John Fenton Mathews, 80, principal bassist with BSO

July 20, 2006

John Fenton Mathews, who had held the principal bass chair in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for a quarter-century, died of leukemia July 10 at his home in West Brooklin, Maine. The former Bolton Hill resident was 80.

Born in Birmingham, Mich., he studied the double bass privately with Gaston Brohan, principal double bassist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and attended summer music camp at Interlochen in Michigan.

After two years of study, he took his first symphony job in Dallas. He later had positions in the Seattle and Houston symphony orchestras. He was a musician in the Army from 1950 to 1952, then joined the bass section of the Detroit Symphony.

In 1959, he won the audition for the BSO's principal bass chair, a position he held for 25 years. He also performed at Wigmore Hall in London and at a small auditorium at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Netherlands. He made his New York debut with a recital at Town Hall in 1963 and six years later took part in a State Department-sponsored tour from Rome to Oslo, Norway, as soloist on the viola da gamba.

He taught at the Peabody Conservatory and for many summers was associated with the chamber music school at Kneisel Hall in Blue Hill, Maine. His final public performance was at the Peabody in October.

Services are private.

This summer, he had begun work on recording solo pieces.

He was once married to harpsichordist and Pro Musica Rara artistic director Shirley Mathews. He leaves no immediate survivors.

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