John Tattersdill was born in Harrogate. He started to learn the piano at the age of five and the double bass at eleven eventually graduating with a Recital Diploma on Piano from the Royal Manchester College of Music in 1972.He joined the CBSO in 1973 becoming the Section Leader in 1977.

Q&A with John

What is your earliest memory of music making – how did you come to be a double bassist?

I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t play a piano or recorder. 

I became a bass player because I went to an absolutely brand new school as an 11 year old.  After a week the school decided to form an orchestra.  I was asked to play the ‘cello and accepted but several days later they said they’d found a couple of ‘cellists in other years: would I play the bass? I was already quite tall.  So that was that.  My fate was sealed!

Is your family musical?

My father was quite musical although he didn’t know it. My grand uncle (who I never met) opened a music shop in New York.

What do you find challenging and exciting about working on a newly-commissioned piece?

New music is always exciting.  You never know what you’re going to get.  When it’s good it’s an extraordinary experience but of course, you have to take the rough with the smooth.  Some composers are extraordinarily optimistic in what they think you will be able to play and this can become a real challenge.  One of the skills BCMG has developed over the years is an ability to pick out the composers who have something to say and also the technical ability to know how the instruments work in order to render their concept.  We rarely play bad new music nowadays.  In the early years we had our moments……… 

What works do you enjoy playing the most?

We’ve played some wonderful music over the years but Tom Ades’ and Oliver Knussen’s music will always have a place in my heart.  And, of course, we shouldn’t forget all the master composers from just a little while ago – Stravinsky, Berg, Britten, Webern, etc.

Which musicians or experiences have influenced you in your musical life?

It’s quite impossible to list all the musical influences in my life.  So many soloists… so many conductors!  The biggest influencers were my piano teacher, Dame Fanny Waterman to whom I owe an enormous debt, and our conductors particularly Sir Simon Rattle.  But players like the ‘cellist from the Beaux Arts Trio, Bernard Greenhouse, pianists Horovitz, Rubenstein, Argerich, Gould, Schiff, Brendel, Uchida, singers, violinists…….. the list is endless and you learn something from all of them. This is not to mention all the great paintings and books.