Symphony orchestra show provides a debut solo performance for local bassist

Concertgoers who attend the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra’s November performance are in for a rare night. Principal bassist John Madere will step out of the ensemble’s rank and file to make his debut as a soloist with the BRSO.

While dozens of violin and piano virtuosos tour the world, traveling bass virtuosos are almost nonexistent. For one thing, the bass traditionally fills the role of supporting player. For another, the bass repertoire contains only a small number of showcase pieces.

Madere, a Gonzales native, doesn’t expect his performance of Giovanni Bottesini’s Concerto No. 2 for bass to change the status quo.

Nevertheless, the beautifully melodic, technically impressive Bottesini piece he’ll perform with the BRSO is worthy of being programmed alongside the night’s Brahms and Handel selections. Although Bottesini is little known now, the Italian bassist, opera composer and conductor thrived during the Romantic era.

Madere received his bachelor’s and doctorate degrees from LSU and a master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. He teaches in the East Baton Rouge Parish Schools’ gifted and talented program, and he’s an adjunct professor at Southeastern Louisiana University.

225 asked him about his musical history and his choices for the BRSO performance.

You played saxophone before you discovered bass at 15. Did you prefer bass over saxophone?

I liked saxophone, but as soon as I started playing electric bass I didn’t want to practice the saxophone anymore. It was like, “Wow; this is what I want to do!”

What drew you to the bass?

I can’t explain it. But I’d get home from school and hurry up and do my homework. Then I’d lock myself in my room and practice for four or five hours.

Who were your favorite bass players when you were in high school?

James Jamerson. Most people don’t know who he is, but they’ve heard him play. [Jamerson played bass for most of Motown Records’ hits of the 1960s and early ’70s.] And one of my assistant band directors turned me onto Jaco Pastorius, Weather Report and Primus: bands where the bass is the lead. I’d buy the CDs and keep hitting repeat until I figured out what was going on.

How did you come to play both jazz and classical music?

There were very few schools here where you could study electric bass. So I started double bass, and I never stopped after that. At LSU, I studied the classical side with Yung-chiao Wei. I learned a lot about jazz bass from Willis DeLony. He’s a pianist, but he can play bass lines with his left hand better than most bass players can play with their basses.

Why did you pick the Bottesini concerto for your BRSO debut?

It’s probably the piece I feel the most comfortable with. I played it in master classes for the who’s who of bass players. I played it at recitals. If you put yourself in front of a crowd, you want to play a piece you’re comfortable with.

It’s a lovely piece. What qualities in the piece appeal to you?

Bassists are accustomed to playing the root of the chord all the time. We play the third, the fifth. We play the color tones. And some solo bass repertoire sounds just like another bass part. Whereas the Bottesini concerto, it has melodies. It’s a bassist’s chance to sing.

Bass in your face

Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra’s principal bassist John Madere takes center stage as soloist for a program featuring Giovanni Bottesini’s Concerto No. 2, Handel’s Coronation Anthem and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2. The performance is set for Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m. at the River Center Theatre. brso.org

This article was originally published in the November 2016 issue of 225 Magazine.