June 15, 2015
Get to Know Matthew Frischman
This week we check in with Matthew Frischman, a Minnesota Orchestra bass section member since 1998. Together with Kathryn Nettleman, he served as acting co-principal bass in recent seasons. Here he talks about his favorite past performances, his connection to The Tonight Show, and how the motto “practice, practice, practice” doesn’t apply only to music.
Q. What have been some of your favorite performances with the Minnesota Orchestra over the years?
A. One that comes to mind is the first time Osmo Vänskä came to conduct us: we did Sibelius’ Sixth Symphony. It’s a fairly emotional experience to play it again this month and record it. It’s truly a work of genius. The Orchestra has been through so much together with Osmo since that first concert. Now we play it with a renewed intensity that reflects what we’ve experienced together. The Orchestra really grooves with Sibelius now in a way we couldn’t have before Osmo.
I also remember a performance of Sibelius’ Second Symphony on tour in Frankfurt, Germany, with Osmo. I remember in that moment thinking that this was possibly the finest performance of Sibelius that had ever been heard anywhere at any time.
Last but not least, the experience of playing to audiences in Cuba and working with the students there was a career highlight for me. To be ambassadors of our art, our state and our country, bringing people together in the way we did through music—it’s the most satisfying and meaningful thing one can do as musician, in my opinion. I think the Cubans were very moved to have us there, and we certainly were very moved to be there performing for them.
Q. Your bass has a unique history—can you tell us about it?
A. I found my current instrument just this past January: it’s an early David Wiebe bass that he made in 1977. It was owned by Robert Hurst, who played with Wynton and Branford Marsalis. My bass has been on The Tonight Show, since Mr. Hurst was the bassist there for a time. I’m hoping the instrument makes a smooth transition back to the classical world! So far it’s my favorite bass that I have ever owned.
Q. If you had to switch to another section of the orchestra, which would it be?
A. Probably timpani, because it combines my interest in percussion with the familiarity of bass line playing. I actually dabbled with timpani in high school, but figured out that I would need an even bigger car to transport them than I needed for the bass. My parents—who are avid orchestra-goers now—are probably grateful for that!
Q. Who are some of your favorite composers?
A. Well, most bass players love Mahler and Brahms because the parts are so challenging, but still playable. Strauss and Mozart wrote some of the most inspired music, but it drives me crazy because I often feel like a beginner trying to play works of those two composers. I’m also a huge opera fan. I love Verdi especially, but it’s rare that I play or hear an opera that I don’t enjoy.
Q. We hear that you’re a dedicated triathlete. How did you get interested in triathlons and how do you prepare?
A. I am actually on hiatus from triathlons, but I hope to make a comeback soon! In the past I have done the Ironman in Wisconsin. Obsessive-compulsive, perfectionist musicians have the tools to be great triathletes: you have to practice, practice, practice—or train, train, train. You have to be organized and committed. Plus there are lots of toys, and musicians like new toys to obsess over.
Q. Are you “obsessing” over anything else these days?
A. A huge new project is the recently-formed Minnesota Orchestra Rock Band, otherwise known as the “M.O.B.” I grew up playing in rock bands, not just orchestras, and I really have an interest in both classic and modern rock and roll. What’s especially cool about the M.O.B. is that we are members of the orchestra, but we play very different instruments than what we play at work! I am the drummer. Principal Percussionist Brian Mount plays guitar and sings, and bass clarinetist Tim Zavadil also plays guitar and sings.
I’m kind of a Beatles fanatic and amateur historian—I think I’ve read every possible significant piece written about them and their recordings. Brian and I had this concept to really dive into the whole catalogue, so our first public show will definitely be a Beatles focus. I think it’s astounding to observe how in just about 6 years’ time they went from ’50s blues and skiffle to what we hear on Abbey Road and Let it Be, creating the blueprint for what a rock and roll band is to this day. The Beatles are to popular and rock music as what Bach is to classical music. What’s cool is we bring the same drive to play really, really well in the band that we bring to the Orchestra. Look for us playing in the Orchestra Hall lobby sometime next year!
Q. Overall, what do you enjoy about performing with the Minnesota Orchestra?
A. Minnesota plays with an intensity and color that is absolutely unique in the orchestral world—there is nothing careless or generic about our sound. I’ve never played in an orchestra where everyone is giving 110% all the time, every week, like we do.