Neil Courtney: Renewing Vows with the Double Bass

Neil Courtney

Neil Courtney’s professional career as a bass performer began in 1951 with the Rochester Philharmonic under the direction of Erich Leinsdorf. At that time he was studying at Eastman School of Music with famed teacher, Oscar Zimmerman, one of the first graduates of the Curtis Institute of Music. After graduating, he joined the U.S. Marine Band where he served for four years, supplementing his education by studying with Roger Scott, Principal Bass of the Philadelphia Orchestra and professor at the Curtis Institute. In the Marine Band, he performed frequently at the White House under the Eisenhower administration.

In 1958, Courtney was appointed Principal Bass of the National Symphony in Washington, D.C., a position he held until 1962 before joining the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Ormandy. As a member of the National Symphony, he played at John. F. Kennedy’s presidential inauguration, and also traveled with the orchestra on a twelve-week tour of South America.

In the ensuing years, he played under the baton of permanent conductors, Ricardo Muti, Wolfgang Sawallish, Christoph Eschenbach, and Charles Dutoit. Since then, he has played for nearly every major conductor in the world. With the Philadelphia Orchestra — the first U.S. Orchestra to travel to Beijing in 1973 — he traveled extensively and was honored in 2008 as one of the musicians on the original tour.

Songs and Dance

(Trio for Bass, Trumpet and Piano)

Philadelphia Orchestra Chamber Music Series
Recorded on 29 October 2000
COMPOSED BY Neil Courtney
David Bilger (First Trumpet)
Neil Courtney (Bass)
Terry Klinefelter (Piano)

Courtney also served as co-founder of Musicians for Social Responsibility and the chief organizer for the Concert for Humanity, a concert to raise consciousness for nuclear disarmament which was conducted by Muti. In addition to his orchestral performances, he played numerous solo performances as well as chamber music with the Philadelphia Chamber Players, a group he co-founded and which was active for nineteen years. Some of his solo performances include Per Questa Bella Mano with baritone Eric Owens and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and a Hindemith sonata at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

As a composer, his work (e.g. Trio for Bass, Trumpet and Piano) was performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra as part of the Philadelphia Orchestra Chamber series. Other chamber concerts include Beethoven Septet and Richard Strauss Quintet with principal players of the Philadelphia Orchestra. As a teacher, his students include internationally recognized jazz bassists Stanley Clarke and Christian McBride.

Neil Courtney will retire from his position in the Philadelphia Orchestra as Assistant Principal bass in August 2010, after forty-eight years. He lives in Philadelphia.

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