The double bass is the largest of all the stringed instruments in the orchestra, with its rich, mellifluous tones underpinning some of the finest classical music ever written. Legendary composers such as Brahms, Mahler and Stravinsky, for example, embraced the majesty of the double bass in many of their most feted works.
All of which is good musical news for Queensland Conservatorium alumnus and double bassist Jeremy Watt, who since graduating from Griffith University has forged an impressive international musical career.
As a freelance musician based in London, Jeremy has performed with ensembles including the London Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonia, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He recently returned from touring China with the London Symphony Orchestra, the ensemble including another Griffith University graduate in principal trumpet David Elton. Next up, Jeremy will begin a full-time role as Sub Principal Double Bass in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
“I first heard the double bass when I was a boy. My family was part of a big church group in Brisbane and it had a large orchestra,” he says. “I always loved classical music and my parents tell me that, even when I was small, I would ask them to play ‘my violin music’, which happened to be Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
“The move to playing double bass came as a result of necessity for the church orchestra. I wanted to play the saxophone, but we needed a double bass player. When I was told I could play bass guitar too, I took on the role.”
Jeremy was about 15 when, inspired by the Queensland Youth Orchestra, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. He graduated from the Queensland Conservatorium in 1999 with a Bachelor of Music (Performance, Hons) in Double Bass.
After moving to the UK in 2002, Jeremy began the uncertain life of a freelance classical musician. Fortunately, his obvious musical abilities and – not to be understated – his adaptability, have kept him gainfully employed in the creative world he loves.
“It can be a very demanding way to pursue a music career,” says Jeremy. “In London, the big orchestras are player-run and rehearsals are kept to an absolute minimum in an effort to compete financially with all the other world class ensembles in the city. So that means that if you come in, you need to learn the music very quickly and then play it almost off the cuff, except it’s immediately at a concert level.
“Sometimes the challenge can be so daunting that your eyes are as big as dinner plates, but it’s exciting and all worthwhile when you play that music, and hear that music, from the stage itself.
“I love a big orchestra. I thrive on the volume and depth of the sound and I feel very privileged to play and experience it from the best seat in the house.”
After so many years as an in-demand freelancer, Jeremy is looking forward to making the move to Birmingham and a more permanent role. An added bonus will be his appointment to the teaching staff of the Birmingham Royal Conservatoire. Starting in September, Jeremy will be teaching chamber music to the large double bass class there.
“I feel like I’ve done a very long apprenticeship. I’ve learned an incredible amount during this musical journey and I guess I must have been doing something right,” he says.
That journey began back home in Brisbane, in his church and at the Con.
“The Con was such an interesting time. It exuded this amazing feeling of something special. There was a real buzz about the place,” says Jeremy.
“It was a good time. The teaching staff were, without exaggeration, world class. Musicians were coming out of the Con and were filling orchestras and ensembles. It was always exciting seeing my friends offered jobs straight out of university in an industry that’s notoriously difficult to break into.”