The tale of the 386 year-old double bass

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Joel Quarrington © Photo: Fred Cattroll

The opportunity to attend open rehearsals is one of the many ways the National Arts Centre Foundation thanks its generous and committed donors. Typically the rehearsals involve a unique chance for performing arts lovers to learn about the creation and performance process, but on November 16, 2016 donors were also treated to the tale of a fantastic life story. Joel Quarrington, the NAC Orchestra’s Principle Double Bass, delighted audiences with the history behind his stunning hand crafted instrument.

Dating all the way back to Prussia in the 1630, the beautiful double bass that Joel Quarrington plays so effortlessly has a fascinating history. Instruments made in Prussia at that time were famous for their delicate and complex wood carvings, and intricacies that reflect the time period are captured on Joel’s instrument. Though we know about the details in the wood, other particulars of the instrument’s provenance are largely unknown, except that it was created by Giovanni Paulo Maggini and owned by Dominico Dragonetti, a Venetian double bass virtuoso of the time.

In the early 1900s the instrument travelled to the United States and officially began its American career as the principal double bass in New York’s NBC Orchestra in 1910.  Many years later it was shipped to Chicago to play in the Chicago Symphony until 1985 when it was put up for sale for the first time in North America.

The bass’s life in Canada began when it was purchased by former Toronto Symphony Orchestra conductor, Andrew Davis, as a gift for his wife. When their marriage ended, the bass was put up for sale once again, and purchased by NACO’s very own Joel Quarrington. Today, the double bass spends its days on the Southam Hall stage and in various rehearsal spaces in Ottawa. As Joel explained to the audience, large instruments like his are difficult to travel with so the double bass stays put in the Nation’s Capital, getting ready to celebrate its 387th birthday in the New Year.

A special thank you to our Open Rehearsal and Preview Sponsor, Rob Marland, Royal LePage Performance Realty who makes these sessions possible for NAC Foundation donors.

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