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David Heyes

Armand Russell: The California Suites for unaccompanied double bass

Armand Russell: The California Suites for unaccompanied double bass

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About the Composition

The California Suites is aimed at the intermediate bassist, bringing together three suites for unaccompanied double bass, each comprising four movements, and all connected in some way to the state of California, where Armand Russell now lives. The music is inventive and rhythmic, offering musical and technical challenges in equal measure, and music which offers much to performers and audiences alike. Written in a modern but lyrical and accessible idiom, each suite is carefully crafted to create short mood pictures or musical landscapes of this beautiful part of America. 

The Bodega Set is one of the series that I composed in what I think of as a California series. The name Bodega is the name of a bay on the edge of the Pacific Ocean near where I reside. There are some historical connections to the early Spanish explorers who stopped there long ago but now there are new villages and homes on the coast of this bay. So too this piece has a mix of traditional genres in the middle movements and less common ones for the first and last movements of this composition. 

The Rincon Suite is named after the valley near where I live. This area has a rather mild but often cool temperature and marked 6 month divisions of the weather each year in rainy and dry times. No snow ever and no scorching summers. One might hear such features reflected in the music: no harsh extremes but recognizable changes of mood. 

The Sonoma Divertimento is inspired by Sonoma, the name of a county, a town, and a region in Northern California where I reside. This area has a rather mild but often cool temperature and there are often changes of climate and mood which are reflected in the different musical styles and idioms.” [Programme notes by Armand Russell] 

About the Composer

Armand Russell was born in Seattle, Washington in 1932. He received the Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from the University of Washington, with a major in music composition, and a Doctorate in music composition from the Eastman School of Music. He studied double bass with Leslie Martin, who played in the Seattle Symphony and Boston Symphony Orchestras, and at the Eastman School of Music with Oscar Zimmerman. His composition studies were with John Verrall and George McKay at the University of Washington, and with Bernard Rogers and Howard Hanson at the Eastman School. 

Professionally, Armand Russell played double bass in many orchestras including the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Boston Pops Tour Orchestra, Rochester Philharmonic and Civic Orchestras, and Honolulu Symphony. For five years he taught as a visiting Professor at the Eastman School of Music. From 1961 to 1994 he taught at the University of Hawaii Music Department and retired as Professor emeritus in 1994. While at the University of Hawaii he taught music theory, composition and double bass and also served as Chair of the Music Department for seven years. 

Armand Russell's compositional style is confident and direct with a clarity of line and texture always to the fore. A modern, yet lyrical and accessible style, has created works which communicate equally to performers and audiences alike and he has made, and continues to make, a unique and valuable contribution to the double bass literature throughout a long and successful career. 

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