The girl with the lionheaded double bass

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The girl with the lionheaded double bass

Phoebe Russell could be playing with Berlin Philharmonic, arguably the best in the world. At just 23, she is considered one of the most exciting emerging double bassists on the planet, and yet in April last year the Melbourne-born musician applied for, and accepted the position of Principal Double Bass with Queensland Symphony Orchestra – 15,600km away from her newly adopted home of Berlin.

The reason for Phoebe’s application was twofold – firstly, she is proud to call Australia home and was committed to make music in her home country, where she feels most connected to both the music and her roots. Secondly, she had been told by her former music teacher in Australia that the Queensland Symphony Orchestra was being led by Alondra de la Parra, an inspiring and passionate musical leader, and someone Phoebe was already very well aware of.

Phoebe applied for and accepted the position last February because she wanted to be part of what was increasingly an orchestra to watch, under the baton of a conductor who was taking the world by storm. Queensland Symphony Orchestra was making noise on the world stage; literally and figuratively.

In April, Phoebe didn’t only join Queensland Symphony Orchestra as Principal Double Bass; she also inherited an iconic and much revered instrument – the famous Lionhead Double Bass which has been in the orchestra since the 1950s.  She becomes the third generation Queensland Symphony Orchestra musician to play - and honour - this incredible instrument.

The famous Lionhead Double Bass is owned by the very generous and talented John Fardon, previous Principal Double Bass at Queensland Symphony Orchestra. He bought it in 1986 from a previous member of the Orchestra, Taras (Terry) Kostynuik when he retired. Taras was in the Orchestra from the 1950s, and he bought the stunning instrument in Berlin in the 1940s! Phoebe now plays this incredible instrument with pride, and the knowledge it is a heritage member of this orchestra


Phoebe Russell returned home to Australia in early 2017 to take up the position of Principal Double Bass with Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

She was 17 years old when she settled in Berlin and within months made her debut in the double bass section of the Berlin Philharmonic. Since then she has performed in more than 20 countries across the globe with leading orchestras including the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Berlin Radio Symphony, Deutsches Symphonie Orchester, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra among others.

She has performed under great conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle, Daniel Barenboim, Gustavo Dudamel, Zubin Mehta, and Riccardo Muti among others.

In 2012, Phoebe was an Australian Chamber Orchestra 'Emerging Artist' and was a soloist and chamber musician in the ‘Wilma and Friends’ series run by Wilma Smith.

The Melbourne-born musician spent two years as scholarship recipient of the Berlin Philharmonic’s prestigious Karajan Orchestra Academy from 2013 to 2015, and was a bachelor student at the Hanns Eisler University of Music in Berlin. Phoebe is also an alumna of the Australian National Academy of Music where she completed a professional performance program in 2011 under the guidance of Damien Eckersley.

In 2015, she performed as recitalist to a full house in the Berlin Philharmonic's lunchtime series and a few months later, won the conductors prize for best concerto in the 2016 Carl Flesch Akademie Concerto competition, performing Giovanni Bottesini's second concerto with the Baden Baden Philharmonic. Phoebe has appeared as a soloist, both at home and abroad, with orchestras that include the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, the Baden Baden Philharmonic Orchestra, the Zelman Symphony Orchestra and the Melbourne Youth Strings Orchestra.

She has also studied with the internationally famed double bassist Gary Karr in Canada and cites him as one of her inspirations.

Phoebe is married to a fellow double bass player, Bernardo Alviz. He is Colombian, and they met by chance at Euston Station in London one day, they were both travelling to the same place and they both were carrying a double bass… the rest, as they say, is history.

Photography by David Kelly.