Heard at the Shop: Histories and Stories About Double Basses
Erik Dyke's Pietro Pallotta Bass
Here at the Bass Violin Shop, we have the honor of working with a remarkable array of basses, some with mysterious and convoluted pasts, others with carefully studied pedigrees. No matter the origin, nearly each bass has an intriguing story. We thought our fellow bass-nerds might enjoy these histories as much as we do. North Carolina Symphony bassist Erik Dyke recently brought in his Pietro Pallotta bass, and kindly agreed to participate in our first post.
Erik studied with Lawrence P. Hurst at the University of Michigan, Stuart Sankey at the Aspen Music Festival, and Peter Mercurio at the Music Academy of the West. He's played with the NC Symphony since 1978, and has also performed with the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds, Las Palmas, Canary Islands Opera, and the Santa Fe Opera.
BVS: How did you come to own your bass?
Erik: "I bought the 1790 Pallotta bass from my NCSO stand partner John Cubbage in 1986 when he retired from the orchestra. I had loved and admired the bass since joining the orchestra eight years earlier, was quick to secure financing, and worked out a deal within just one week."
BVS: What do you know about the history and lineage of your bass? Where has it lived? Do you know who else has played it?
Erik: "I have a great deal of knowledge regarding the history of the bass as far back as the early 1900s by way of letters from previous owners, repairmen, and others who knew the bass. Samson Coscia owned and played the bass in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for many years according to his son Sam Jr. who then inherited the instrument and played for many more years in the Met Orchestra, Radio City Music Hall, the American Symphony and more. Sam Jr. sold the bass to John Cubbage who the brought it to NC in 1974. Mr. Cubbage has nearly completed a scholarly research project of all the Pallotta basses known at this time. "
BVS: Are there any particular genres or composers you especially enjoy playing with this bass?
Erik: "The old Italian bass is magnificent in every way. It is well suited to orchestra and solo playing with a deep, rich sound and extremely easy to play because of its compact size and responsiveness. With a huge and profoundly rich voice, it's particularly wonderful for playing the great choral works of Bach, Mozart and Schubert in small church ensembles. Of great interest, we've counted the age rings in the front and find the 1790 bass was carved from a log that had grown to be 195 years old!
BVS: Tell us about your preferred playing gear?
Erik: "The bass requires regular maintenance; I keep it clean and well humidified when possible. Currently set up with Thomastick Bel Canto orchestra strings it also sounds great in solo tuning or scordatura. I prefer to play on it with a fine old French bow such as a Vigneron."
"Someone once said to me it's so unusual looking "It's kind of like owning a Picasso". I've been very lucky."