There was a slight variation on the ‘is there a doctor in the house?’ cry that can dampen an evening in the theatre – the Kenton was in need of an emergency piano tuner on Friday. However, as ever, Henley audiences are a talented bunch; piano tuning expert Clive Seiling was on hand to ensure all was in order, then the evening of music was ready to start.
The large gathering was in for a very special and rare entertainment, in the company of one of the world’s leading double bass players, Leon Bosch. As well as the opportunity to hear the instrument in a solo capacity, the evening was compered by Henley Music School’s Founder Laura Reineke, who took the opportunity to talk to Leon Bosch about his extraordinary life and music.
The musical treats began with a performance of Beethoven’s Sonata in F op. 17. Originally written for French horn, the work had been transcribed for double bass by Leon Bosch, and was accompanied by pianist Rebeca Omordia. Selecting music to show off the double bass’s possibilities is always challenging, as this huge instrument requires such dexterity from its player, while producing such a surprisingly gentle tone. The Beethoven indeed offered plenty of opportunities for Leon Bosch to show off his skills, although possibly the piano slightly overpowered in places. However the second piece performed by Leon Bosch and Rebeca Omordia, Turning Towards You, written for double bass and piano by Robin Walker, displayed a truly equal partnership of the two instruments. Bosch prepared for the piece by taping his fingertips, and it soon became evident that Walker (who was in the audience) has a highly physical approach to his compositions, including plenty of slap pizzicato (painful for double bass players’ fingers!). Following the interval, Bosch played a second piece composed specially for him by Walker, The Song of Bone on Stone. This unaccompanied piece, first premiered in 2018, is in a series of movements which vary from the violent slap pizzicato of the opening to far more haunting, evocative spiritual sections using ringing high harmonics, with fiery rhythmic episodes connecting the contrasting musical moods. Highly reflective and meditative, Bosch’s complete engagement with the complex music held the Kenton audience spellbound.
It was fascinating to have the opportunity to hear first-hand from the bass player of his early life in apartheid South Africa, where aged 15 he initiated a protest march which attracted thousands of supporters, leading to his arrest and the threat of lengthy imprisonment. The support of a good lawyer who got him off the charges inspired an interest in studying law. He was not granted permission to do this, however he was allowed to enrol to study music at the University of Cape Town, so having learnt cello (then switching to double bass), he worked from 7am to 10pm every day in order to overcome his disadvantaged background. Bosch has always understood that success derives from (extremely) hard work; having arrived in the UK in 1982 with just a raincoat and suitcase, he studied at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, and proceeded to enjoy a lengthy and highly successful career as double bass player in various orchestras and chamber groups, as well as appearing both as soloist and conductor . It was also fascinating to learn how he acquired his instrument in 1995, a Gagliano, from a former bass player and colleague, and which has remained his musical partner ever since.
The evening’s music ended with Leon Bosch playing two staples of the double bass repertoire, Bottesini’s Elegy and Tarantella, elegantly accompanied by Rebeca Omordia. These showpieces perfectly displayed this world class player’s virtuosity – and hopefully served to inspire some of the many youngsters present to take up the Henley Music School’s offer of tuition. Long listed as ‘endangered’, this initiative, jointly presented by the Mayor of Henley and Henley Music School, was a highly creditable effort to direct attention to the instrument. As Leon Bosch told the children, ‘Why be ordinary when you can be extra special – play the double bass!’.
Review by Elestr Lee
The concert was in aid of the Mayor’s Charities; Henley Music School, Gillotts School and Bluebells Dementia Day Centre and raised around £2,000. Mayor, Councillor Glen Lambert said, “The evening went very well and was a complete success. Leon got a lovely surprise too. An old friend of Leon’s came to the show because she now lives in Henley so must have found out about it. They had not seen each other since 1984 and Leon was over the moon to see her again.”
Laura Reineke from Henley Music School said, “Leon was utterly inspirational and two children who came to the show will receive 5 months free double bass tuition from him.”