The London Sinfonietta, on behalf of his family, announces with regret that flautist Sebastian Bell has died on 21 September, aged 65, shortly after being diagnosed with cancer. He was widely acknowledged as one of the finest flautists of his generation and an extraordinary interpreter of modern and contemporary repertoire.
Sebastian’s colleagues have paid tribute to his musicianship and life.
John Constable, pianist and a colleague in the London Sinfonietta, said: “Bas’ death has robbed the Sinfonietta of a truly great player and me of a very close friend. His playing and his commitment to the ideals of the group epitomize what the Sinfonietta stands for. He filled every phrase he played on everything from the piccolo to the bass flute with imaginative musicality.“
Composer and conductor, Oliver Knussen, added: “Bas was the intelligent, committed musician personified. He played marvellously, of course, and as well as being a superb ensemble player had an authoritative and distinctive stage presence as a soloist. He tackled technical challenges thoroughly and with apparent relish. In rehearsal and performance he was amazingly alert, a joy for the conductor because you never had to get his attention. He was always there, always aware of what was going on and, most importantly in uncharted territory, aware of what could occur. It is difficult indeed to imagine his absence, and I will miss him very much.”
Born on 19 October 1941, Sebastian Bell studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Gareth Morris. He began his career with Sadler's Wells Opera, before being appointed Principal Flute of the BBC Welsh Orchestra at the age of 21.
For four decades he has been at the forefront of the contemporary music movement in the UK, appearing with trail-blazing ensembles such as The Fires of London and, most notably, the London Sinfonietta; he was Principal Flute of the London Sinfonietta since it was formed in 1968. His commitment to contemporary music has also been captured in his many recordings, including Toru Takemitsu’s Toward the Sea with guitarist John Williams and George Benjamin’s Antara (which won the Gramophone Contemporary Music Award in 1990).
Sebastian was flute professor at both the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music. He enjoyed an international reputation as a specialist in restoring and voicing antique flutes, and as a manufacturer of flute head-joints.
Outside music, his interests included painters and paintings, architecture and ceramics - particularly Delft and Middle Eastern pottery c.1300-1750. He also had a passion for boating; he designed and restored boats, was a partner in a residential marina, and in 1983 came fourth in the IIIc National Power Boat Championships.
The London Sinfonietta will dedicate its performance, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, on 1 October to Sebastian.