Bottom Line Duo offers
diverse style with international musical selections.
A review by Elmer Goetsch, long-time host on the "MidDay Classics" program.
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT I WEEK OF NOVEMBER 1 - NOVEMBER 7, 2007
Who would have thunk it? For two hours the unlikely combination of cello and
double bass enthralled the audience with music and laughter. It happened Oct. 17
when The Bottom Line Duo performed at the Florence Events Center, the second
concert in the Florence Performing Arts 2007-08 season series. The
stage dressing—a couple glittering artificial trees and huge dangling leaves—was eclipsed when Traci and Spencer Hoveskeland took the spotlight with their four-stringed friends, drew their bows, and collect-
ed their bows.
En garde! At times it was more duel than duet as Spencer cracked wise about the supremacy of the double bass—its graceful, sloping shoulders and gentle curves and mellow steel strings—as opposed to the cello's round shoulders, sharp comers, and untuneable gut strings. The bass was tuned last year, he quipped. Whenever she tunes, I'll stand aside and make erudite faces. Which he did often. Long-suffering helpmate Traci took the slings and arrows in stride, letting her bow get in some superior licks and occasionally grinning when he surprised her with both verbal and instrumental ad libs. They had no sheet music or music stands, and it was apparent they knew each other like an old married couple. After all, as they used to say in those old TV sitcoms, they are married in real life. For Traci and Spencer, that's eighteen years—high school sweethearts or earlier, if you believe his story about the carnival ride. Such chemistry and camaraderie does not often manifest itself on stage, enriching the musical experience for concertgoers. Except perhaps for those poor purists pursing their frowning lips waiting to hear something serious.
Of course Traci and Spencer are serious about the music, having learned their instruments from age nine, studied the classical repertoire with august teachers, and performed throughout the world. Armed with knowledge and experience, the enterprising duo remastered the best of the best into a unique entertainment. A dozen diverse pieces comprised the program—one movement each. Spencer said—all sparkling for a scrumptious smorgasbord. Speaking of Scandinavia, Spencer, a Washingtonian with Norwegian roots, has taken the lead from that punctuating great Dane, Victor Borge, whose instrument contained eighty-eight strings ringing with laughter.
During the pre-concert talk, held this time in the theater, articulate Spencer
was quick to demonstrate his quick wit answering questions about The Bottom Line
Due and the care and feeding of their instruments. Bottom line of course refers
to the lower or bass clef as opposed to the treble clef. Traci's cello had
survived a recent neck replacement after an altercation with Spencer's bass. His
patter continued during the show introducing pieces, playing for laughs, and
sometimes parodying classical music commentators with too many keys to the
orchestral kingdom. All in all, the words and music were nicely balanced,
complementing each other.
While the cello is often lugubrious and melancholy. Traci's French instrument was almost buoyant, sweet, warm, and bright, an equal match for the many-voiced Italian bass in Spencer's masterful hands. One of Spencer's teachers had played bass with Bill Evans, legendary innovative jazz pianist a half century ago. Spencer learned well; his fingers were nimble, expansive, improvisatory, and always right on, no matter the musical genre. With much bowing, plucking, and punning, the dueling duo performed a dazzling concert.
First set selections included Roman
Guitar, an Italian tune apparently a hit for Connie Francis and Pavarotti;
Blue Moon in which the cello, according to Spencer, took its rightful place
plucking rhythm for the high-flying
soloing bass; Hungarian Rhapsody, a rhapsodic goulash not a Rap CD, by an
Austrian born in Czechoslovakia who yearned to be Hungarian; and Brahms' Kugel
in which Spencer noodled with Johannes after a bar mitzvah gig for some lively
klezmer rhythms. Bizet had his day with Habanera from Carmen, and Rossini
barbered Largo al Factotum from Seville—all with inimitable quotes, riffs, and
asides from The Bottom Line Duo.
Second set selections included Piazzolla's quirky Contrabajissimo, a sort of wild ride on an Argentine tilt-a-whirl. Spencer hijacked a gigue from Ludwig and jazzed it up for Mr. B. The third member of the famous composer trio appeared in Dragonetti's Gigue from Concerto in A Major which featured Bouree from Bach's third cello suite. A delightful Mexican dance, Morenita Santa, was followed by the coup de grace—incidental music from Rimsky-Korsokov's Tsar Saltan—after Spencer's Cliff's Notes summary of the opera in which the barreling prince sings an aria and is turned into a flying insect to discover his true identity and save the day—which produced the ever-popular but nevertheless stinging Plight Of The Bumblebee, a NASCAR race between cello and bass ending in a honey of a phenomenal photo finish.
Naturally, the audience produced a standing ovation and calls for an encore. Spencer was ready with a shaggy canine story of an ingenue named Autumn who one fine day Leaves home. Needless to say, the notes tumbled in seasonal splendor, and a good time was had by all.
Published in the Feb. 22, 2006 issue of the Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle
By Elizabeth Widel
A return engagement by the Bottom Line Duo reinforced the original experience of two people who play superbly and whose delightful personalities put an extra shine on their performance.
Traci Hoveskeland, cello, and Spencer Hoveskeland, bass, both are consummate performers on their deep—voiced instruments, and do it with a humor and good cheer which enhance the whole experience.
In their opening number, Lazarro's "Roman Guitar," the bassist bowed and plucked the bass strings simultaneously, and he also played the bass like a harp. There was constant eye contact with his wife, and the two instruments were in perfect ensemble throughout.
In Rodgers' "Blue Moon," there was rhythm from the cello while the bass ranged to notes below the floor. There was a long bass break, and at times a dancing bow as he played.
A "Hungarian Rhapsody," by David Popper, ranged from moody slow to fiery fast, and Spencer Hoveskeland played like an orchestra, with the two performers again in perfect ensemble.
The first movement of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto (No. 4, I think) is characterized in the notes on the recording I have of it as "a very lively affair," and so it was.
This was followed by one titled "Brahms Kugel," with Hoveskeland listed as the composer. It was Brahms mixed with something else. "Pepper's Waltz," by the same writer, was written for his dog, Pepper.
Then came a spoof of the "Largo al Factotum" from the opera "Barber of Seville." In the opera this is a fine bit of braggadocio by a baritone as he boasts of how he manages other people's affairs.Here the performers were playing games as well as the music, as there was some unscheduled ad libbing by the bass. How did Traci Hoveskeland know when to come in? Somehow she did.
Following the intermission came some hijinks based, sort of, on the Habanera from the opera "Carmen." The composer was listed on the program as Francois Bizet, but the writer of Carmen was named Georges.
Somewhere along the line a bit of Rossini and a bit of the Brahms' "Lullaby" sneaked in, but neither of their first names was Francois. This was just part of the high spirits which obtained merrily throughout the program.
A piece called "Contrabajissimo," by Piazzolla, followed. This may have been atonal (outside of a key) in spots, but there was a lovely little air on the cello later.
"Morenita Santa," by Sameron, was done seriously in memory of a friend and had certain Latino traits.
"Viva Tlapehuala," by Juan Reynoso, brought the story of an old man dictating the music he knew for its preservation — more than 1,000 pieces. "Bambino Nuevo" was sounds of their son, written by his father.
Spencer Hoveskeland related the plot of the opera "Tsar Saltan" (Rimsky—Korsakov) in a hilarious sequence. Often when a performer attempts to recite an opera's plot, the thing turns deadly, but with Hoveskeland it was a merry (mercifully brief!) affair involving an insect, which led up to a breakneck rendition of "The Flight of the Bumblebee."
There were some side excursions in this one, up to and including a snatch from "Yankee Doodle," and then it was over.
The audience was seated in an arc of chairs on the stage close to the performers so that Spencer Hoveskeland's light—hearted patter could be easily heard.
He was enjoying being with us and playing for us, and there must have been some unexpected inclusions, for at times his wife burst into delighted laughter over what he said. So did we.
I have emphasized the light—heartedness of their presentation, but there was nothing light about the quality of their playing. Both are sterling performers, producing a smooth, golden tone and making use of the instruments as we have not seen before.
When Spencer Hoveskeland dropped his bow and played the strings barehanded as though this were a differently—shaped harp, he showed things we had never seen (or heard) before on the stringed bass.
Every note of the concert was done from memory. There wasn't an iota of stuffiness about anything they did, and the good spirits were wrapped around some exceedingly fine playing of the two instruments.
________________________________________________________________Saturday, December 22, 2001
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER COLUMNIST
It ain't Carnegie Hall, but the multistoried downtown City Center building's main court is softy filled with holiday string music. Even in the farthest corner, this stone, glass and metal chambered nautilus is filled with mellow. The deep resonance of a string bass behind the lyrical lines of a cello is plum pudding for the ear.
Welcome relief, indeed, from the taped elevator music that loops like some acoustic aversion therapy thing in our stores and offices and malls. This sound pulls my wife and me around and through a maze of storefronts until we stop at a landing between Up and Down escalators. There is a handsome young couple, she with her cello and he with his upright bass, the source of our shopping trip sound score.
And as we pause to listen, Traci and Spencer Hoveskeland shift from a Rossini duet to an upbeat version of "Silver Bells." While we stand entranced, I am looking for the ubiquitous cigar box or upended hat that collects the money for which most street-level musicians in Seattle play.
No cigar box or hat. We are a cut above the street level, literally and figuratively. The Bottom Line Duo, this husband-wife team, has been hired for this gig. From here, after a short break, they will play several hours in a trendy Seattle restaurant. In the early mornings next week, as you are schlepping your carry-ons across the Sea-Tac Airport lobby, Traci and Spencer will be filling one of those terminals with a hoped-for/paid-for sound of strings.
Every day, from private parties to public gigs and chamber music concerts, the Hoveskelands are proving the virtually impossible equation: two musicians making a living playing music in a homogenous mixture of venues. "Most of the musician couples we know are surviving because one spouse is working, usually teaching," said Traci. "We're very lucky."
And also working very hard to catch the lucky breaks. With Spencer able to transpose and rescore musical compositions for their rather unusual duet -- sometimes adding the wonderful guitar of Ray Wood -- they're able to grab a wide variety of jobs.
"Several years ago, we were hired by a man to play at a surprise dinner he had catered beneath a tent on the site of a home they were building out in the woods near Issaquah," Spencer recalled. "Not long after we got there, it began raining heavy. But they had their little banquet and we played during a rainstorm while the caterer served their meal."
They've played for Boeing and Microsoft, at Bumbershoot and Tacoma's First Night and the Juan de Fuca Arts Festival, and in Europe. "Even a wedding on the coast, on a beach trail near Kalaloch, where we were just off to the side of the trail, and we had to compete with the sound of the pounding surf!" Spencer said.
Traci and Spencer, both 30, along with Delzy the cat and Rufus the terrier, moved recently from Marysville to the Tukwila area, which they say makes for much easier commutes to their various Seattle-area jobs. They squeeze themselves and their two large instruments into their Honda hatchback for jobs that take them over most of the Puget Sound area. They'll be playing in concert next year with the Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra, and maybe with a small group in Mexico. Spencer also finds time to play in "Shawn's Kugel," a local klezmer band comprising some of the old Mazeltones band.
"When we were in (Port Angeles) high school, our orchestra played in Carnegie Hall, and we're working our way back ... slowly!" Spencer quipped. They represented the Los Angeles Philharmonic as part of a quintet playing a fund-raiser aboard the QE2, and in Europe. When they were stranded in Brighton, England, with only backpacks and their instruments, a local taxi driver who'd never before heard classical music put them up for several days in his rental flat in exchange for a few private concerts, Shawn said.
"Many people hear us and say: 'I don't really like classical music, but I like you guys!'" Traci said.
"It's as though they forget they're hearing a bass and cello together, which is a bit unusual," Spencer contrapunted. This duet began building in their native Port Angeles, when a little boy and a little girl were seated together on a county fair carnival thrill ride. Years later, after they'd begun playing elbow-to-elbow in the local school orchestra, they learned from relatives the details of that first county fair meeting. But by the end of high school, they were already more than a musical duo.
They were married almost 12 years ago, when both were freshmen music majors at Western Washington University, and partially supported themselves by playing in a rock band, primarily doing gigs in Vancouver, B.C. "Spencer had played a lot of guitar up till then, and he taught me how to play bass guitar with the group," Traci said, with a bit of amusement. Not embarrassed, just sort of tickled that she could admit it.