British violist and conductor Gerald Gentry has died at the age of 86. Born in May 1927, he began playing the viola professionally at the age of 13 and at 15 was freelancing with London orchestras including the London Philharmonic and BBC Symphony. After touring Italy, Greece and Austria as a member of the Royal Artillery Band and studying at the Guildhall School of Music, Gentry was named co-principal viola of the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the age of 19.
Under the guidance of Walter Goehr, a student of Schoenberg, Gentry performed with the BBC Theatre Orchestra, which broadcast live opera performances in collaboration with such narrators as Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and Leonard Sachs. He also conducted the BBC Singers in station broadcasts.
In 1952 he studied conducting alongside Bernard Haitink with Paul van Kempen in the Netherlands and in 1953 became one of the BBC’s three assistant staff conductors – a position her held until 1965, conducting all 17 BBC orchestras.
Gentry moved to Australia in 1984 where he conducted the Monash University Orchestra, the Victorian College of the Arts Orchestra, the Melbourne Conservatorium Orchestra and concerts for the Melbourne Composers League. In 2005 he founded the Southern Cross Philharmonia whose motto is ‘Championing Australian Music’.
Gentry’s first wife Muriel Joyce died in 1998. He is survived by Bianca Rooman, whom he married in 2012.
Photo: Ian Mitchell