The Unbearable Lightness


Program Note

I have always felt that the increasing virtuosity of modern-day solo bass players has left room for further musical exploration. The surprising commission from Tanglewood to write for an ensemble of seven double basses, and the chance to work with players of the TMC caliber, provided me with a creative opportunity to address this challenge. As inspiring as this was, composing for seven double basses proved to be a rather difficult task. Quite early in the process, I decided to split the players into two groups of three, with a soloist in between. However, I spent months trying to think of a musical reason substantial enough to justify scoring for such a peculiar, though exciting, combination.

The trigger for the “Gestalt” of this piece eventually came from an extra musical source – a film by the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, “Separation.” The film focuses on a girl, desperately moving between her two parents in the process of divorce, against the difficult reality of life in Iran. The deliberate choice of the director to eliminate music throughout “Separation,” accentuated the prevailing sense of anxiety. And yet, amidst waves of tension, there were sudden islands of subdued lyricism, which I felt, had an almost illusory quality. Although it was quite clear that there could be no real solution, in these brief moments we managed to move beyond the hardship and imagine a beautiful, though impossible, alternative.

The title of the work, alluding to Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, refers to a similar sense of illusion – wanting to obtain something, which is beyond reach.

I would like to thank my good friends Jazz double bass player Ehud Ettun and composer Helen Grime for their support in the process of writing this piece. A special thanks goes to a dear friend and mentor, double bassist Michael Klinghoffer, whose illuminating remarks and playing suggestions (particularly with regard to Italian fingering) enabled me to realize what seemed nearly impossible at first.

The piece is dedicated to the memory of my uncle, Michael (Misha) Rivlin, who passed away prematurely while I was in the process of composition. The ending Coda and the transformation of the soloist that occurs towards the end have been influenced by this loss.

© Matti Kovler


Tanglewood Music Center Double Bass 2012 Fellows

Coach: Todd Seeber

Bradon Mason, Double Bass 1
Nate Paer, Double Bass 2
Jonathan Borden, Double Bass 3
Nicholas Cathcart, Double Bass 4 (soloist)
Nicholas Browne, Double Bass 5
Eric Lamm, Double Bass 6
Alexander Edelmann, Double Bass 7

Conductor: Matti Kovler