Matthew McDonald, Principal Bass of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and Damien Eckersley, ANAM Double Bass Faculty, chat all things bass ahead of ANAM’s double bass concert in April.

MATTHEW McDONALD 2Matthew McDonald on Damien Eckersley
MD: Damo and I go way back! We went to the same high school, had the same bass teacher (Max McBride) and we even share the same birthday! Then we’d always bump into each other watching indie rock gigs. I remember how determined Damo was when he first started bass. He’s left handed and strung the bass up the other way around to initially learn before swapping the strings back around and learning the other way. He was hungry to learn repertoire and if he didn’t have the music he’d just transcribe it from a recording and learn a piece like that. Incredible talent and just the nicest guy you’d ever meet.

On coming to ANAM
MD: I did a few courses at ANAM and they were so formative. One course I did was with the then Principal Bass in the Berlin Philharmonic, Rudi Watzel – he first planted the idea of Berlin in my head. The other course was with Paul Ellison from Rice University. I still have those lessons ringing in my ears. I have so many memories from my times there (is there still an Irish pub nearby?). To go back to ANAM as a guest artist in a teaching capacity is such an honour. I’m really excited to work with the young musicians.

On being an Australian Double Bassist overseas
 Australians tend to have great instincts. Like so many Australian musicians I know, I was hungry to absorb tradition but able to maintain my own identity. I think we’re in that lucky position of being far enough from a sense of tradition to be able to look at things objectively, but close enough to understand the sense of it and be able to apply the details easily.

DAMIEN ECKERSLEYDamien Eckersley on Matthew McDonald
 Matthew has been an inspiration to me my entire bass playing life. It’s a little known fact that we went to the same high school, learnt from the same teacher in Canberra, and played in youth orchestras together. At the time, I’m pretty sure I could barely hold the bass and Matt was already a star. His achievements speak for themselves, but seeing the sacrifices he made and incredible amounts of hard work he put in on his journey to the pinnacle of the musical world has been such an inspiring story of commitment, talent and dedication leading to reward and success.

I recently had the opportunity to share a stand with Matthew for some concerts in India, and was surprised and somewhat embarrassed to find that despite the years of practice and study that I have done in the time since we last played together, I still found myself in awe of his playing. His ability to drive the entire orchestra from the bass with instinctive timing and subtle manipulation of articulation and shape is simply amazing. An incredible and versatile musician with a wealth of knowledge and experience, Matthew’s visit to ANAM is bound to be a life changing event for the bass class and the rest of the orchestra.

On being a double bassist in Australia
DE: The distance from Europe and America coupled with the fact that compared to other instruments, bass players rarely tour as soloist, means that in some ways we are very isolated from the rest of the bass playing world. Many players choose to further their studies overseas and bring back influences from various locations and schools that meld with others to create a unique and versatile approach to playing the bass. There are truly some incredible players and teachers in Australia and the standard of playing is forever developing. The challenges facing the classical music sector in Australia are apparent to the bass as well, but work by institutions such as ANAM and the Australian Youth Orchestra, and projects with inspiring role models like Matthew, as well as a dedicated community of bassists have us in good stead to face those challenges.

Article featured in Music Makers vol. 21

Join us for our last season performance for the term and see Matthew McDonald lead the ANAM orchestra from the chair.


Fri 07 Apr 2017, 7.30PM

MOZART Serenade no. 6 in D major K239 Serenata Notturna
FRANÇAIX Mozart New Look
ROTA Divertimento Concertante for double bass and orchestra
GRANS Memories from the City of Turku
STRAVINSKY Suite from Pulcinella

Matthew McDonald double bass/director
ANAM orchestra

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