Leon Bosch: Irrepressible Drive

Bosch surrounded by young musicians from the I, Culture Orchestra in Poland, for which he acted as double bass tutor from 2013-14

South African-born double bassist Leon Bosch has held top orchestral posts and performed as a soloist on multiple international stages since arriving in the UK in 1982. But, as he tells Kimon Daltas, now is not the time to rest on his laurels, as new works and new challenges await

You might say that Leon Bosch likes a challenge, but you would be risking comical understatement. Shortly before his 50th birthday, perhaps dealing with the complex feelings about ageing that such a milestone invites, he decided to go for a jog. He discovered he was in poor shape and it annoyed him. So he started running regularly, going a bit further each time, then doing fun runs, then 10ks, then half-marathons, then marathons, and then, because marathons were getting a bit too easy, he started on ultramarathons. From 42.2km he went up to 56km, then 85km. In 2017, at 56, he completed the 86-mile (138km) two-day Ridgeway Challenge in 21 hours and 34 minutes, thereby winning a silver medal.

It’s a single-minded and methodical commitment he brings to everything he does – and it has served him well in overcoming considerable odds, having grown up in apartheid South Africa and even been imprisoned as a 15-year-old for his involvement in the civil rights struggle. But his musical talent was irrepressible, and after switching from the cello to the double bass at the age of 16, he found a passion and a purpose that still fire him up to this day. 

‘I went to university when I was 17, and I had to travel from the townships to get there. I practised a minimum of eight hours every day – this in addition to lectures and orchestra and all sorts of other things. But it wasn’t a chore. I just couldn’t wait to get at it. And that set me up for life.’

Now a full-time soloist, chamber musician, teacher, director/conductor as well as publisher, Bosch previously served as principal double bassist with the Manchester Camerata (1984–95), East of England Orchestra (now Sinfonia Viva; 1989–97) and the London Mozart Players (1999–2006), and for 19 years (from 1995) with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields – eventually deciding to call it quits in terms of orchestral playing in 2014. He combined these posts with a freelance orchestral and solo career that has taken him all round the world, and a reputation as the ultimate sightreader and reliable play-everything session musician. A recent attempt to catalogue his commercial music credits came up with something in the order of seven and a half thousand pop tracks, films and TV programmes ranging from artists such as Madonna and Eric Clapton to BBC dramas and Hollywood blockbusters.

This journey started in the township of Lavistown (or Bishop Lavis) on the outskirts of Cape Town…

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