For over a year now, our Arts and Heritage Consultant Jo has worked with conductor and soloist director, virtuoso double bass soloist, writer and broadcaster Leon Bosch on fundraising support.
Read more about his work, his driving force and how working with our consultancy team helps him focus on his ideas and self-initiated projects here.
Could you tell us more about your work?
That’s always a complicated question because there are so many different parts to what I do. Most people will know me as having been principal double bass of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. I did that for 20 years, but I left the orchestra in 2014 and decided when I left to draw a line under my orchestral career. But I still do a lot of commercial work as a bass player, a lot of the big films; I’ve done all the Harry Potter films except one, I’ve done all the Lord of the Rings films except one, all the pop tracks for Robbie Williams, Madonna – every pop artist for the last 25 years, I play on their tracks and everything that’s on television, Downton Abbey etc. I’ve done this commercial work for the last 25 years, at least.
I have also played concertos and recitals; I’ve recorded probably 16 or 17 CDs. I played chamber music all my life, I’ve probably played with every single major quartet in the United Kingdom and around the world. And then of course, I have my own ensemble I Musicanti, and also run the Ubuntu Ensemble. The Ubuntu Ensemble are fellow South Africans who live in London or around the United Kingdom and we play chamber music, they’re all fabulous musicians.
In my solo career, I’ve had three pianists with whom I’ve worked together. [With my recent duet partner], we do a lot of commissioning work and that’s the other thing I’ve done all my life, commissioning music. I’ve probably commissioned over 200 pieces and many more written for me. And the other thing I do a little is recovering the music of long-forgotten composers. But in addition to all that, I also have a Publishing Company. Early on in my career I got to know a lot of good composers of music and then I tried to interest Publishing Houses in publishing that music, but nobody was interested. So I kind of thought, if you want something done, do it yourself. In addition to publishing, I am a writer, I’m working on my first book at the moment, it’s going very slowly, but I also write for all the major music journals; and I also do broadcasting.
I’m also Professor at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and I coach chamber music there; and I’ve given master classes everywhere around the world. I’m also on the board of various musical charities and organisations. And there’s probably more.
You do a lot of versatile work, what interests you the most in these different areas?
I never really make the distinction between the things, I’m just lucky that I’ve never said no to anything in my life. Everything I’ve done has given me a new perspective.
In fact, in 2014 I also became a conductor. Every time I’m on the podium, I realise I should have started my conducting career probably 20 years ago. When is the best time to plant a tree, today or 100 years ago? But things happen with a purpose. There’s always kind of an inner logic, so I think that conducting will probably be the biggest part of my future, because I enjoy it. I’m good at it because I understand the music, I’ve played most pieces a million times and I know what to do with them. And I look forward to that new path. But I know that something will have to be put on the back burner at some point, because one can’t do everything all the time.
In the question of versatility, I think that if one is going to be a complete musician, then you have to attend to everything, you cannot just limit yourself to one part. If you play as a soloist only, it limits your vision of music, if you on the other hand also conduct, you see the concertos in a different way because it brings a new perspective. And for me, that was quite interesting.
With pop music too, it’s been nice to get to know a lot of the pop artists […], and talking to film composers, they bring something else to one’s life, I really enjoy that part. [With some film composers], I was with them at the beginning of their journey, like Alex Heffes for example, who is now a very famous Hollywood film composer, I did his first film 20 years ago. And every time he has a film, he asks me to come to work for him. These friendships one makes early on in life remain with you and they become a very big part of your future.
It’s important that music is not just transaction but it’s about working on things with people that you share a vision with.
You’ve mentioned earlier that part of your work is also to rediscover neglected music. Why do you think it’s important and how did you come around discovering these composers?
I’ve always been a very curious person, I never take anything as read and I don’t always believe what I’m told, I’ve been like that since I was a child. This curiosity has led me to some of the most amazing discoveries. One of my most recent discoveries for example is the composer Johann Matthias Sperger. He was a contemporary of Haydn’s and most people know him as a bass player but even his concerto is not very well known. But what I discovered was that he had actually written 45 symphonies, a cello concerto, a viola concerto, etc. and they’re all fantastically good compositions.
Unless one is always looking around, we all get to play just the same half dozen pieces. I’ve always had this curiosity; I love the idea of discovering manuscripts.
There’s also a lot of major British music that languishes, nobody plays it because they’re more interested in just playing the mainstream works. So, my life has always been dedicated first of all to knowing all the mainstream and then to discovering all the rest.
For me it’s kind of a question of time, I need 200 years. From discovery to actually making things happen takes some time.
How does working with Jo and Art Reach help with your musical practice and to achieve your ambitions?
Art Reach was recommended to me by a previous very satisfied client. And Jo was the person that was assigned to deal with my first application for a festival entry and it was a good process. I decided that for my own personal projects and for my ensembles that I would like her to develop my applications because she understood what it is I was trying to do, she understood a bit about my history and that complex musical life.
I would say that my relationship with Art Reach is a productive one, and a relatively successful and easy one. Jo understands exactly what I mean, exactly what I need. So I think that the role of Art Reach in my life is to relieve the burden of something which is highly specialised and which is better done by somebody who understands it better. And of course I can relax about it. It takes a huge weight of my mind.
So the benefit of working for a longer period of time for you is also that Jo knows your work and she knows what you need?
Exactly, the question of continuity is important. The best chamber music I play is with people that I’ve known a lifetime. The best intellectual interaction I have with people that I have an association with for a long time. With everything one has to develop this level of connection. So in a way, working with somebody like Jo and Art Reach long term means that we never start from scratch. I’m always keen to develop relationships that are durable and also much more productive as a result. And that is the nature of the relationship that I have with Jo and Art Reach.
What has been a driver for you to keep on going at your beginnings, especially as it’s been quite difficult?
It’s difficult to describe. I never wanted to be a musician, I wanted to be a lawyer, but once I started learning and studying music, I realised that this thing was potentially going to change my life. I loved it so much; it led me to different places. I’m here in Britain because of music. I wanted to explore the world, and when I was still in South Africa, I travelled the world in my mind every time I played a piece of music. And then I left South Africa and came to Britain. I was lucky, I was given my first job. I’ve been connected with some of the most amazing people in the world and everything I’ve done has always led me to something bigger and better.
And for me, it’s not work. Every day I get up, the first thing I want to do is to connect with music and to play and to dream about things to do. And so my life has been in the service of music. Not necessarily as a conductor or a double bass player, just music itself. So, whatever I do is connected to this big thing, it is all connected to this central thing which is the love of music. Every day is filled with music in different shapes and forms, there’s always something to do.
Having been a political refugee in the UK, what would you say to young people, young musicians, who face similar challenges?
You have to believe in something, something in life, a principle that’s not negotiable. If your principles are negotiable then they’re not principles, you have to stand by what you believe in and never give up. But you do not change your principles to suit the zeitgeist or the times. The worst thing is the comfort zone. Every day has to be a struggle. You have to make yourself a better person, a better human being, a better musician, every day. As soon as you get complacent, mediocrity will infest everything that you do. As a refugee, I faced lots of struggles, but the struggles were not insurmountable and it was the struggle that motivated me so much, it’s the struggle that made me stronger. I never give up.
Learn more about Leon Bosch on his website here.
To see how we can help you with your fundraising or cultural business development, contact Jo@artreach.org.uk