Brandon Mason, who grew up in Arlington, Texas, took his first music lesson when he was 10 years old. His only instrument has been the bass.
“It was a public strings program,” he said. “There was a presentation (in school) on which instruments to pick and that was the coolest one. And it looked like the least work. I didn’t realize it was actually the hardest string instrument to play in a lot of respects. … It didn’t hit me until college that it was actually really, really hard.”
He played in high school orchestras and studied at Boston University. He received his graduate degree from Rice University in Houston. In his final year of school, he played with the Houston Symphony. And he grew up in a musical family. His mother taught flute lessons, and Mason and his siblings all played instruments. He was the only one to make a career of it.
“The Houston thing was good fortune because somebody had retired and the orchestra needed to be a certain number,” he said. “It wasn’t a contracted position, but it was a lot of work. But it was useful in terms of learning how to turn a concert around every week. It was nice to have that experience before coming here.”
His audition for the Kansas City Symphony was the first audition he’d won. He said he heard about the double bass opening through the musical grapevine.
“Everybody knows everything about everything, and I had at least some idea that the orchestra was doing well structurally,” Mason, 26, said. “And I knew about the new hall. Musicians know things are going well here. So when the audition came up, I knew if I won the audition I’d be in an orchestra that was really healthy. And that’s not necessarily the case in a lot of places.”
The double bass could be described as the largest and lowest-pitched instrument in the violin family. Often it is used to double the lines played by the cellists, he said.
His instrument is a one-of-a-kind, built by Joseph Grubaugh and Sigrun Seifert in the San Francisco Bay area. Grubaugh and Seifert are known for making high-quality violins, violas and cellos. His instrument, as far as Mason knows, is the only bass they built.
“They had a bass in the corner they didn’t want to finish for 35 years,” he said. “I don’t think they’ll ever make another.”
Now it belongs to Mason. And he said the quality is as good as it gets.
“The instrument teaches you when it’s better than you,” he said.
Mason practices on average two hours a day outside of rehearsals.
“I take about one day off a week for my sanity,” he said. “When double rehearsals roll around there’s a certain level of caution I take for myself because if you over-play, that leads to a decrease in performance quality. And it can lead to injuries. I know some people are able to do more and I think that’s admirable.”
And what does he listen to in his off hours?
“In middle school I was in kind of a punk band,” he said. “I think we played one show. We got together every weekend and had high aspirations of taking it somewhere. But it never left the garage. …
“I do listen to jazz but primarily I listen to classical music,” he said. “There’s so much repertoire, you’ll never hear everything. I won’t hear everything. Not even close. There’s always a lot to discover and a lot to learn from excellent recordings of excellent orchestras.”
So far, Mason likes the KC Symphony and the city.
“It certainly wouldn’t be a bad place to stay,” he said. “It’s so strong from the inside out that there’s going to be longevity. It’s going to be here. Usually the impetus for people taking auditions is to get out of situations that feel unstable. It’s nice to be in a place where I feel like my only job is to come prepared and play music.
“But it’s also nice to take auditions for your own playing, because you have to play such a high level that it really keeps you sharp.”