Gwen Reed, double bassist 

Who or what inspired you to take up the double bass and pursue a career in music?

My entire family are musicians, so I have always grown up around music. It was never forced on me, but when I was four I saw a school orchestra with a violin soloist and told my mom I wanted to play that too! I didn’t switch to double bass until many years later, when the music played by my own school orchestra wasn’t challenging enough for me on the violin, that I decided to pick up a new instrument. I saw the double basses at the back of the class and just fell in love. I also secretly wanted to join the jazz band instead, so it worked out perfectly.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My teachers and the musical community I grew up in have always been a huge source of inspiration for me. While Tucson, Arizona might not be known for its musicians, it has a wonderful music scene that was always encouraging to me as a young musician. I would perform recitals and gigs for musicians I had known my entire life, who would always give me new opportunities to challenge me and introduce me to different aspects of the life of a working musician. The chances I was given to perform with the professional musicians from a young age kept me inspired to work hard and always be striving to be the best I can be.  

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I have struggled a bit to find my place when it comes to what kind of music I like to perform. As a bassist with a largely jazz-oriented background my tastes have always been a little non-conventional, and I seek out ways to build bridges between genres. Finding opportunities to perform the music I feel most passionate about is a lot like making my own opportunities, which is not the easiest path I could have taken. But I love bringing new things to new audiences, and I hope to do this throughout my career.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I recently gave a performance of the Prokofiev Quintet Op. 39 in a wonderful new space in Hackney that I am quite proud of. The piece is a challenging one for many reasons, its character is unique, its instrumentation is wonderfully bizarre (violin, viola, double bass, oboe, and clarinet) and it was one of the first projects I had organized myself. The performance went better than we had hoped, and was a wonderful memory for everyone involved. I felt we had truly gotten inside the piece and found a way to own its quirkiness and make it our own.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I can play a mean Koussevitzky!

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

As a largely non-solo instrument, my repertoire largely depends on what the other members of my various ensembles want to perform! But I am very dedicated to new music, and am always looking for a newly written piece to bring to life, or for things that are not often performed! I enjoy bringing those pieces that are heard less often to audiences, I think it gives them a breath of fresh air.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I wouldn’t say I have a favorite venue to perform in, but I am quite partial to anything with a nice acoustic (as I’m sure we all are), and the Philharmonia Hall in St Petersburg is certainly a wonderful one to look out on!

Who are your favourite musicians?

I’m a huge fan of Stevie Wonder, and have always really loved Art Blakey, especially with Wayne Shorter in the band!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

During the last year of my undergraduate degree I was lucky enough to perform in our symphony concert at Carnegie Hall under the baton of Leonard Slatkin. Some of my best friends were in the bass section with me, and it was my first time performing at Carnegie Hall. It was a wonderful experience to share with people I loved so dearly, and is a memory I will always cherish.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I think it is essential to remember that we move at our own pace in music. That it is a lifelong journey, and you should never judge your own success by the standards of anyone else. If music is your passion, follow it every day, and never allow yourself to feel like there isn’t anything more to learn.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I would like to be many places in 10 years time! My goal is to travel and perform in as many varied and wonderful places as I can. So far I’m off to a good start, but there is quite a lot of world to see!

Born in Tucson, Arizona in the United States, Gwen Reed began her musical studies at age 4 on the violin, and began studying the double bass at the age of 12. Upon graduating high school Gwen was awarded the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award, and participated in the 2010 American String Teacher Association’s National High School Honor Orchestra.

Gwen began her conservatoire training at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City in 2010 under the tutelage of Mrs. Linda McKnight. While in New York she performed with a variety of ensembles, including orchestral chamber ensembles, small jazz combos, contemporary music ensembles, and indie, rock, and pop groups at concert halls and venues throughout the five boroughs, including Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium Perelman Stage.

After completing her Bachelor of Music at the Manhattan School in 2014, Gwen moved to London to continue her education at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama under the tutelage of Mr. Colin Paris. Gwen has since begun working with several ensembles in London, including the Silk Street Sinfonia and Ensemble Nova Luce. Gwen specializes in contemporary and 20th century music, working extensively with composers from the Guildhall School and Royal Academy, and performing regularly with the Ensemble X.Y. Gwen has most recently performed in London’s Barbican Hall, LSO St. Luke’s, Cadogan Hall and St Martin-in-the-Fields.

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