From Bach to Bluegrass: Acclaimed Musician Gives Double Bass Its Due

The big, warm, sonorous tone of the double bass can sound like a Russian bass singing an aria from Boris Godunov. It’s a commanding instrument but, unlike in jazz and bluegrass, it’s rarely featured as a solo instrument in classical recitals and symphonic concerts. In the Classical and Romantic eras, the Italian composers and double-bass players Domenico Dragonetti and Giovanni Bottesini were celebrated for their technical brilliance and compositions for the double bass.

That’s why when bassist Edgar Meyer exploded on the classical scene in the 1990s — more than a century later — it was like a return of Halley’s Comet. People took notice of Meyer’s incredible artistry on the double bass and began to give the noble instrument its due.

The Harriman-Jewell Series will present Edgar Meyer in solo double bass concert on May 22 at the 1900 Building, Mission Woods, Kansas. The performance will have a distanced in-person audience and will be simulcast via livestream at HJSERIES.ORG.

A favorite with audiences, Edgar Meyer is equally as loved and revered by his musical colleagues. Clark Morris, executive and artistic director of the Harriman-Jewell Series, recalls the time the Series presented Meyer in 2017 with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and mandolinist Chris Thile in the Kauffman Center’s Helzberg Hall.

“One of the interesting things about that performance is that it was part of a weekend marking the end of our 52nd season. On Friday night, this exceptional trio performed. Then on the next night, we had Joyce DiDonato. It was such a blast to have those power-packed performances back-to-back. In fact, Joyce DiDonato was at Friday’s performance, and it was fun seeing her interact backstage with Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile and Yo-Yo Ma. I could tell they all loved being together,” Morris said.

Edgar Meyer has received the Avery Fisher Career Grant, the MacArthur Fellowship (also known as the Genius Grant) and has won six Grammys. He was born in Tennessee, a state in which the uniquely American genre of bluegrass has a strong tradition. It’s not surprising that Meyer plans to play some of his bluegrass compositions along with his arrangement of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 for his May 22 concert.

“With jigs and other dances, I think you hear how folk music influenced classical composers,” Morris said. “And classical music has probably also influenced folk musicians. You hear all of that in Edgar’s music.”

Meyer’s May concert will be the first in-person audience presented by the Harriman-Jewell Series since the pandemic began. Morris says that every precaution is being taken.

“Normally we would be able to seat 300 people in the 1900 Building, if we didn’t have to worry about social distancing and the health and safety of our patrons,” Morris said. “But for the Edgar Meyer concert we’ll do about 56. In addition to the socially distanced and masked audience, we plan to livestream the performance.”

The simulcast livestream will be offered with a “pay what you wish” option and will be available on-demand for a week.

In addition to his May concert, Edgar Meyer will be part of the Harriman-Jewell Series’ 2021–2022 season. On April 3, 2022, he will appear with Scottish Ensemble at the Folly Theater in a concert that will feature a new commission written and performed by Meyer.

Clark Morris says that he is grateful to the many people who have helped make Series concerts possible during this challenging time. “Our patrons have been amazing,” Morris said. “They have supported us and given us contributions and just cheered us on. They’ve made sure we stay healthy throughout the pandemic, so we can launch a great season next fall. They’ve also helped us do things like Edgar Meyer this year. It’s a reminder of how blessed we are in Kansas City and how much the community cares about the arts. I’m feeling very grateful and hopeful about the future.”

Edgar Meyer, bassist in solo performance at the 1900 Building and via livestream at 7 p.m., Saturday, May 22, 2021.

Scottish Ensemble with bassist Edgar Meyer at the Folly Theater at 3 p.m., Sunday, April 3, 2022.

For more information about the Harriman-Jewell Series and its upcoming performances, call 816-415-5025 or visit HJSERIES.ORG.

–Patrick Neas

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