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My life with Max: A memoir by his manager

August 26, 2017 by norman lebrecht

10 comments.


Judy Arnold, who looked after Peter Maxwell Davies for 31 years, has written a memoir of their time together and posted it at the Orkney Library and Archive.

The memoir is extremely detailed and highly revealing of Max’s working methods and his personal relationships.

It breaks off before the legal action that Max took against Judy’s husband, Michael, because this, she says ‘occurred after I ceased to work for him.’

You can access the memoir here.

Here’s how it begins:

I first met Peter Maxwell Davies (hereinafter referred to as Max) at the Dartington Summer School of Music in Devon in August 1970. I was there at the invitation of John Amis, and my job as a volunteer was to look after the artists who taught and performed there. I had been the personal assistant of the Polish pianist and composer
André Tchaikowsky for several years during the nineteen-sixties, and in this capacity I had been to Dartington, where André was a great favourite, both as a pianist and a teacher.

One of the concerts that summer at Dartington was given by an ensemble called The Pierrot Players. The main item on the programme was Vesalii Icones, a theatrical work with a dancer, and the group. I was very struck by the work, which was composed by Peter Maxwell Davies.

However, it was another member of the group, the composer Harrison Birtwistle, who took me aside, and asked me if I would consider being his personal assistant, in the same way as I had done for André. I accepted his offer, although I did not know anything about what a composer did. Harry, for so Harrison Birtwistle was always
called, took me to meet the other members of his group, and these included Max. It was thus that I first came into direct contact with Max. My association with Harry only lasted for one month. However, I was now intrigued
by Max’s music and I started to attend the concerts by the group, which had now changed its name to The Fires of London. These concerts were held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. I was also present at the world premiere of Max’s opera Taverner at Covent Garden in July 1972. I became friendly with two members of the ensemble – Stephen Pruslin, the American pianist, and Mary Thomas, the soprano.

In the summer of 1975, Steve Pruslin phoned me and asked if I would consider being in charge of the newly-formed Friends of The Fires. This had been set up to try to get as many people as possible interested in the work of The Fires. As I was by now an ardent fan, I accepted. One of my first concerts in this new capacity was at the Victoria and Albert Museum in July 1975. This was a series of concerts, initiated by the director Roy Strong, and they were held at night after the general public had disappeared. The main work on this programme was Max’s Ave Maris Stella which
had recently been first performed at the Bath Festival two months earlier. I was completely overcome by this major chamber music work. I astonished myself to find, while compiling my eight Desert Island Discs that Ave Maris Stella had entered into the list, along with Bach’s B Minor Mass and Beethoven’s Op. 110 piano sonata.

Then there was another call from Steve. This time it was the offer of another short-term job with The Fires. He asked if I would be the road manager for a two week tour of the U.K. in November. I told Steve that I didn’t have the slightest idea what anything like that would entail. Steve assured me that it was very easy. The group would be going to twelve different towns, and all I had to do was to see thateverything was in order when I got there. Well, that didn’t sound too onerous, and it might be fun, and I would be hearing a lot of concerts by The Fires. So I accepted. I
requested that I should have all the paper-work connected with the tour.

Then, on 1 October, the phone rang, and this time it was Max, in his very quiet telephone voice. He asked me if I would go over to see him as he had something to discuss with me. I told my husband Michael that I thought I knew what this something would be. In the years since I had worked for André and for that short while with Harry Birtwistle, several artists had asked me to work for them, but I very disinclined to do so.

I went straight over to see Max at the flat he had just bought as his London base which was almost bang opposite King’s Cross Station. Both Max and Steve were there. There was not a stick of furniture anywhere. We sat on the floor. The proposition was put to me that I would become the manager of The Fires of London, and also Max’s manager. I told them that I had absolutely no experience of any sort in this field of activity. My experience with André for all those years was not as a manager, but as a personal assistant, to keep the diary and things in order. I had never gone out to find work for André, as that was done by his various agents around the world. I was assured that there would be no problem with any of that, because the work just arrived of its own accord, and there was plenty of it. I asked how The Fires were financed, and the reply was ‘out of the kitty’.

All of this seemed, on the fact of it, to be satisfactory. I said that I would need a while to think about this, as it would be a long-term commitment as far as I was concerned. Max said he would wait and would phone me in a few weeks to find out my answer. I did think about it a great deal. Then Max phoned me from Orkney on 19 October, which happened to be my fortieth birthday. I said that I would give it a go. After all, ‘life begins at forty’. Michael then spoke to Max and said that he would help me as far as business matters were concerned. I told Max that we should both give it try for a six-month period. If either of us felt unhappy, then we could withdraw, and there would be no hard feelings.

 


Comments (10)

  1. John Borstlap says:

    Interesting…. a touching picture from the exciting days when hitherto unplumbed depths of the human psyche were gleefully explored. Strangely enough, after half a century we cannot say it did quite catch-on, in spite of its aspirational nature:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6357vL9TPg

    The critics loved it though, with a discrete eye on Nicolas Slonimsky’s “Lexicon of Musical Invective”.

  2. James says:

    “It breaks off before the legal action that Max took against Judy’s husband, Michael, because this, she says ‘occurred after I ceased to work for him.’ ”

    Although it breaks off before the _conviction_ for fraud against the husband occurred, it covers the period 1990-2006 during which the fraud (apparently amounting to around £500,000) was actually taking place. So it’s surreal to read a memoir which discusses extensively the way in which the couple dealt with the composer’s financial affairs, but which apparently does not mention the fraud.

    Is it generally believed that Judy Arnold was aware of the fraud?

    Here are some excerpts from the memoir:

    “I especially thank my husband, Michael, for helping me throughout the thirty one years I worked as Max’s manager, and also for reading through and proofing this account and correcting me where my memory was faulty.”

    “The financial aspect of managing was completely done by Michael. When I spoke to
    Max on the phone to accept the offer of being his manager, Michael also spoke to
    him, and said that he would help in all financial matters, and this was done the whole
    way through.

    When a date for The Fires would come up, it was Michael who drew up the budgets,
    and discussed everything with the promoters, and negotiated the contracts. Where
    Max was to take part in a documentary programme, Michael would arrange all the
    conditions, including the travel and accommodation, as well as the fees involved.
    Michael negotiated all the commission contracts. Michael would chase up when the
    next instalment of a particular contract was due. He would also keep track of all the
    royalties which were due from the various sources: from the three publishers, from the
    MCPS Mechanical Copyright Protection Society) and the PRS (Performing Right
    Society).

    When anything new was proposed to Max, such as a commission, or a new position,
    or to be President of a particular organisation, I would discuss it with Max himself to
    see which way he wanted to go, and Michael would talk to him about the financial
    aspect. We would both give our advice. Max was invariably compliant with our
    suggestions, and did not offer any kind of difficulty or opposition.”

    “Throughout, Michael fixed everything to do with the buying and selling of his various
    properties, arranging the mortgages, dealing with the bank and setting up the Trust
    which would come into operation on Max’s death.”

  3. Richard Gibbs says:

    “I especially thank my husband, Michael, for helping me throughout the thirty one years I worked as Max’s manager,” says Judy Arnold – and for helping himself too, she could have added as her husband was jailed for defrauding Sir Max out of nearly half a million pounds. How disingenuous can Judy Arnold be?

  4. Hilary says:

    On balance I’d say the advantages of what Michael and Judy offered outweighed the disadvantages. As ever, the situation is more complicated than it may first appear.

    1. daveferre says:

      Very true about things being more complicated. Some have said Judy was a better manager then Max was a composer and she did wonders for his career. It’s true enough that mistakes were made but they were also corrected and with interest, but Max would not withdraw his case against Michael and off Michael went to jail, even with full payment for these mistakes. I say Max was not a nice man and he was lucky enough to have the help of Judy and Michael for all these years. Most just see some kind of newspaper headlines and jump to an easy conclusion but it’s not so easy. Thanks to Judy for writing all this down about working for Max.

      1. James says:

        The point about repayment is strange (I guess that’s what you mean by “corrected with interest” – the same point is made in the newspaper article linked to in the post above). The fact that somebody gives a thing back after being caught with it is not a reasonable defence to a charge of stealing the thing in the first place. So in normal circumstances the “correction” should make no difference to whether Michael went “off to jail” as you say.

        So indeed there was a conviction for fraud. When you say that things are complicated, do you mean that there wasn’t actually a fraud, and the conviction was mistaken? Is there anywhere one can get a fairer understanding of the situation, beyond “it’s not as easy as it seems”?

    2. Woodstok says:

      Are you saying the benefit of their management outweighed being defrauded of half a million pounds and having his house mortgaged without his knowledge? On top of their rightful salaries too. Two disgusting human beings, and a frankly dishonest account.

  5. Guy Bebb says:

    Mmmmm. Two crooks if l am not mistaken. Will always remember them demanding fees for Max on works yet unwritten, but under contract. He had no idea and they insisted on ten’s of thousands upfront. Yes, they might sue me, but l and the auditors have the paperwork. So go right ahead.

    1. daveferre says:

      You are mistaken about Judy and Michael being crooks. There is nothing unusual for fees for works to be written and as a leading composer, these fees could be quite high. No one’s going to sue you, that’s for sure.

      1. Woodstok says:

        Plenty unusual about stealing over £500,000 from your employer and mortgaging his house without his knowledge to fund your gambling addiction though.


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