An uncommon opportunity to hear the two largest of the four main string instruments in concert will be offered on the evening of Friday, July 12 at St. Luke’s Church in Bethesda. Cellist Vasily Popov and double bassist Donovan Stokes will perform.
Popov, a faculty member at the Levine School of Music, leads the Levine Chamber Music Program and serves as artistic director and conductor of the Levine Chamber Orchestra. Stokes, a professor at the Shenandoah University Conservatory, teaches jazz and classical bass and acts as String Chair.
The concert is part of the Chamber Music and St. Luke’s concerts, a series Popov launched in 2017. Its programming is designed for audiences of all ages.
“We schedule three concerts per season,” said Popov. “We don’t sell tickets, but collect free-will donations at the door. We usually have a good audience turnout.” In the future, Popov wants to schedule more concerts and start selling tickets.
“I think the series can play an important role in the cultural life of Montgomery County because we have well-known musicians and ensembles performing,” Popov said. “Our repertoire is very interesting — we have played sonatas by Luigi Boccherini, Mozart and Bach, trios and quartets by Thomas Bethune.”
Although cello/double bass concerts were rare a couple of decades ago, the combination is being heard more frequently on today’s concert stages, Popov said. There is, however, a history of cello-double bass duets that goes back to at least the 1700s, to Boccherini, a virtuoso cellist whose father was a bassist.
“There are a good number of pieces composed or arranged for the two instruments — including pieces and sonatas by Haydn and Massenet and 20th-century pieces as well, he said.
In addition, the inclusion of both contemporary and classical works in concert programs by performing artists is becoming more and more common.
“It is always good,” Popov said, “for audiences to hear the new works. They are refreshing for our minds and help us understand traditional classical music and the history of music composition better.” He finds it gratifying that the tradition of musicians performing their own compositions in their concerts is coming back — a tradition, he noted, that was “almost completely lost in the middle of the 20th century.”
The July 12 program will feature a duo for cello and bass by the Italian opera composer Gioachino Rossini — who also composed chamber music; a sonata for two cellos by French cellist J. B. Barrie; the Suite for Unaccompanied Cello in E-flat Major by J. S. Bach and “The Death of Cuchullain,” a piece based on the story of an Irish folklore warrior hero that Stokes composed for solo bass in 2005.
“Vasily and I have performed together in an orchestra, but this is our first series of concerts as a duo,” Stokes said. “I love playing with him. Vasily is a consummate musician, with excellent training and a natural musicality. Furthermore, our sounds blend and contrast in a most-appealing way.
“In our case, the extended range of my instrument allows us to perform cello duos — originally for two celli — as well, which increases our repertory even more,” said Stokes, referring to the Barrie sonata. “I am very much looking forward to bringing a unique musical experience to a new audience.”
As a composer, Stokes draws on a variety of musical styles. After growing up in a household with a “voracious appetite for music from all over the world,” including work by Romantics such as Grieg and Paganini and the American Charles Ives, he studied with contemporary musicians Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Connor. In composing “The Death of Cuchullain,” he said, “I was greatly influenced by heavy metal and thrash music from the 1980s and ’90s.”
The Popov-Stokes cello-double bass concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 12 at St. Luke’s Church, 6030 Grosvenor Lane, Bethesda. Tickets are free, but good-will donations will be accepted at the door. For information, visit www.vasilypopov.com or call 202-445-0302.