Maestro Bosch, first of all, could you tell us a bit about your private life, which hasn’t been so easy.
I was born in South Africa in 1961 and grew up in Cape Town during the most oppressive years of the „apartheid‟ regime.
At the age of 15, whilst still a high school student, I became a political prisoner and although I was ultimately found not guilty of all of the fabricated charges, the psychological scars have nevertheless been lasting.
After completing my schooling, I went to the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town, as a cello student, and one year later switching to the double bass. It had been my intention to study law, but the state refused me permit to do so. My application for a permit to study music was in essence a light hearted prank, which this has ultimately had some very gratifying consequences.
The apartheid state‟s persecution continued and in 1982 I came to the United Kingdom of Great Britain as a student, and was later granted political refugee status. I was eventually able to relinquish this in 1994, after the first democratic elections in South Africa and in 1995, after the fall of apartheid, I returned to the country, not only to visit, but also to perform.
Repairing my relationship with the country which has inflicted so much pain is naturally difficult, but ultimately worthwhile. There is no doubt in my mind, that it is all but impossible to cut away ones roots and I relish the regular visits I now make to South Africa.
Unfortunately the process of rehabilitation recently suffered a slight a setback, when the South African consulate in London revoked my citizenship, apparently for infringing a minor immigration regulation.
Maestro, was it you who chose the Contrabasse or did the instrument come to find you?
The double bass undoubtedly came to find me!
I began my studies at university as a cellist, but if the truth be told, poor teaching earlier in life had left me with many obstacles to overcome.
Edna Elphick, my cello teacher at the time, engineered a meeting between me and Zoltan Kovats who, after a very brief conversation told me to come for my first bass lesson the next day, I didn‟t seem to have a choice in the matter and duly turned up at the appointed time. Zoltan‟s excellent teaching soon uncovered what appeared to be a natural facility for the instrument and by the end of my first year of lessons on the bass,
I had fallen completely in love with the instrument, a love affair which continues undiminished and grows in intensity with each passing day.
In the space of two years you have recorded three CD’s! What has changed in the last two years for you to achieve three such important works?
Although I have enjoyed a stimulating and active career as a chamber and orchestral musician, playing the double bass as a solo instrument is what really fires my imagination and I have now begun to reorganise my musical activities to reflect that passion.
In the last few years I have given up all orchestral playing, with the sole exception of The Academy of St Martin in the Fields, where I am principal double bass and whilst I do spend a lot of time doing commercial studio work in London, I now have much more time to devote to solo playing.
I had also made the decision to subject my capabilities as a musician and bass player to the ultimate scrutiny of the microphone and once I had recorded the first disc, began to realise that I found this intensive process much more searching and rewarding.
The second, third and fourth discs followed in fairly quick succession and I now find the process of preparation and recording so stimulating, I am literally impatiently looking forward to the next one.
It is my intention to record 2 discs each year, for the foreseeable future, and to cover as much musical ground as possible.
Is there anyone you would particularly like to thank for your incredible technique and interpretative capacity (a master, a particular teacher, a soloist or group of people)?
Many outstanding individuals have contributed significantly to my musical development, but if I had to single out one person in particular, it would be my first double bass teacher, Zoltan Kovats. Zoltan, the ex-principal double bassist of The Cape Town Symphony Orchestra, has unquestionably had the most profound effect upon my prospects as a musician. Zoltan is not only an exceptional bass player, but also the most effective teacher I have ever had the privilege to know. He not only taught me to play the instrument, but most importantly the true value of hard work.
Without Zoltan, none of what I now do would have been possible.
Although he has officially retired, he still maintains an active interest in all matters related to the double bass, and in addition to still teaching, plays regularly in the World Orchestra for Peace, under the baton of Valery Gergiev.
I have also however, ever since entering music college, and throughout my life since then, listened to innumerable recordings, attended literally hundreds of concerts and spent countless hours listening to other people‟s practise.
Hearing as much music as possible, performed both well AND badly, is vital in developing one‟s own aesthetic judgement.
The thing I like very much in your recordings is your absolute respect for the score. Your sound is well focused (clear, clean and vibrant) both in forte and piano. Could you explain your way of interpreting a piece of music?
Respect for the score must be the starting point for a credible performance of any piece of music. It is after all the most practical, and only, means available to composers to communicate their intentions.
The score tells us almost everything we need to know, but there are of course also the unspoken questions which are really of vital significance.
My approach to learning a piece of music is much the same as my approach to literature: when I find an author I like, I try to read their complete works, to develop a better understanding of their style, content and meaning.
I do much the same with music, in order to achieve some understanding of the composer‟s intentions, the distinctive stylistic features of the music, the nature of the detail embedded therein and the consequent technical demands. One also needs of course to have some understanding of the historical and social context, as well as some knowledge about the composer and his or her life.
"A composer's music should express the country of his birth, his love affairs, his religion, the books which have influenced him, the pictures he loves... My music is the product of my temperament, and so it is Russian music."……
and I whole-heartedly agree with him.
After an initial period of mental preparation I begin to play the music, with my bow in one hand and a pencil, metronome and piano close by.
Once the note are learnt, the hard work truly begins, internalising the central message of the work and refining the technical means for most succinctly achieving that vision.
A few rehearsals with piano, to find out what is really working, is followed by a further period of refinement, and before long, the musical summit comes into view and the imagination can finally be engaged.
This is always the most satisfying stage, when the music itself begins to take centre stage.
One learns most in concert of course, and every single performance helps to embed things much more deeply into the unconscious.
You use the German bow hold. Why is it better than the ‘Italian’ or French hold?
Having been a cellist before, I did at first play with the French bow hold, but changed to the German hold after a short while.
To me at least, it soon became clear that the German bow allowed many more creative possibilities. The left hand merely finds the notes, but it is the right hand which creates the magic of musical communication.
There are of course some excellent French bow players, but I am convinced that the German bow is better suited to the demands of the double bass and also my way of playing.
I am asking about your bow hold because of your exceptional ability to achieve the extremes of dynamics from pp to ff. It sounds impeccable and excellent. You are one of the few soloists who plays in this way...focused, clean and clear. What is your idea of what SOUND should be?
Sound is absolutely everything.
Music is after all the story of human life, communicated through the medium of sound, and every piece of music speaks about some aspect of the complex human condition.
As individuals, because of our unique experiences and personalities, we perceive, experience and interpret the world in different ways and it must therefore follow that our performances of music will also be as uniquely different. The sound we produce, on whatever music instrument we choose, is naturally the most important distinguishing feature, much like the human voice, and the first task we have as artists, is to find the voice which represents our own personal truth.
A musician without a personal sound is, in my view, not really an artist.
Whilst a painter, for example, can look at his palette to choose the colours with which he will represent his view of the world, the colours available to the musician exist solely in the imagination. A great painter is not restricted to using only black and white nor even just the primary colours, but every possible shade in between.
For the musician, the possibilities are potentially endless, since music is capable of expressing sentiments which cannot be represented in colours or words. Nourishing ones imagination is therefore the unique key to unlocking these possibilities and being aware of all the possibilities in the first place, is the first step in allowing the imagination free reign, but then having the patience to implement that imagination, is the key to true self expression.
A good friend recently commented to me... "Someone who works with their hands is a labourer, someone who works with their hands and brain is a craftsman, but someone who works with their hands, brain and heart, is an artist!"
In your opinion is there anything in particular that young contrabassists should consider when interpreting a piece or concerto? Young musicians often try to play too fast and lose control. Why do you think they choose inappropriate tempi?
Most young musicians will, without proper guidance, fall prey to some of the most basic errors, not least playing too fast and losing control, but that in itself can be an integral part of a good musical education. Hopefully we all learn from our mistakes?
The inexperience of youth, and the desperate desire to impress, sees too many young and developing musicians resort to superficial gimmicks, like excessive speed, for their own sake. Deficient technique invariably leads to disaster however and no amount of enthusiasm, or bravado, can substitute for a fundamental lack of technique.
Young double bassists must realise that they are first and foremost musicians, and that faulty technique and faulty conceptual understanding will invariably lead to the kind of deficient musicianship usually associated with bass players.
It is our duty to further the course of the double bass as a musical instrument and the standards we should expect of ourselves should not involve any compromise.
Comprehensive technical command and a fertile musical imagination are the two most important skills to develop whilst one is a student. The first cannot be achieved without first learning what and how to practise and the second can only be achieved through satisfying ones curiosity about everything music has to offer us as human beings. History has produced countless great musicians and we have something to learn from all of them and indeed from everyone else around us.
Nobody is ever too old to learn and if the truth be told, we need to learn even more as we grow older.
Maestro, in you the music seems to flow with such ease and to the listener, difficult passages seem normal for you, almost routine, just effortless. The question is, is it better to study a lot, practise for many hours, or is the quality of the study more important?
To do anything well, especially in music, takes time and also requires immense patience.
Music makes certain unique demands of course and there is no profession I know of, which requires such complete absorption and dedication, but it is at the same time also uniquely rewarding.
The musical outcome one desires must of course dictate everything and this will inevitably make certain onerous demands, demands which might sometimes appear out of reach, but it is at that point that logic should prevail. Climbing a mountain, however high, requires one to repeatedly put one foot in front of the other and with determination, a lot of perspiration, and invariably a measure of pain too, the summit will soon come into view.
So it is too with music, but unlike climbing a mountain, achieving a musical summit is a lifelong quest, with an uncertain outcome, and requires the use of one‟s hands, brain and heart.
It is the performer's solemn duty to seek to understand what the composer intended and then to express that unique personal understanding as if one's very life depended upon it
No phrase, or even a single note, should be allowed to pass by perfunctorily and the freedom and spontaneity necessary for true musical creativity requires plenty of good quality practise and at least as much thinking time.
Would you talk to us about your wonderful double bass? Is there anything about your instrument that you don’t like?
My main instrument at the moment is a Gagliano, which I have used it to record The Virtuoso Double Bass and The Russian Double Bass, as well as my most recent disc of Bottesini.
I acquired the instrument in 1995 and have had a bit of a tortured relationship with it since then. It is only now, after 3 major restorations, that it is beginning to give of its best. Acquiring this instrument was undoubtedly a real blessing: it possesses extraordinary power, projection and complexity in the sound, but it can also be somewhat temperamental. There seems to be an ideal humidity level which suits the instrument, but achieving this remains elusive.
For The British Double Bass CD I used a wonderful double bass by the English maker, Lockey Hill, but we have sadly parted company since then. The sound of this
instrument, with its rich and broad resonance, was particularly well suited to the demands of British double bass music and I have no doubt that I shall before long try to find another great English bass.
I also now own an exquisitely beautiful Landolfi, which I am still getting used to, but hope to use it for my next recording.
(11) Sung-Suk Kang is your pianist in The Virtuoso Double Bass, The British Double Bass and The Russian Double Bass. What can you tell us about this fantastic pianist?
It is a real privilege and joy for me to be able to work with a musician of the calibre of Sung-Suk Kang.
We first met in the early 1980‟s whilst we were both students at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, but lost touch for about 20 years after leaving. We renewed our musical association only recently when we recorded The Virtuoso Double Bass.
Sung-Suk possesses not only consummate technical control, but an extremely highly developed aesthetic sense. She instinctively understands my own brand of musicianship and we seldom have to talk about what we‟re going to do, how we‟re going to phrase, or anything else. We just play and challenge each other through the unspoken language of the music itself.
No other pianist I have worked with knows, even before I‟ve done it, what I‟m about to do with a particular phrase or even a particular note. She responds in a manner which is the closest thing to perfection, even though that‟s of course an elusive concept.
We have now recorded 4 CD‟s and our partnership continues to develop in ways I couldn‟t have imagined. Sung-Suk‟s qualities as a musician complement mine in an extraordinary manner and working with her allows me to live the utopian musical ideal which would otherwise remain locked in my imagination.
Your CD’s are well done from a technological point of view. It is the first time I have had the pleasure of hearing the genuine sound of the double bass. Nothing is enhanced or manipulated in any way. Everything is perfect. What can you say about this point of view?
I agree with you.
I have absolute confidence in Meridian Records; they are the original experts in „natural sound recordings‟ and the recorded sound they produce is the closest thing one can get to the actual sound one would hear in a live performance, without compression or any enhancements, and minimal editing.
The Church of St Edward the Confessor in Mottingham, South London, where we record, is a venue which the Meridian technical team understands particularly well and I have no doubt that Richard Hughes, the chief engineer, will faithfully record my personal sound and every note I play will be truthfully represented.
I also have to make special mention of our producer, Susanne Stanzeleit, who is without question the best producer I have ever worked with. She not only possesses all the pre-requisites of a great producer, but is also psychologically uniquely perceptive and is able to generate the kind of creative environment which allows me to access the deepest recesses of my own unconscious.
Last question.....Could you tell us what your future projects are?
Sung-Suk Kang and I completed a second disc of Bottesini in March this year, which should hopefully be released within the next six months or so. It represents volume 2 in our project to record the complete works of Bottesini, of which eight pieces with piano remain to be done. Then I shall move onto the concertos and duos concertante.
Later this year however, and before we return to Bottesini, I will record a disc of Hungarian music, as a tribute to my first teacher, Zoltan Kovats.
Then in March 2010 I will record a disc of Latin American music which is to include compositions by Piazzolla and also works by the Argentinean composer, Luis Jorge Gonzales.
In December 2010, I will record the complete works for double bass by Allan Stephenson, the British born, South African composer. This disc will include the concerto for double bass and orchestra which he composed for me in 2005, as well as his Burlesque for double bass, composed for Zoltan Kovats, and also the Sonatina for cello and double bass.
A second disc of British music is also planned for 2011, as is a disc of Dragonetti, to be entitled „The Dragonetti Phenomenon‟. For this recording I intend to use a 16
Century Brescian bass with three gut strings and a Panormo bow identical to the one Dragonetti himself used. It would of course be wonderful to be able to record this on Dragonetti‟s own instrument, but that remains a dream, for now.
Other projects are also planned, but more about this once I have completed the above recordings.
Thank you for your kindness and availability.
The honour it's mine, maestro Bosch!
LEON BOSH RECENSIONE (Trilogia)
Una recensione è sempre costituita dal parere, dall’opinione dalla faziosità o meno di chi è costretto a scrivere sotto l’ indolenza ed insolenza del proprio “padrone”. Orbene questo non è il luogo nelle quali queste amenità distruttive possano trovare alloggio. Il lettore-ascoltatore ha il diritto fondamentale specie quando il protagonista che andremo brevemente ad analizzare è un “contrabbasso”, a cui aggiungiamo “classico” poiché il nostro lettore deve sapere che le sonorità che andrà ad ascoltare non provengono da chissà quale strumento arcaico, bensì da un semplice e modesto “contrabbasso”, accompagnato da altri strumenti. Chi è colui che ha pensato di proporre quanto ci sia nel mondo contrabbassistico, ricordo suonato con l’ archetto, è Leon Bosch un talentuoso ed inspirato contrabbassista che assieme allo stupendo fraseggio della propria pianista, Sung-Suk Kang, hanno creato qualcosa di assolutamente nuovo, inedito, specie nell’ interpretazione dei brani di quel signore che si chiamava Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889) e che ancora oggi per il contrabbassista moderno avolte costituisce un arduo valico da superare. Il lettore-ascoltatore dovrebbe sapere che di Lps o Cds dedicati al cremasco sono virtualmente infiniti, specie perché il Bottesini è stato nella storia del contrabbasso classico colui che ha effettuato una vera e propria rivoluzione copernicana: il contrabbasso non canta causa sonorità molto gravi, Bottesini dimostrò il contrario. E fu che nacque una vera e propria letteratura per il Contrabbasso, protagonista delle corti
Di tutto il mondo, o quasi. Orbene, il nostro Leon Bosch ha semplicemente pensato in questa sua “trilogia” dall’ interpretazione estensiva poiché sorta in momenti e tempi leggermente differenti, di proporre al pubblico e sul suo magnifico contrabbasso, prima di tutto la cantabilità e le incredibilità difficoltà che ancora oggi non tutti sono in grado di superare; poi, sempre con l’ impareggiabile Sung-Suk Kang il cui “accompagnamento” ricorda un brano a sé per dovizia di particolarismi e decisionismo ed infine brani legati alla letteratura britannica, nella quale si possono ascoltare arrangiamenti estremamente ben riusciti di composizioni prese da altri strumenti e riadattate per il contrabbasso: esempio tipico, brani per violoncello riportati sul contrabbasso, strumento ormai che la fa da padrone in tutti i teatri del mondo come se fosse un violino.
Bosh che di arguzia ma anche sensibilità ne possiede in gran quantità, ha ben pensato di dedicare un Cd al mondo dell’ ostico Bottesini, poi affrontare i compositori Inglesi che non sono da meno e con
La presenza di brani composti proprio per il Maestri, ed infine un piccolo salto nella musica russa, a cui tanto deve il contrabbassismo odierno. Qui però Bosh si avvale più di trascrizioni per contrabbasso, sicuramente per la loro bellezza e per la capacità di adattarsi allo stesso in maniera quasi scontata e semplice. “Virtuoso Double Bass”, “The Russian Double bass” e “The British Double bass”. Un dato è certo: Leon Bosh sa cosa vuole dal Galliano, ne conosce pregi e difetti e per questi motivi tutti i suoi brani vengono eseguiti con grande naturalezza, eleganza artistica, impeto musicale talora ove occorra ma sempre con una grazia che contraddistingue il suo “way of playing”. Bottesini si ascolta e sembra quasi di sentire un brano di comune conoscenza, quasi come se le immense tecniche di questo compositore si azzerassero. Incredibile ma vero. E poi la corretta
Esecuzione dei tempi scritti: mai troppo lenti per fraseggiare in un “fraseggio scontato”, e mai troppo “veloci” proprio per rispettare questa volta la filologia di brani concepiti per essere eseguiti
A velocità molto più blande di quello che indicano i compositori.
Ma vogliamo esprimere altri brevi concetti per poi chiudere questa recensione-osservazione nata dalla stima che chi scrive ha per Bosch. Ne abbiamo parlato in precedenza: Sung-Suk Kang. La bellezza che si unisce alla bravura di una musicista che non può essere considerata una “accompagnatrice di contrabbassisti”. E no! Qui la Kang si esprime ai massimi livelli interpretativi poiché deve affrontare bravi non consoni ad un contrabbasso, e la sua capacità primaria si avverte allorquando la partitura la rende solista primaria (cosa che non esagera mai) e poi semplice accompagnatrice del contrabbasso facendo in modo che tutta la sua bellezza sonora possa emergere.
Non è facile trovare pianisti/e che hanno in se quello che definiamo “senso cameristico”.
Su Leon Bosh non credo si possano trovare difetti (a parte le solite note di interpretazione). Un concertista che lascia trapelare la sua grande calma sia nei passaggi più ostici, che il quelli che tale serenità d’ animo richiedo. Un personaggio insoliti ma che sa quello che vuole sia in fase musicale che compositiva- Leon Bosh: la semplicità al servizio della musica.
E poi finalmente un contrabbasso registrato con tutti i crismi di un’ eccellente registrazione.
Spazialità del suono, un contrabbasso che emerge nelle sue qualità sonora interagendo con un pianoforte magistralmente ripreso. Il contrabbasso è lo strumento più difficile da riprendere.
Ma mi sa che alla Meridian sanno il fatto loro.
Insomma, un lavoro ottimo che non dovrebbe mancare nella discoteca di contrabbassisti e di amanti della buona musica.
di Vito Liuzzi
The International Society of Bassists presents
Leon Bosch, double bass
Svetlana Rodionova, piano
Wednesday, June 10, 2009, 4 PM
Schwab Auditorium, Penn State School of Music
Penn State University
Sonatina for double bass and piano Thomas Pitfield
Parallel Shadows for double bass and piano David Ellis
A Deep Song John Walton
Introduction and Allegro Lennox Berkeley
Rhapsody for Double Bass Marie Dare
TURN OFF ALL CELL PHONES AND PAGERS
No photography or recording, please.