Jeremy Kurtz-Harris


Interview on "Contrabass Conversations" -- Part 2 of 2

“Sonatas & Meditations” – DAVID ANDERSON: Sonata for Doublebass and Piano; LUIS PRADO: Three Meditations for Doublebass and Piano; BOISMORTIER: Sonata in D Major, Op. 50, No. 3 – Jeremy Kurtz, doublebass/Ines Irawati, piano/Benjamin Kamius, bassoon/ Alison Luedecke, harpsichord – JK-001 [] ****:

This is a superb artist-released CD that would never see the light of day from a major label. Jeremy Kurtz is the principal bassist of the San Diego Symphony and has an extensive recital background.  His wide musical interests are shown by his study with the jazz bassist John Clayton and classical/bluegrass artist-composer Edgar Meyer. Both of the modern works on the program date from the 1990s and both are tonal and most enjoyable.

Some of David Anderson’s influences are Shostakovich, Mahler and Jaco Pastorious – to give an idea of his sonata. Luis Prado is from Puerto Rico and his music is known for its strong melodies and emotional content.  It is an excellent programming choice to include a work of earlier music, and to end the program with it for a change. Boismortier’s sonata was published in 1734 and was labeled as being for cello, gamba or bassoon.  In the baroque spirit of looseness in pinning down what instruments music was written for, Jeremy Kurtz has chosen to perform the sonata on his bass with the continuo part supplied by harpsichord and bassoon. Its four movements are sprightly and fresh-sounding, and the bass demonstrates its quite wide frequency range – not at all limited to the subterranean regions. Kurtz has a rich cello-like tone and his instrument is perfectly captured in the first rate recordings.  Some single-instrument recitals such as this – however well-played -  fall into an academically-required-recital bag rather than a disc that would provide enjoyable listening anytime.  But not this CD.

Unusual tech note on this disc: There is an additional nine-minute selection, “Outtakes from a Work in Progress” which is accessed by pausing at the beginning of the first track and then rewinding until the display shows -9 minutes, and then releasing the button.  It says it doesn’t work on all CD players and wouldn’t on mine so I can’t report on it.

 - John Sunier 

Review of "Sonatas and Meditations"

Centuries into its existence, the double bass still struggles to find broad acceptance as a solo instrument. Virtuosos on the instrument appear with increasing frequency, as do mainstream recordings of both "standard repertoire" and newly composed works. Each of these successful recordings represents another step for the instrument's quest for approval. This album, featuring bassist Jeremy Kurtz, may take the instrument forward by more than just one step. It all begins with Kurtz's choice of literature. Both the Anderson Sonata and the Prado Three Meditations, which Kurtz commissioned, take a different route than some modern pieces for the instrument. Rather than focusing on pushing the double bass to the extremes of technical virtuosity, they focus more on the bass' tonal strengths: the deep, punchy bottom and the melancholy mid-range. Sure, there are some pyrotechnics high up on the fingerboard, but these are not the primary focus. Wrapping up the program is a little-known Baroque sonata by Boismortier, which, though not originally written with the double bass in mind, seems right at home on the instrument. All of this wonderful programming would be for not if it weren't also for Kurtz's extremely warm, rich sound quality; his impeccable intonation; his reserved use of vibrato; and his ability to make his instrument truly sing. Joined by a group of attentive musicians who are sensitive to the bass' sometimes problematic balance issues, this album is certainly one for double bass enthusiasts and anyone who's interested in seeing just what the instrument can do.

Jeremy Kurtz's Sonatas & Meditations - Released in partnership with KUHF.

David Anderson: Sonata for Double Bass and Piano. Luís Prado: Three Meditations for Double Bass and Piano. Jeremy Kurtz, double bass; Ines Irawati, piano.

Joseph Bodin de Boismortier: Sonata in D, op. 50/3. Kurtz; with Alison Luedecke, harpsichord and Benjamin Kamins, bassoon. (KUHF JK-001)

Jeremy Kurtz is principal bassist of the San Diego Symphony, with which he quite recently played the première of John Harbison's Concerto.  The two late-20th-century works were recorded in the KUHF Performance Studio and engineered by our own Todd Hulslander.  The Boismortier Sonata, dating from 1734, was designated by the composer — best known for his many flute sonatas — as for cello, gamba or bassoon, and was recorded by Mr. Kurtz and his continuo team at Rice University's Duncan Recital Hall.

David Anderson's Sonata, completed in 1990, is an echo of Prokofiev, skillfully and idiomatically written (which is not surprising, since Mr. Anderson is himself a bass player).  I did have some difficulty keeping track of the structure of the first movement.  The slow movement, the second of the three, begins with an invitingly long stretch of melody for the bass.  In this movement's aggressive second section, some interesting sul ponticello effects (mostly with rapidly bowed tremolos) are complemented by the pianist's reaching into the soundboard and playing glissandi across the strings, to the accompaniment of a ponderous left hand.  There is no return of the original lyrical idea; instead, Anderson goes directly into a bridge passage (with interesting octaves in double stops) which serves to introduce the concluding asymmetrical finale.  Mr. Kurtz handles the daunting double stops, prominent toward the end of the first movement, with consummate ease.  Ms. Irawati is a consistently sympathetic and alert partner.

Puerto Rico-born Luís Prado's Three Meditations (1999) seem like extended recitatives, the last two in the character of a recitative and aria (but shaped very differently from each other). Mr. Kurtz commissioned this set from Mr. Prado, whom he met at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia when both were students there, and reveals himself as a most persuasive advocate of these interesting miniatures. 

The Boismortier receives a clean and thoroughly musical performance, and Mr. Kurtz makes a good case for it as a double bass piece. His collaborators are well in accord with him throughout.  He seems to have something of the spirit of Serge Koussevitzky in him in his bringing the bass out of the shadows and into the vicinity of center stage, and in enlarging its solo repertory.

Interview on "Contrabass Conversations" -- Part 1 of 2

An Arts Section feature on bassist Jeremy Kurtz and the John Harbison bass concerto