ACO double bassist Maxime Bibeau reflects on nearly missing his audition 20 years ago

IMPRESSIVE: Australian Chamber Orchestra's principal bassist Maxime Bibeau is celebrating 20 years with the company. His weapon of choice is a 16th century Gasparo da Salo double bass. Picture: Wolter Peeters
IMPRESSIVE: Australian Chamber Orchestra's principal bassist Maxime Bibeau is celebrating 20 years with the company. His weapon of choice is a 16th century Gasparo da Salo double bass. Picture: Wolter Peeters

Maxime Bibeau is celebrating 20 years dragging his trusty double bass around the globe with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. But his presence with them nearly didn’t come to be.

Bibeau had just completed his musical studies and knew he wanted to pursue his art but was not entirely sure what he would do until he discovered this 17-piece string orchestra, he said.

The Canadian was living in the United States at the time and managed to score a much coveted audition whilst they were touring, to join the group permanently.

However the double bassist was living in Houston and his interview was in New York so there was a bit of travel involved and as he discovered, not all airlines are open to taking giant stringed instruments.

I thought I’d stay for three years maybe, that’s what I told my mum anyway, and here I am 20 years later.

Maxime Bibeau

“They took it in the end. But they didn’t want to fly me to New York so they flew me to Baltimore. And then I found out when I got there the bass had been sent to Memphis,” Bibeau recalled.

“So they put me up in a hotel room and I had to wait … for the instrument to rock up, then I drove up to where I was staying in New Jersey – so that was an event in itself.

“Just the stress of not having the instrument, of fighting to get it on the flight as luggage and then it not showing up, I guess it made me stress about that and not the audition.”

The musician admitted he was “green enough” not to let the situation upset him too much, something he is thankful for.

Maxime Bibeau. Picture: Jack Saltmiras

Maxime Bibeau. Picture: Jack Saltmiras

“With a bit of luck the stars aligned and I thought I’d stay for three years maybe, that’s what I told my mum anyway, and here I am 20 years later,” he laughed.

The ACO is touring their first program of the season which includes an energetic new work commissioned in celebration of Bibeau’s two decades with the company.

The principal bassist Bibeau will give the world premier of Missy Mazzoli’s new work, Dark with Excessive Bright, which will be performed in Wollongong on February 1. Bibeau specifically chose Mazzoli to write the concerto for him with the pair collaborating closely over the past two years.

The composer said her piece was heavily inspired by Bibeau and his sidekick – an enormous wooden instrument crafted in 1580 which was locked away in a monastery for hundreds of years before being discovered. The double bass was kindly made available to him by anonymous Australian benefactors.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra. Picture: Nic Walker

The Australian Chamber Orchestra. Picture: Nic Walker

Artistic director of the ACO Richard Tognetti will lead the program that partners two 19th century greats – Brahms and Tchaikovsky – with the contemporary work from the Brooklyn-based Mazzoli.

The ACO presents Tognetti Tchaikovsky Brahms, Wollongong Town Hall, Thursday February 1, 7:30pm.