Denise Rejec speaks to double bassist Gjorgji Cincievski to get his insight on an explosive piece which he will be performing during the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra’s Carmen Fantasy concert on Friday.

You’ll be interpreting Sankey’s Carmen Fantasy for Double Bass and Orchestra. Who was Sankey, and what is he most famous for?

Sankey (1927-2000) was one of the most outstanding double bass pedagogues in the last century, being equally famous as an excellent performer and as principal bassist with some of the biggest orchestras in the US. His students include some of today’s greatest double bassists, such as the legendary Gary Karr (to whom the Carmen Fantasy is dedicated) and Edgar Meyer. In 1990, he received the highly acclaimed ‘Outstanding Teacher Award’ from the International Society of Bassists, the largest double bass institution in the world, and is most known for the large number of works that he transcribed for the instrument.

What’s the connection between Sankey and Bizet? Why did Sankey choose to work on Bizet’s opera Carmen in particular?

The term ‘fantasy’ in music refers to a large virtuosic work that is free in form and composition, and it was only logical for Sankey to write such a ‘fantasy’ for Karr. The piece is extremely challenging and explores the very limitations of the instrument and performer, but Gary Karr leaves no stone unturned when executing this piece, and certainly won’t disappoint both his audience and Sankey himself.

The piece is extremely challenging and explores the very limitations of the instrument and performer

My belief is that Bizet’s opera Carmen served as a fountain of inspiration to Sankey. It is an all-time favourite for many music lovers the world over and is one of the most frequently performed operas. This is due to its ear-catching and lyrical melodies, harmonies and thematic material that allow for further development and ornamentation.

How much of Bizet’s opera can be heard in Sankey’s Carmen Fantasy?

There are five main sections that are taken from the opera – Toreador Song, Habanera, the Card Aria, Sequidilla and Bohemian Dance. They are very ornamented, but the main themes still show through. Sankey’s version is often compared to that of Pablo de Sarasate’s because of its technicality and musicality, but it isn’t as complex because of the nature of the double bass when compared to the violin in Saraste’s. Despite all the technical challenges within the work, Sankey has been very careful to pay great respect to Bizet’s original composition.

You have followed in the footsteps of Sankey and his peers by writing many transcriptions of classical works for the double bass. Could you expand on this?

Transcribing works for the double bass is one of my great passions, and it gives me great satisfaction to be able to play any work on my instrument. The German Hofmeister Publishers are publishing my transcriptions, which further heightens my sense of achievement. Like Sankey, I believe that as a musician, artist and double bassist, it is my duty to use my creativity and contribute to the current status of double bass literature. By transcribing works by composers such as Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, who have in a way neglected the double bass as solo instrument, I feel as though I’m filling the gap in the history of this instrument. I am more than certain that if the great composers acknowledged its technical possibilities and the way it has developed as a solo instrument, they surely wouldn’t have neglected it at all.

Why did you choose Sankey’s Carmen Fantasy in particular for this concert?

It is known to be one of the most complex and demanding pieces ever written for the instrument, and is an explosive work that explores the very limits of the instrument in all five octaves. I’ve been longing to perform this piece with an orchestra since my college days when I first heard the only recording ever done of this work, that by Gary Karr. I’m grateful that the Malta Philharmonic has given me the opportunity to perform this piece under the direction of maestro Michael Laus.

Any further thoughts and feelings about this upcoming concert and the piece that you’ll be interpreting that you’d like to share?

An Italian colleague of mine the other day exclaimed: “You’re playing Sankey’s Carmen with your orchestra? You must be mad!” I burst out laughing because I knew what he was referring to – playing such a demanding work with the orchestra to which you belong can create extra pressure and it’s ‘easier’ to play as guest soloist with other orchestras. However, this is the third time that I’m performing this solo concerto with the Malta Philharmonic, and each time I’ve become elated with the positive energy and support that I receive from my colleagues, who are more of a big family to me. It’s a very special feeling, and for this I feel very lucky, honoured and grateful. I want February 9 to arrive as quickly as possible!

Apart from Sankey’s work, the Carmen Fantasy concert will feature Ravel’sMa Mère l’Oye, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, under the direction of resident conductor Michael Laus. It is being held at the Manoel Theatre, Valletta, on Friday at 8pm. Tickets are available online, by sending an e-mail to or by calling 2124 6389. For more information, visit

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