute piece which is both challenging and thought-provoking. The international bass community is slowly beginning to realise the great quality and power of this work, which challenges performers and audiences alike. It really ought to be at the very heart of the bass quartet repertoire and is a testament to the memory of a great soloist and the skills of a great composer. I am proud to have been a friend to both.