A conductor obsessed by obscurity

A conductor obsessed by obscurity


norman lebrecht

January 12, 2014

Bryan Fairfax, whose death has just been announced, gave the UK premieres of the third symphonies of Gustav Mahler and Dmitri Shostakovich at a time when the works were considered box-office poison. Bryan performed the Mahler with a pro-am orchestra, the Polyphonia, in St Pancras Town Hall in February 1961 (the professional premiere was given by Berthold Goldschmidt that year for the BBC).

A few months later, Bryan gave the world premiere of Havergal Brian’s Gothic Symphony.

Other major works he introduced to Britain were by Nielsen, Percy Grainger and Franz Schmidt.

Australian by birth, Bryan never held office with a UK orchestra. He died on Thursday, aged 83.




  • David Boxwell says:

    Sir Adrian Boult gave the UK premiere of Mahler’s Third (1947), right?

    • sdReader says:

      NL is partly right. The Boult was the British premiere, but the first live public performance in Britain was the Fairfax. Sir A was working in the studio for broadcast only, and the Testament discs are an indirect result of that. As it happens I attended a Mahler 3 this morning — it’s a horrible work! — and over breakfast cleaned up the Wiki listing of the premieres, only to come home after the concert to see mention of Fairfax’s death.

  • Misha says:

    Just to set the record straight, Goldschmidt’s performance of Mahler 3 was a studio recording made on 26-28 January 1959 and first broadcast on Jan 17 1960 The first public professional performance in the UK was conducted by Horenstein at the RFH on 16 Nov. 1961 (recorded, available on YouTube).

  • Martin Grossel says:

    yes re Boult – it’s available on Testament discs!!

  • Actually Bryan died on the morning of 11 January, in hospital following a brain haemorrhage. Perhaps the most surprising first British performance he conducted was Rakhmaninov’s First Symphony in January 1964! Known previously only by Ormandy’s recording which was used as introductory music to ‘Panorama’ (BBC TV).

  • Forgive the pedantry, but I think Adrian Boult gave the UK premiere of Mahler 3 with the BBC Symphony in 1947. It may have been a studio performance, but it was quite a performance.

  • Jack Hogan says:

    Can we sort out whether his death occurred on Thursday 9th or Saturday 11th?