Moment’s silence: Beecham’s clarinet has died

Moment’s silence: Beecham’s clarinet has died


norman lebrecht

September 18, 2016

We are saddened to report the death of Basil (Nick) Tschaikov, former Director of the National Centre for Orchestral Studies and for many years a stalwart of London’s orchestral scene.

Nick, who died on Wednesday, had been fading away unhappily in a nursing home. He was 91.

As second clarinet of the London Philharmonic Orchestra (1943-47) and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (1947-55), Nick was a member of the Thomas Beecham elite. Even after he moved on to the Philharmonia Orchestra, where he served for a while as chairman, he continued to rise to Sir Thomas’s magic and played, in fact, in the old man’s final concert in May 1960.

He went on to become Director of the National Centre for Orchestral Studies and a wonderful teacher.

Here‘s a memoir by the rock musician Rick Wakeman:

My clarinet professor, a wonderful man called Basil Tchaikov, a fabulous player. I went to his lesson one day and he said “What’s troubling you?” And I told him. I said “I don’t know what to do. I’ve got a real problem. I’m doing all these sessions. I’m learning an awful lot. I’m playing with all sorts of different people. The doors are really opening for me in that area. But I’m now getting offered so many sessions that it’s starting to interfere. I’ve been skipping a few lectures, things I haven’t been able to get to. I just don’t know what to do.” I said “I’m frightened if I finish the course, which is another year and a bit, then those doors might close.” He said to me, “What you need to do is go and empty your locker. Walk out of the Royal College Of Music. Walk across the road.” Right opposite the Royal College Of Music is the Royal Albert Hall. He said “Walk up the stairs of the Royal Albert Hall. Do not look back. Walk around the Royal Albert Hall and go That’s where I want to be. That’s my next step.” And I said “Yeah!” And he said “And don’t come back.”

Nick’s autobiography, The Music Goes Round and Round is fully readable now online. It appears that both of his grandfathers were Jewish musicians. One was second clarinet in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.


He is seen here in 1978 with the Philharmonia’s music director, Riccardo Muti and its financial supporter Ian Stoutzker.


  • Derek Warby says:

    I worked with Nick at the NCOS from 1982 until its closure in 1989. He was a formidable force and character with uncompromising standards and a real belief in and passion for what the NCOS was doing. As a 20-something not much older than the students, I learnt an awful lot from him. NCOS alumni can be found in every major orchestra in the UK, as well as many abroad. He left a unique legacy.

    • Sara Barns says:

      Thank you so much for your comments. As one if Nick’s daughters it is always wonderful to hear about the effect he had on so many people’s lives. He was a wonderful father and he achieved so much in many spheres of the music world.

      • Lynn Downton (née Forrester) says:

        Dear Sara, I am so sorry to hear the news of your Fathers passing. I worked with him at the NCOS from 1985-1989, I always found him to be a very kind, generous man – firm but fair. I have held him up as a beacon, and never since had another boss like him, he was certainly one of a kind. A lovely man who gave a teenager a chance and instilled me with confidence in my ability to go forward to new things. I shall always remember him with great affection. Condolences to you and your family. xx

      • Penny hughes says:

        I was sorry to hear that your dad had passed away some years ago. I am trying to get in touch with his daughter penny.

      • John Muir says:

        In the late 1940s your father (and family)lodged briefly with us in Lewes. The RPO were then the pit orchestra at Glyndebourne. I have two recollections of that time. I would have been about 14 years old.
        I recall he played some of H Frazer Simpsons music of the Christopher Robin verses (presumably on our old piano) by way of a lullaby to get you to sleep. This inspired me to buy a copy, which I still have.
        The other recollection is of him being nervous that on one performance he was required to play an ‘exposed’ passage as Jack Brymer was either indisposed or his wife was giving birth. I think the latter was the case.
        He seemed a very nice guy.

  • Martin Anderson says:

    I’m sorry to hear of Nick’s demise — I had been wondering how he was. He was a superb story-teller. I didn’t know his memoirs were available online and will check them out, but a quick check suggests that his de Sabata stories are not there. He told me that of all the conductors he worked with, the one who commanded the deepest respect from the players was Victor de Sabata. He then related tale after tale of de Sabata’s remarkable musicianship (I’ll aim to return here to tell them later). He ended by saying (deadpan): “But the best thing I ever saw de Sabata do was throw a chair at Elisabeth Schwartzkopf”.

  • Bob Schildgen says:

    My wife, Brenda, and I met Nick and his wife, Dorothy, through mutual friends, David and Edith Jenkins, in Italy, back in 1995. We all staged a rather raucous 70th birthday party for Nick, We enjoyed his and Dot’s company on different occasions when they came to the States, and we exchanged Christmas greetings every year. The scope of his musical knowledge and appreciation was staggering. He was editing a series of studies on various musical instruments written by musicians, and I jokingly suggested that he do one on the accordion. To my great surprise, he too me seriously, citing the role of the accordion in everything from Zydeco to Norwegian symphonies. I arranged with an accordionist here in the U.S. to coordinate the work. Unfortunately, he had trouble finding accordionists willing or able to write anything, so the project was scrapped. Rest in peace, Nick. The band will play on for you.

  • barry Sterndale Bennett says:

    I was, albeit belatedly, informed then greatly saddened to hear of Nick’s death. I succeeded him as Chairman of Music Preserved and he will be remembered not only as a very fine clarinetist but for having taken the important initiative to found MP. The last time we met was some 15 years ago when he and his wife graciously invited me to lunch. I extend my sincere condolences to his family

  • A wonderful inspiration to musicians . I knew Marion Tchaikov from my years at the Incorporated Society of Musicians and later n the music industry.