Meet the Artist……Heather Bird, double bassist

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Who or what inspired you to take up the double bass and make it your career?

I played the flute since I was about 6 and had no intention of playing the bass! When I was 13 or so, I had passed grade 8 flute and there wasn’t much else to do in Cumbria with the flute, so I was looking for a second instrument. There was an old bass in the corner of the music school at school so asked my school music teacher if I could borrow it. I got some lessons from Cumbria music service and that was it: I was completely hooked. I joined Cumbria Youth Orchestra, then Northern Junior Philharmonic playing incredible repertoire like Tchaik 4, Mahler 7 and realised that I’d fallen in love with the bass. I then was taken to hear a concert by Gary Karr in a church in Penrith when I was 14. I had never heard anything like it. I went backstage to meet him after the gig and he asked me to play him something on his Amati. That’s when I knew without a doubt I wanted to be a bass player.

Who or what are the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Everything I do influences my musical life. Climbing mountains, meditation, reading a great book, cooking for friends, seeing an incredible piece of art – it’s impossible to separate out that from playing really.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Juggling parenting and playing is incredibly tough, particularly as a single parent. I taught as a peripatetic musical teacher full time for a few years and absolutely loved it. Now that my daughter Eden is older, it’s a joy to throw myself into full time playing again but I think it’s very hard for many musicians to balance their career and parenthood.

I found the elitism difficult when I first left Cumbria as we just saw the composers as normal people who had the ability to put what couldn’t be expressed in words into sound. So the posh thing was a bit tricky to deal with. But I’m working on that with my Classical Evolution gigs.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Usually my last one – which was with Gabriella Swallow and her Urban Family at this year’s Wildnerness Festival. So much fun – playing with the genre, improvising, working with such fantastic musicians. I really enjoyed recording a piece by Ailis Ni Riain for the Delia Derbyshire tour last year called The Consequences of Falling for double bass and trumpet. It was inspired by a piece by Delia, who worked at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and wrote the ‘Doctor Who’ theme. Really fantastic music, very challenging and I loved working on it.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I love being in a big section playing the big stuff – Mahler, Shostakovich, Nielsen…… but over the last few years I’ve discovered an absolute passion for chamber music. Playing underplayed repertoire by people such as the woman composer Louise Farrenc – fellow bassist Leon Bosch introduced me to her beautiful quintets.

I also love working with composers on new works for the bass and have been incredibly lucky to work with some amazing composers such as James Stevenson, AIlis Ni Riain and am going to be working with Paul Abbott from September on some new pieces for bass, voice, extended vocal techniques. New music is incredibly important to me. I run Classical Evolution which brings chamber and orchestral music to atypical locations in a completely informal way, and I’ve commissioned 3 new works in that capacity too. The bass is fantastic for this as it allows such versatility.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

The people that book me for orchestral gigs tend to do that! With my classical evolution gigs, I’m running 2 concert series in Manchester that are rather contrasting – one at a live music venue, Night and Day cafe where we’ll have improv nights where classical musicians who would like the chance to improvise can do it in the relative safety of the forms of tango, flamenco, baroque, and with a lovely friendly audience. More traditional repertoire that whatever me and my ensemble think will fit, and a new work each month. The other series is in the beautiful Portico Library in Manchester where I want to perform a more traditional repertoire but with some surprises thrown in every now and again but to work with authors to contextualise music in the frame of the great works that were written at the time.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Oh so many. From Matt and Phreds jazz club in Manchester to the Royal Albert Hall to a forest outside Liverpool where I commissioned and played in a piece for a children’s festival, to Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen…

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

All time favourite really has to be Mahler 2.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I’m lucky to have one of my best friends as one of my favourite musicians, and that’s the pianist Daniel Grimwood. Lots of other friends are just incredible and it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures to talk deeply about music and other facets of life with friends who’s musical talent you deeply admire.

I was brought up listening to Jaqueline du Pre, Pierre Fournier, Miles Davies, Carl Santana, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones (I had a big thing for Duran Duran when I was about 7). I love The Smiths, the Stone Roses. LTJ Bukem is a bit of a genius as is Bill Orbital. Recently living in Andalucia i discovered Paco de Lucia, Carlos Benavent, Javier Colina, Jorge Pardo…… far too many to mention and it changes pretty much daily!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

That is so difficult! Can I have a couple? The first time I really believed I could make a career was playing Nielsen 5 in Tivoli Gardens with Ole Schmidt. Truly extraordinary music and I loved every second.

Playing Schubert’s Trout at Classical Revolution’s first birthday concert in the Royal Exchange in Manchester with Martin Roscoe and Benedict Holland was pretty special too! 

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Work hard and love what you do. Never stop learning, and be completely open to who you can learn from. It’s the best job in the world.

Tell us more about Classical Evolution

I got back from living in Spain and was appalled by the music cuts in education so did a little thing called Guerilla Orchestra, where we played Mission Impossible in a few cities at the same time – one of which was conducted by the lovely Peter Donohoe. This guy emailed me from the states telling me about Classical Revolution over there, where people were playing chamber music informally in coffee shops. So we decided to play Dvorak quintet in our jeans in Matt and Phreds. Luckily Ben Holland agreed to play, and it went from strength to strength. We ended up with 2 monthly slots, one fantastic Sunday afternoon monthly gig where we would have lots of kids running around, we were playing bigger works like Souvenir de Florence, Britten’s Les Illiuminations, then I commissioned some works and thought that the name Classical Evolution summed what we were doing much more succinctly. Since then I’ve been running courses with some of the best musicians in the industry with that same informal feel, home-cooked bread and soup, and we’re carrying on from there. I’ve now set it up as a Community Interest Company and we have collaborations with visual, written and theatre artists coming up, expanding into education projects for children as well as the usual gigs in our jeans in ridiculous places. I’ve been unbelievably fortunate to have this project supported as patrons by Martin Roscoe, Ben Holland, Alison Moncrieff-Kelly and Jamie Walton. I played with Elizabeth Ball who runs the fabulous Classical Kicks at Ronnie Scotts, so we have a few things up our sleeves too. It’s not taking music out of the concert hall, in fact quite the opposite. People who come to our gigs or see us playing have often never been to a concert but having seen us play in those informal settings are keen to know more and are then led to the concert hall. The idea and philosophy is basically in no way to dumb down, just to play this music, particularly chamber music, in the way it was originally intended with people having a bite to eat, glass of wine, and see it in the raw.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Doing exactly what I’m doing now – playing the bass and running Classical Evolution.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being with my fantastic daughter up a mountain or in some ridiculous country somewhere. Or cooking at home for loads of friends. She’s a far better cook than I am!

What is your most treasured possession?

Boris (my bass)

What do you enjoy doing most?

Being a mother.

What is your present state of mind?

Excited about great projects in the pipeline, both playing and organising collaborations with sculptors, composers, musicians.. I’m a very lucky girl! 

Heather was born in Cumbria, and started playing the Flute aged 6, and the Double Bass aged 14. She played with the Cumbria Youth Orchestra and the Northern Junior Phil, before going on to the Royal Northern College of Music, studying the Double Bass with Duncan McTier.

Whilst at the RNCM, she played with the Symphony, String, Baorque, Chamber and Film Orchestras, Akanthos (the contemporary music ensemble), and kept a busy jazz schedule outside college.

After leaving the RNCM, Heather lived in Angola doing aid work, before moving to Cádiz, Spain for 3 years playing jazz, tango and teaching. She returned to the UK in 2010 to pursue an orchestral career.

As a Double Bassist she has worked with the RLPO, Sinfonia Verdi and the Milton Keynes City Orchestra, and well as numerous one-off dates.

Heather also runs Classical Evolution which was set up in 2011 to bring chamber and orchestral music to atypical locations with an informal feel to bring the music to new audiences. She has performed at the Spellbound Forest festival, for which she commissioned a new piece for children by James Stephenson. She also commissioned a new piece for the Just So Festival and organised a series of concerts for the Manchester Peace festival where she commissioned a further piece by the head of composition at Manchester University Richard Whalley and premiered it along with other new music in the live music venue Night and Day café.


Heather Bird
Director – Classical Evolution and Evolution Arts Centre
07456 528 166
 
For orchestral bookings please contact Morgensterns on 020 8681 0555 or visit www.morgensternsdiaryservice.com