Double act

John Keene will be soloist and conductor at Fremantle Chamber Orchestra’s performance today (Saturday April 10). Photo by Nik Babic

JOHN KEENE is used to raising the bar (youngest Sydney Symphony Orchestra Fellow, Australian Chamber Orchestra emerging artist), and this weekend he’ll hit new heights by juggling the roles of soloist and conductor with the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra.

The young double bassist has already stamped his mark on the national classical music scene and when borders aren’t blocked can boast of being on the books of the Sydney, Melbourne, Tasmanian, Adelaide and New Zealand symphony orchestras. He moved to Perth early in 2019 to take up the role of associate principal double bass with WASO.

It will be Sandgropers’ first time seeing Keene soloing with an orchestra this side of the Nullarbor, and Fremantle Chamber Orchestra founder Hans Hug says it comes with the bonus of some “forgotten jewels” of the classical repertoire.

Giovanni Bottesini’s Double Bass Concerto 2 in B Minor already holds fond memories for Keene, who performed it with the Sydney Conservatorium’s chamber orchestra in 2015 after winning the prestigious institution’s string concerto competition. 


Keene told the Voice he practiced the piece for a year leading up to the competition, describing Bottesini as the “Paganini of the double bass”.

“I have a fondness for Romantic Classical, and Bottesini is also a bit of a show-off, which I think played into my hands in the concerto competition,” he said.

The performance garnered great praise for the vocal quality of Keene’s playing, which he said he achieved by tinkering with his instrument to find something akin to “a tenor singing without words”.

Keene says the show-off is also also evident in Ignace Pleyel’s Symphony in D Major, its comical elements coming from the composer’s meddling with styles and the interaction between soloist and ensemble.

Pleyel was a pop star of his day, though his star has since waned. Facing imprisonment or execution for monarchist sympathies during the French Revolution, crafty Pleyel kept his head (literally) and composed some rousing revolutionary tunes to keep the mob at bay.

He was taken under the wing by Joseph Hadyn, another composer whose Symphony No 60 is on the FCO’s bill for this weekend.

The Fremantle Chamber Orchestra will be playing at the Perth Town Hall today (Saturday April 10) from 3pm and at the Naval Store at the foot of the Fremantle Traffic Bridge tomorrow 

(Sunday April 11) both at 3pm. Cash tickets at the door ($40, $35 conc or $20 kids and youth) or ticketek.


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