Tune In Backstage: Meet Geoffrey Lynn

Tune In is the London Philharmonic Orchestra's bi-seasonal magazine keeping you up-to-date with news and reflects on highlights of the year. We caught up with Geoffrey Lynn to celebrate his 40th year in the LPO as a member of the First Violin section, and to uncover some of his most memorable highlights of his career so far.

What were your first experiences of music, and what made you choose the violin?

GL: My first musical memory is of trying to pick out the notes to Bach’s ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ on the rather out-of-tune piano at home in Stirling, Scotland. At my primary school the music specialist taught very well. However it appears that my singing was too out-of-tune to let me sing in the school choir! When the headmaster asked if anyone would like violin lessons, my best friend put up his hand and I decided I would like to go with him. After six months my friend decided that he was going to give up and when I informed my mother that I too was going to give up, I was firmly told that that would not be an option. I was ten years old at the time. By the age of 14, I was in the National Youth Orchestra.

You originally began studying medicine before moving to the Royal College of Music to study the violin. Why did you decide to switch to music?

GL: In 1968 I entered Edinburgh Medical School hoping to become a psychiatrist. After two terms in halls of residence, I could stand it no longer and decided to commute from home, just over 30 miles away. Two terms later I decided to abandon medicine altogether and worked for a short period as a bus conductor. After trying and failing to get into the Royal Academy of Music, I found more success with the Royal College and had three and a half very happy years there, later winning the top violin prize. Do I have any regrets about leaving medicine? I’m sure that psychiatry would not have been without its problems, and I have enough friends who are doctors to know that the grass is brown everywhere!

How did you get your first job with the LPO?

GL: While at the Royal College of Music, I auditioned for extra work with the LPO. I was by this stage already doing some freelance work and teaching. The LPO invited me to come in to play on various projects, including a three-week European tour for which the College had to give me permission. The Leader suggested to me that I could take a job as an Associate Member while still at college, but I decided against this, as it would have proved complicated with the RCM. I later auditioned for membership and was successful. I was by then 24 years old and the youngest member of the Orchestra.

What have been the highlights of your time with the Orchestra?

GL: One of the most memorable projects was the run of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at Glyndebourne with Andrew Davis in 1999. Another was recording five or six Paganini violin concertos, one after another, in Barking Town Hall with Salvatore Accardo in 1975 – a truly staggering feat of violin playing!

What have been the biggest changes to life in the LPO over the last 40 years?

GL: The biggest change is probably the extra rehearsal time we’re now allowed. Forty years ago one could often expect to play a concert on one three-hour rehearsal. This practically never happens now with the London concerts, and it has made a huge difference to the standard of our performances. We also now have the use of our own rehearsal space at Henry Wood Hall, which makes life much easier.

What are the biggest challenges you face as an orchestral violinist? Which composers do you find trickiest?

GL: One of the hardest challenges for all orchestral players is often playing unfamiliar repertoire from poor quality printed parts. Personally, I also find that playing the accompaniment to a Mozart piano concerto with the necessary style and precision is always a challenge to one’s control of the instrument.

You have been heavily involved in LPO Education & Community projects over the years – why is this kind of work important to you?

GL: My time with the Orchestra’s Education department was very interesting, and I learned a great deal about teaching music to many different age groups. I also teach the violin privately. Teaching is an area in which I feel very comfortable, and it’s a regret that I didn’t become more involved in this earlier in my life. I find my students stimulating and the whole process of teaching fascinating.

How do you like to spend your free time?

GL: I enjoy spending time with my family: I am married to Frankie and have two children: a daughter, Amy, who is married with a son, Alexander; and a son, Stuart, who got married this summer, so it’s been a busy time recently! At every possible opportunity, you will find me up a mountain clipping on a pair of skis. I also take many other holidays – either visits to somewhere that my wife and I find interesting, or enjoying our ‘second life’ in our flat in Nice on the Côte d’Azur. I’m also to be found cycling into work on a fairly regular basis.

Geoffrey’s chair in the London Philharmonic Orchestra is generously supported by Caroline, Jamie & Zander Sharp.

 You can read our latest Tune In issue online here.