Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Refugee from apartheid is championing freedom

Refugee from apartheid is championing freedom

ONE of the world’s top double bass players is staging a fund-raising concert with a difference at the Kenton Theatre next Friday (January 11) in aid of the Mayor of Henley’s charities.

Leon Bosch, who has performed on film soundtracks including Harry Potter, James Bond and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, was one of the first people Councillor Glen Lambert called after taking office back in May.

The software developer, of Greys Road, had originally got to know the South African-born musician more than a decade ago after being hired to build his website.

“We’ve been keeping it up to date and working with him ever since,” said Councillor Lambert. “So whenever he releases a new album, for example, he sends us a copy and we extract the music to put clips on his website for him.

“Leon was one of the first phone calls I made when I became Mayor because he himself has done a huge amount of fundraising for charity. He runs what are called ultramarathons. I mean, the thought of running for a train terrifies me, but Leon can run 50 miles!

“He started running in his fifties. One day he decided to go on a sort of get fit campaign, so he started with a jog around the neighbourhood.

“He said afterwards that this was a sort of jolt of reality and made him realise just how out of shape he was — just how far from the picture of himself as a youth he’d become. And he just went on this fitness drive that culminated in him running this ultramarathon thing.

“So because I’d been working with him for all these years and I knew he’d done so much fund-raising, I called him and asked if he’d do a charity concert for us — and he agreed immediately.”

The concert, which starts at 7.30pm, will see Leon joined on stage by the award-winning pianist Rebeca Omordia, whose fans include the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber.

Writing in The London Magazine, he said: “Rebeca is half-Romanian and half-Nigerian — and it’s a powerful combination! Her technique knows no bounds but, more importantly, she plays with a depth of insight and understanding that is all too rare today.”

Much the same could be said of Bosch, whose route to becoming a world-renowned virtuoso was far from straightforward.

Born in Cape Town in 1961, the 57-year-old grew up under South Africa’s authoritarian apartheid regime.

The son of a school teacher, he soon followed his father into the anti-apartheid movement.

Aged just 15, this saw him dragged from his bed and thrown into prison for organising school protests against the regime.

During his subsequent trial, he was inspired by seeing his legal team in action and later applied to read law at the University of Cape Town — seeing the profession as his way of contributing to the struggle for freedom.

But here his activist background told against him. Deemed a subversive by the authorities, his application was rejected.

Almost as a joke — “as a light-hearted prank,” as he later put it — he instead applied to study music, which had the advantage of being considered politically neutral.

While he did not come from a musical family, Bosch had studied the piano and violin at school before concentrating on the cello. In stark contrast with the repressive political environment of his upbringing, music provided an outlet for creativity and self-expression.

“After I’d been in prison I developed a need to sit in the bedroom I shared with my siblings and play the cello,” he later told an interviewer for Classical Music magazine. “Whenever I was angry or frustrated, it was the cello that provided the means for me to express the turmoil going on inside.”

Once enrolled at university, Bosch was taught by Zoltan Kovats, the principal double bassist with the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra. This eventually led him to switch to the instrument with which he would make his name.

“As well as teaching me to play the instrument he taught me the true value of hard work,” recalls Bosch. “He was demanding, to the point of exhaustion — but the harder I worked, the more talented I became!”

This dedication to the double bass, which saw Bosch working from seven in the morning till ten at night, seven days a week, eventually culminated in his being awarded the highest performance examination mark in the university’s history.

On graduating, he was advised to continue his studies in Britain, but the apartheid laws meant he was ineligible to receive a grant.

Fortunately, with the help of private benefactors, Bosch was able to move to the UK and take up a place at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, where he continued to shine.

After being offered his first professional engagement with the Scottish National Orchestra, Bosch was initially refused a work permit, but with the assistance of his MP, the late Gerald Kaufman, he was shortly afterwards granted political refugee status, enabling him to live and work in the UK.

Later gaining British citizenship, he has remained in the country ever since, combining orchestral work with chamber music and solo performing, both internationally and at home.

Bosch was principal double bass with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields until 2014 and has also held the post of principal with the Manchester Camerata. During his career, he has been instrumental in reviving the work of the neglected Catalan double bass virtuoso Josep Cervera-Bret, helping to bring to light more than 60 original works for the instrument.

In 2013, Bosch founded
I Musicanti, a hand-picked ensemble dedicated to presenting distinctive programmes in a spirit of artistic freedom.

Describing his calling as a musician, he said: “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 on it. What is the point otherwise? When I play the bass at least, I am a totally free human spirit.”

Tickets for “An Evening with Leon Bosch” are priced £16, with the proceeds being donated to Gillotts School, Henley Music School and the Bluebells community club, which provides respite care for dementia sufferers.

The concert, which includes a Q&A, has been jointly organised by the Mayor and Henley Music School founder Laura Reineke, who said: “We have been busy encouraging local businesses to sponsor seats for the concert so that children can come along for nothing and be inspired. We so far have around 30 seats paid for, which is fantastic. If any kids want to come, they just need to email me at”

The offer is open to school-aged children up to and including sixth-formers. Anyone interested in sponsoring one of the seats is invited to contact Laura on the above email address or email Councillor Lambert at

• To book tickets, call the box office on (01491) 575698 or visit

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