The Low Down

Posted: 12 July by Exeter Symphony Orchestra

Garry Lester is principal double bass player with the ESO and is also the 'poster boy' for the upcoming Devon Wildlife Trust fundraiser concert in the Cathedral (it's actually his picture that adorns the front cover of the concert programme!) . We caught up with him to find out more about what makes him tick, and what it's like playing the double bass with the ESO - he gives us the (very) low down!

What made you choose the double bass? and when did you start playing?

The double bass sort of chose me, a product of circumstance. I'd had a handful of 'cello lessons at the junior school but these didn't continue at the high school. One day an offer went round for people to learn the double bass, having lessons on Saturdays alongside the East Riding Youth Orchestra rehearsals.

How long have you played with the ESO?, and what does your musical CV look like?

I first played with ESO at the last couple of rehearsals taken by David Cawthra, which was early in 1995 I think. There was a break of a few seasons when the children were younger but I've been back playing regularly again with ESO since around 2010. Playing the bass has been something of a way of life. I played with the East Riding Youth Orchestra for several seasons including summer schools and foreign trips that covered a really wide range of music thanks to some quite adventurous programming by David Wigley. When we did Hindemith's music for strings I did hear mutterings from some parents like, 'what rubbish have they got them playing now?' but I'm really glad we played that sort of stuff and not just a classical/romantic diet.

I had the good fortune to play with the Hull Phil for a couple of seasons while still at school, including their centennial so got to play Beethoven 9 and for real pros like Maurice Handford and Richard Hicox. It was around this time that I teamed up with the Bass in the photograph and we've been playing together ever since.

Having elected to study at a University whose musical activity took a hammering in the cuts of the '80s bass playing took a bit of a break. There were opportunities for singing and I could occasionally borrow a bass but it was difficult without a regular university orchestra.

Working in the Physics Department at King's College London I became something of an honorary member of the music faculty, being roped into quite a few of their activities. Moving on up to Manchester I mainly played with Stockport Symphony Orchestra and Gorton philharmonic but also for an eclectic mix of choral, show and orchestral events including opportunities to work alongside players from both the Halle and BBC Philharmonic.

Moving down to the South West is where I picked up with ESO....

My claims to fame are probably working with Richard Hickox and Tim Redmond having heard recordings of their work recently on the radio and especially as I started learning the bass with Tim's big sister Sue.

What is your favourite piece in the upcoming DWT concert? and why?

Difficult one...probably Vaughan Williams' Wasps or Britten's Sea Interludes, both for sentimental rather than musical reasons.

You have a musical family - tell us a bit more about that? and can you all practice in your house at the same time?

I met my wife Melanie, another bass player, playing a Gorton Philharmonic concert. We have two daughters one plays the violin and sings and the other is a 'cellist and a saxophonist. We have fairly thick walls so the children can practice in their rooms pretty much whenever they choose. The basses are not quite so easy because of their size though practically I tend to end up practicing at odd times when no one else is around anyway.

If you didn't play the bass, what other instrument would you like to play?

I did think about the trombone once and got as far as trying a few notes on one in a shop...inspired by music like the March in Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis and Dvorak's Symphony from the New World where the trombones leap all over the score...who wouldn't want to play a brass instrument in those? I do also possess a viola which makes a wonderfully sultry sound.

What do you do outside of the ESO?

I fancy myself as something of a Renaissance Polymath. I'm an engineer/scientist with a photonics/electronics/computing background, though I really enjoy personally challenging activities that are free of such technology, things like dinghy sailing and hiking. I'd rather cross Dartmoor with a map and compass than cross the Atlantic with GPS navigation. As time permits I do maintain a licence to fly light aircraft though with my aversion for technological assistance perhaps gliding would be more appropriate.

Do you have a musical 'hero' (other than our MD Brian obviously!)? if so, who is it? and why? really. I tend to subscribe to Boult's view that the music is independent of and doesn't belong to particular conductors or performers.

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15 July Brian Northcott

Love both the picture - almost eerie in its small version - and all the info. You are a great asset to ESO and it has been a pleasure having you and Rosie playing with us. I will get up in the sky with you again soon!!

14 July Miles Leonard

Garry - a great interview and thanks as well to the mysterious interviewer (surely not a member of our own brass section). You look great on the front of Saturday's concert programme too. Viola - who would have thought!! You'll get some stick for that.