Jesse Fischer, the Oregon Symphony’s newly-minted Principal Bass, is also one of the orchestra’s most recent additions; he joined the orchestra at the beginning of the 2022–23 season. In some ways, moving to Oregon is like coming full circle for Jesse, who grew up in Boulder, co. “I was attracted to Oregon because it’s the West and there’s skiing and great outdoor opportunities here,” he says. “I also really like the way the musicians in this orchestra enjoy coming to work to make great music here.”
ES: How did you and the bass come together?
JF: My first instrument was cello; I started in a Suzuki program at age three. When I was seven, I got an electric bass for Christmas. I have twin siblings three years older than me – my brother is a violist and my sister is a pianist – and the three of us formed a family band named Lower Ambush, after our favorite ski run in Boulder. We played mostly rock music. Later on, I got into jazz and started playing double bass; I ended up switching to bass entirely around age 15 and started college as a double major with an equal focus on jazz and classical music.
ES: What is it about playing bass that hooked you? Do you subscribe to the idea that musicians gravitate towards the instruments that match their personality?
JF: I think that’s true. I’m kind of a soft- spoken person, and I think the bass is the unsung hero of the orchestra. I also like the sound of the bass and how it holds the orchestra together. You don’t really need to pay attention to it when you’re listening, but the music would sound terrible without it.
ES: Why did you decide to focus on classical bass rather than stay with jazz?
JF: Since I played cello for so long, learning classical bass was fairly easy for me. In the fall of my freshman year at the University of Colorado Boulder, my bass teacher encouraged me to audition for the Boulder Philharmonic. I won the audition and found myself with a job in a regional orchestra, which paid pretty well and was fun. Also, I found that jazz is harder for me to play. I do love it, but it takes a lot of work and doesn’t come easily to me, mostly because I was never very good at memorizing the chords. I could play well but memorization was hard. When you go to jam sessions, you have to know the songs and the chord changes from memory; it’s definitely not cool to have to read chords. I was bad at memorizing tunes, which is kind of weird, because I’ve never had any issue memorizing music for classical pieces.
ES: Tell us about the new bass you bought last September.
JF: I think it takes at least a year to connect with a new instrument. It should feel like an extension of myself, but I’m not quite there yet because it takes time to develop that relationship. My previous bass, a modern instrument made around ten years ago, is very different from my current bass, which was made in 1835. The tone has a much fuller sound, especially on the lowest notes. Last week I was rehearsing with the modern bass, which I keep as a spare, and my stand partner Braizahn [Jones, Assistant Principal Bass] said he can tell the difference between my old bass and my new one by the way the air vibrates against his face when I play.
ES: What is it like working with Music Director David Danzmayr?
JF: At Rice University in Houston, where I completed my undergraduate degree, we played in a very live hall with great acoustics. I was used to being asked to play more quietly, but David loves the bass and always wants more of it. That’s great, but it was a bit of an adjustment. David has humility and he seems like a really kind, empathetic person who is willing to work with the musicians where they are and let us play in our own way, rather than force us into his idea of things. A conductor’s job should allow the musicians to play how they want to, rather than to impart their ideas onto the orchestra.
ES: This is your first job as Principal Bass; how is that different from being a member of the bass section?
JF: I have to have a different level of competence. When you’re part of the section, you follow the style of play of the musicians around you. As Principal, I have to confidently set the style, along with Braizahn, and make it easy for the rest of the group to fit in with us. In general, I’ve always been a confident player. If I trust myself, I’ll play how I want to play. Also, it helps that there are two new hires in the section; I’m not the only new kid, and it also helps that my bass “co-parent” [Braizahn] is close to my age, because we have similarities in the way we communicate.
ES: What pieces are you most looking forward to playing with the orchestra this spring?
JF: I’m excited about Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, which we’re performing April 29–May 1. I’m very familiar with parts of it, because there are a lot of standard excerpts for bass auditions that come from the Scherzo, but I’ve never played the entire symphony. It’s such a grand symphony; the second movement is lovely and the Scherzo is great, and the last movement has a lot of energy. I’m also looking forward to Mahler’s Fourth Symphony on April 22–24, which is new to me, and I’m happy to play Mahler’s Fifth again on June 10–12.