There was something inevitable about Eric Scholes's profession, even if he says it wasn't quite like that.

The double bassist, who plays Dittersdorf's D Major concerto with NZ Barok in three performances this week, is the child of Auckland music royalty. His father is Peter Scholes, music director of Auckland Chamber Orchestra; his mother, the late Katherine Harris, was a violinist in the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

Even so, it almost didn't happen.

"I wasn't necessarily enthused with playing music myself," Scholes admits. "I learnt violin from mum for a couple of years but it didn't go well. I'd given up and wasn't interested in that any more."


With his parents insisting he play something - anything - Eric, then aged 12, grabbed an instrument off the wall.

"It was a small-scale [electric] bass, a Hofner or something," he remembers. "It was not in tune and someone had painted out Hofner and written Rickenbacker on the head stock."

The Hofner may have lacked the street cred of a Rickenbacker but Scholes played it till it broke. He kept with electric bass throughout high school and didn't study the classical double bass until university. Having completed an undergraduate degree in Auckland, Scholes left for America and further study at the prestigious Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.

"Peabody was a huge step up," says Scholes. "Going abroad meant that I really focused and applied myself and the competition of having more than 20 other bass students to vibe with and be friends and hang out with all day constantly talking about bass playing was awesome."

By that point, Scholes was already familiar with the Dittersdorf, a work often requested in orchestral auditions.

"It was probably the second concerto I ever studied," he says. "I did it in recital when I was in America, but with fortepiano accompaniment, so to play it with an orchestra is pretty big for me."

NZ Barok uses period-appropriate instruments and playing styles to try to get as close as possible to the composer's intentions. For Scholes, that means presenting Dittersdorf on a Viennese bass rather than a modern instrument. A Viennese bass not only has tied-on frets and gut strings, it's tuned differently. Scholes says the adjusted tuning makes the concerto easier to play.

"Because the piece was written for this, tuning it makes much more sense. There's lots of chordal stuff, and on a Viennese bass you can finger a chord in one position and all the notes just ring out," he says. "Trying to do that in modern tuning is almost impossible so a lot of people rearrange the concerto. This way you can play it without having to make edits; it helps you realise what the piece would have sounded like in Dittersdorf's day. I do like trying to be stylistically correct and authentic."


Musical authenticity seems to be Scholes's thing.

As well as his membership of NZ Barok and the APO, he plays electric bass with two pop groups: 1950s and 60s cover band The Rocking Roller-Coasters, which features several musicians who are well known around town, including Sal Valentine and bFM DJ Geneva Alexander-Marsters; and funk troupe Mister Speaker. With each, Scholes tries to emulate the style of bass greats such as Larry Graham (Sly and the Family Stone), Bootsy Collins (James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic) and Motown legend James Jamerson.

Scholes enjoys playing covers but says he wants to write original music, too. Punk rock or heavy metal music.

"I was in a punk band for maybe five years and that was the most creative I've been in any music ensemble," he says. "As a teenager I was listening to a lot of weird stuff, getting into more obscure and unlistenable things; I'm just interested in extremes with music."

What: NZ Barok, Beauty and Brilliance: Early Classical Music for Strings
Where and When: Friday, May 3, St George's Presbyterian Church, Takapuna; Saturday, May 4 & Sunday, May 5, St Luke's Church, Remuera, see