Any modern working musician would agree with bassist Derek Zadinsky, who said in a recent phone call that “in professional life, you never say no to opportunity, at least when you’re getting started.” A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music and a member of The Cleveland Orchestra, he has made the most of his musical opportunities and shows a passion for them. Not only is Zadinsky a member of one of the most prestigious orchestras in the world, he also teaches at multiple highly-acclaimed music schools in Northeast Ohio.
Zadinsky talks about his teaching career as the result of being in the right place at the right times and having connections with other bassists, like his colleagues in The Cleveland Orchestra. “I joined the Orchestra in February of 2012 and started teaching at Cleveland State University in the fall. The next year Max Dimoff called me and asked if I wanted to join the Cleveland Institute of Music faculty, and I said ‘Sure, of course!’ The following year, after Tom Sperl left the Oberlin faculty, Scott Dixon asked if I would also be interested in teaching there.” Currently Zadinsky has several students between both CIM and Oberlin as well as leading a couple of classes like double bass repertoire. “I’m honestly still not sure how to manage it all, but I’ve always had a nice balance of students between schools. It’s a great honor to have students who want to work with you.”
Zadinsky’s decision to follow a career as a musician was a gradual process and partially due to his exposure to the classical music world at a relatively young age and his great teachers. “My dad plays violin with the (Seattle) Symphony, so in high school, I would often go in after my lesson on a Thursday afternoon and catch the first concert of the cycle for that week.” He also talked about the influence of his middle and high school teachers, who instilled good practice habits and appreciation for music early on.
After entering the professional orchestral world, Zadinsky said the biggest thing he has noticed is that different ensembles around the world have their own distinct style. “Our music director says that what we do in Cleveland is like artists doing fine detail work with a pen, as opposed to using a giant paintbrush on a giant canvas, like some other orchestras.”
When asked about some of his favorite orchestral music, Zadinsky said “If I had to pick one composer’s collection to bring to a desert island, it would probably be Mahler’s. There’s so much variety in all of his symphonies, and often really involved bass parts.” He added that some of his colleagues have answered similar prompts by saying their favorite piece is whatever they are playing at the moment. He views that as an admirable response because “Part of the job is playing all the pieces on the program for any given week as if they were your favorite.”
In addition to his ensemble and teaching gigs, Zadinsky is also passionate about solo performing, having released a recording of transcriptions of Bach’s third cello suite and Brahms’ first cello sonata on the Oberlin Music label. He said the project grew out of an offering to faculty encouraging unique projects, so he decided to experiment with adding a high C-string to his bass. “Although it was interesting to explore a fifth dimension, I don’t know if I would go down that road again, there’s something so familiar and comfortable about four strings. Since then, I’ve performed the third suite on four strings — it feels like home.”
When asked about any upcoming projects, Zadinsky referred to the upcoming audition for assistant principal bass in Cleveland. “The next five months for me is getting the excerpt list down like the back of my hand.” He added that he would like to create an excerpt library for students that would include recordings of popular double bass excerpts to accompany his repertoire classes. He is also interested in recording as many of the classical double bass concertos and Bach cello suites as possible, both to help his students learn and for his own practice purposes.
In his own daily regimen, Zadinsky relies on scales, techniques, and etudes that are relevant to the pieces he is preparing. “If you’re working not just to fill time, but to seek out an answer or fulfill an objective, it makes the routine almost an addictive process.”
Ending the conversation on a philosophical note, Zadinsky said that whether you’re picking up an instrument for the first time, or joining a world-class orchestra, “The best advice I’ve heard is to not lose your love for making the music you play.”