In the first edition of our Alumni Spotlight of 2017, we recently had the chance to speak with double bassist Jonathan Yeoh. A three-time alum from 2013-15, Jonathan has since worked with the National Ballet, Calgary Philharmonic, and Canadian Opera Company. We recently spoke with Jonathan to discuss his time getting started with the bass, performing at the Winspear Centre, and the importance of always staying inspired.
1. When and how did you first get involved with music?
My first exposure to classical music (other than recorder in elementary school…) was in seventh grade when I first played trombone. I then moved onto percussion in the eighth grade, since the allure of hitting things seemed to appeal to teenage me. Somewhere along the way I picked up the electric bass on a whim as well which slowly got the ball rolling. Naturally, my curiosity got to me when I saw a large mysterious bag holding a double bass inside, especially due to an increased interest in jazz. Still curious after some tinkering around, I started wondering about the bow as well, and then got lessons with Sheila Garrett! Since then I pretty much ran with the whole double bass thing!
2. What are some of your memories of playing with the NYO?
There are too many memories when it comes to NYO as a whole experience! That being said, the most memorable performance, and still the most profound musical experience that I have yet to come across was the last performance of Mahler 9 in Winspear Centre with NYOC 2013. After the third movement, I felt that I had emptied the tank and gave it my all, but there was still the intensely emotional Adagio finale. I believe the entire orchestra felt that way, which resulted in a complete outpouring of emotion in that last movement. Sharing that sense of vulnerability with the entire orchestra and the audience was really special.
3. You recently completed your studies at the University of Calgary. What has the transition been like for you from student to full-time musician?
To be honest, the transition has been really nice so far! The National Ballet’s schedule has been perfect as a transition with it’s full-time part-time schedule, in that we’ll work really hard for about four months in a year, but the other months will have no work at all. In those months I end up freelancing in both Calgary and Toronto. This has really made this whole transition period pretty easy! I’m not quite done with feeling like a student (I don’t know if I will ever be), so having the off-work months has allowed me the flexibility to also travel and study and overall broaden my horizons!
4. Along with recently joining the orchestra of the National Ballet, what are some of the other things you’ve done onstage that you are most proud of?
I was recently asked to step in as Acting Principal with the Canadian Opera Company for their productions of Norma and Ariodante. Having never done a full length opera of that sort before, it was definitely a challenge and pushed me out of my comfort zone, but it was also some of the most rewarding work that I’ve ever done. Getting to work with such inspiring musicians in the orchestra, as well as world class singers on stage was really a treat! Also for last season’s finale, I was able to join the Calgary Philharmonic to play Mahler 8, which was also my teacher’s (Charles Garrett) last show with them after 40 years. That was pretty special!
5. Based on your experience, what are some valuable tips you could give future NYO members?
Always be inspired! It’s important to constantly look for sources of inspiration to drive you forward and to become the best version of yourself. I’m really fortunate to be able to work with so many incredible musicians, so that definitely helps! It’s also important to be a sponge and soak up whatever bits of knowledge may be lying around in your environment! And finally, last but not least, is be a human being. Music is not just notes and rhythms, but also what you can bring to it in terms of your own personal experiences and interpretations. Doing stuff that’s not just music will certainly help you develop that sense!