This week is a huge one for WAYJO as acclaimed bassist and composer Linda May Han Oh arrives from the USA to perform with our Wednesday Night Orchestra on Saturday night at the State Theatre Centre of WA.

Gemma Farrell performing at WAYJO’s Progressions Program in 2023. Photo by Josh Wells

Renowned globally for her exceptional talent, versatility and dedication to music education, Linda’s beginnings were as a WAYJO orchestra member in the years 2000 to 2005 (approximately), performing first on bassoon and then reverting to upright bass. She is now one of the most in-demand international musicians of our time, achieving the extraordinary, including winning a Grammy for her bass performance on Terri Lyne Carrington’s New Standards Vol. 1, as well as being animated as bassist ‘Miho’ in the Pixar film ‘Soul’.

Linda will be performing eight of her own compositions with our Wednesday Night Orchestra (WNO) under the joint musical direction of Gemma Farrell and Bayden Adams, and in the lead up, Gemma gives us some insight on what will be happening behind-the-scenes.

Tell us what goes into prepping the orchestra for a performance like this with a guest artist.
Gemma Farrell: WNO is the most senior of the three WAYJO bands. Most of them are at the early stages of their professional careers, so they understand that a gig with music as complex as this requires a lot of practice and focus, and thinking about your role within your section, acting as a team rather than 18 individuals. They all greatly admire Linda, and some aim to have the kind of career she has had, so they are all looking forward to playing. The music is extremely difficult, so we have been doing a lot of extra rehearsals as a band, and they have no doubt been practising harder individually.

WNO will be playing some tracks off Linda May Han Oh’s latest album ’The Glass Hours’ – which is performed as a quartet. How do the pieces develop and how different are they in a big band format?
A lot of the music has been arranged for big band either by Linda herself or Jim McNeely (USA), who is a huge name in big band jazz. Obviously when you change an arrangement from small group to big band, there are a lot of different musicians you have to find parts for, but they all have to sound like they’re adding to the music. These arrangements have been masterfully put together, and the rich, large ensemble sound really compliments these compositions.

Linda May Han Oh is highly acclaimed worldwide. Tell us what’s interesting about her compositions and the challenges/complexities they entail for other musicians playing her works.
Masterful composers like Linda often write complex time signatures in a way that makes them sound seamless. I remember hearing that the great Maria Schneider sings her melodies and records them before working out the time signatures. Linda has a way of coming up with a beautiful melody, and it’s only when you analyse it and put it on paper that you realise how complex it is. Counting is one of the significant challenges in this gig, and some very technically challenging lines sound beautiful when they are together, but they take a lot of fine motor work on the instruments.

Which composition out of the set list is your favourite and why?
‘The Sirens Are Wailing’. I have performed this composition with the Artemis Orchestra for a few years now so I’m looking forward to performing it with Linda for the first time. The fact that I’ve been performing the chart for a while now means that I am more comfortable with it and can enjoy it more.

How many rehearsals will you be squeezing in this week with Linda? Give us some insight on how they will run.
We are rehearsing Wednesday through Saturday for this gig and will be with Linda from Thursday. I need to discuss the format with Linda and our assistant musical director, Bayden Adams, but we have eight of her compositions to get through as well as an opening number. I’m hoping that once we’ve had the opportunity to run through everything with her, we can work on some of the trickier moments and polish them.

How are you and Bayden working together in this instance?
We are taking four of Linda’s works each.

Anything else you’d like to add about the upcoming performance?
It would be a shame to miss it. Make sure you secure your tickets as soon as possible.

Linda May Han Oh with WAYJO’s Wednesday Night Orchestra
Time: 7:30 – 8:45pm
Date: Saturday 13 July 2024
Venue: Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA

Linda May Han Oh and Fabian Almazan working with WAYJO in 2020