Double bassist Nina Bernat (credit: Masa Kuwajima)

Nina Bernat’s double bass mastery shines in Nancy Frampton Rising Artists Series

Nina Bernat
October 21, 2023
The Nancy Frampton Rising Artists Series, Morningside Presbyterian Church
Atlanta, GA – USA
“From Bach to Brahms”
Nina Bernat, double bass; Jonathan Crutchfield, piano.
J.S. BACH: Cello Suite No. 6
Reinhold GLIÉRE: 2 Morceaux pour contrebasse et piano, Op. 9
Sergei PROKOFIEV: Five Melodies, Op. 35
Johannes BRAHMS: Cello Sonata No. 1, Op. 38

Jon Ciliberto | 10 NOV 2023

Nina Bernat presented an astonishing performance on the double bass as part of the Nancy Frampton Rising Artists Series at Morningside Presbyterian Church. In addition to near perfection technically, her interpretive choices (and the delivery of them) were thoughtful and balanced, in pieces from Bach to Brahms and Prokofiev and Gliére for good measure.

Another bass player seated behind me was as bowled over and speechless as I was by the range, precision, thoughtful interpretive skill, and pure technique Ms. Bernat displayed — at just 23 years of age.

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Speechless is perhaps not the best place to begin as a reviewer, but the accolades and awards Ms. Bernat has already garnered do make any expressions of appreciation by me feel a bit superfluous. She performed as guest principal of the Israel Philharmonic under Adrás Schiff and Osmo Vänskä (at age 19), won the 2022 Barbash J.S. Bach String Competition, the Minnesota Orchestra Young Artist Competition, the Julliard Double Bass Competition, and the 2019 International Society of Bassists Solo Competition. In 2023, she won the CAG Elmaleh Competition and received an Avery Fisher Career Grant.[1]

It is worth reiterating that Ms. Bernat won the Barbash playing on the double bass, a work written for the cello — that is, at an increased level of difficulty.[2]

Following the footsteps of her father, Mark Bernat, a double bassist who was formerly with the Israel Philharmonic, Ms. Bernat began playing the instrument at age 6 or 7, and, according to Mr. Bernat, was a natural on the instrument. Naturalness of playing came across on Sunday, with never a strain, excess, or papering over of difficult passages.

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Putting to the side the daunting technical requirements of Bach’s sixth cello suite (that I dismiss this without comment is evidence of Ms. Bernat’s skill), I sometimes think of these Suites as sets of short stories in terms of a performer’s interpretive choices. Each movement offers myriad ways to go, and a skillful interpreter moves the listener through a series of distinct narratives, flowing from the material itself but crafted by her individual way of thinking it. Ms. Bernat presented fluidity and clarity (with sonorous, ringing open top strings) and judicious spacing in the first movement, a deep purity of tone and pinky trills (difficult on a cello, more so on a bass) in the second, crisp staccato in the third, and a sprightly rhythm in the last. A particular challenge on the bass is executing fast runs up and down the fretboard with concise definition, as in the Courante movement.

Gliére presents an unspoken complication in terms of global politics: he was born in the Ukraine, and that country claims him as their composer, but through all of his life he toed the Soviet party line, never even visiting the West. His 2 Morceaux pour contrebasse et piano, Op. 9 displays his usually melodic inventiveness. Bernat was here joined by pianist Jonathan Crutchfield. The second movement presents a truly cinematic quality — my jotted notes: “a bit Hollywood.”

The latter accompanied Bernat on Brahms’ Cello Sonata, sounding nearly as a duet thanks to their wonderfully balanced, integrated playing. The repeat of the main theme in the third movement came full of delightful ideas and life.

Showing that she doesn’t just pull from cello works, Bernat performed a work by Prokofiev originally written for voice but most often played on violin, in her own transcription.

I feel especially fortunate to have heard and seen such a promising talent in the small setting of Morningside Presbyterian Church. Fortune, indeed, as likely I’d have not given the notice on Facebook as much attention were it not for the fact that the performer and my wife share a surname (but no relation). Whatever one says about the XYZ of technical ability, to me, it was Ms. Bernat’s effortless-seeming left hand that encapsulated her standing as a player to watch. Her father added, “Her right hand, too.”

The bow hand doesn’t fall far from the tree.


About the author:
Jon Ciliberto is an attorney, writes about music and the arts, makes music, draws, and strives at being a barely functional classical guitarist.

Read more by Jon Ciliberto.


Dec. 4 2019.