Sad news: Neville Marriner is gone, at 92main
The most prolific English conductor – he made more recordings than anyone except Herbert von Karajan – died last night, October 2, peacefully at the age of 92.
He and I were friends for many years, close for the last decade.
I will shortly write a personal reminiscence.
Meantime, the bare facts.
Born on 15 April 1924 in the cathedral town of Lincoln, he was summoned into the London Symphony Orchestra when most of its violinists were conscripted into the army in 1939. Neville was just 15.
He was the last active musician to have played for Henry Wood, Arturo Toscanini, Wilhelm Furtwängler and other giants of the first half of the 20th century. He absorbed much from observing them.
The one who spotted his potential as a conductor was Pierre Monteux, whom he always named as his teacher and mentor.
Neville became interested in historically informed performance while recovering from war wounds in 1944. He founded the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in the mid-1950s and turned it into the most sweet-sounding of the many bands that purported to play baroque and early classical music at original pitch and tempi – though never on original instruments.
He was the kindest, most considerate of men, absolutely beloved of his players. If a musician was ever in trouble, he would drop everything until the matter was sorted. He once told the Musikvereinsaal management in Vienna, is the most polite and reasonable way, that there was no possibility of an Academy concert the next day unless one of his violinists, a Slovak refugee on temporary papers, was released immediately by the border authorities. The player was back in his seat within the hour.
In the 1980s, Neville was music director with large orchestras – the Minnesota Orchestra and SWR radio orchestra in Stuttgart. He adored the big noise they made, but was always happiest with his Academy.
He was knighted for services to music, becoming Sir Neville in 1985. Last year he received the rare and signal honour of being named Companion of Honour (CH). He received these gifts with his customary humility.
Devoted to Molly and their family, he liked in recent years to avoid conducting in the summer when, as he put it, ‘the garden needed me’. But he could never turn down a request from a friend and he was travelling the world busily to the end. He conducted for the last time on Thursday, at Padova in Italy.
He was, I think, the least self-regarding musician I have ever known. I loved him deeply.
UPDATE: Glimpses of Neville
UPDATE2: The indispensable recordings.
Shocking news. On Thursday he was in Padova, North East Italy, conducting the Orchestra del Padova e del Veneto. Pictures from rehearsals and concert:
Shocking? He was 92! Hardly shocking for a 92 year-old to die!
Wonderful conductor. I have an old LP from the sixties with Stravinsky’s “Apollon Musagète” with a superb elegance and dreamy expression, and I have looked in vain for a comparable performance / recording (even Stravinsky’s own is far inferior).
Back in the 1970s, ABC Classic FM in Australia were playing so many of their recordings, and so regularly that they went from being back announced as ‘The Academy of St Martin in the Fields directed by Sir Neville Marriner’ to on at least one occasion ‘Nev and the Academy’. A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to tell the great man himself that story. He enjoyed it very much. A very nice man, wonderful conductor and perhaps most importantly adored by his audience.
So many recordings are amongst my favourites……… And he was so delightful to work with! We are lucky to have such a wonderful legacy of his work.
Very sad news… A fantastic musician.
It has been the Minnesota Orchestra since 1968, long before NM was music director there.
If you ever want to A/B a disc of Suppé overtures, try Mehta/Vienna Phil (1989, CBS) versus Snev/ASMF (1989, EMI).
Snev wins by a mile — more insight and charm, much more expression.
The Vaughan Williams disc on Argo (1972) remains at full price after all this time, for good reason. The Barbiere on Philips (1982) is also a gem.
At least I have his recordings, but they don’t matter for many who would rather just have him rather than his works like his family and friends.
Glenn Gould once told me that he was planning to re-record all 5 of the Beethoven Piano Concertos and he would have liked Neville Marriner to be the Conductor. I asked Sir Neville on one of his visits to Toronto if he knew of that project. “Yes of course; Gould called me and we discussed it at length over the phone. But why me? I’m still unable to answer that question”. The plan never came to life, Gould wanted to record the piano part in a local studio while the orchestral accompaniment would be done overseas; the two separate recordings would then be mixed under Gould’s supervision in Toronto. He suggested the same idea to Karajan for Beethoven’s Third. The German Maestro considered the concept foolish and rejected it.
Neville told me about it – hilariously.
This is very sad news, indeed. I remember seeing him walking the halls of Royce Hall, at UCLA, when he was director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. I was fortunate to have caught some of their concerts as a student then. I think I’ll play their recording of the Suk Serenade for Strings today and remember those days.
‘Original pitch’? Don’t think they ever strayed from 440?
This is the first time ‘Nev and the Academy’ have been assigned to the ‘authentic performance’ camp surely?
It would be wonderful if someone had this cartoon and posted it: (Stereo Review, March 1979). In the cartoon a gentleman is sitting in a comfortable chair next to a stereo set as an announcement is heard from the speaker: “Played now by the orchestra of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.” The parrot, sitting on a perch off to the side, completes the announcement with the phrase: “Neville Marriner conducting.”
Minor correction. It was a cartoon in the New Yorker Magazine.
The very first cassette tape I bought back in the day was a recording of Handel’s ‘Water Music’ conducted by Sir Neville. I loved that tape to death. Little did I know that a quarter of a century later Sir Neville would conduct a major song cycle of mine, one of the very few Australian works he conducted throughout his lengthy career. I found him to be very generous, witty, and charming. I feel so privileged to have connected with him albeit briefly.
I had the good fortune to be Neville’s principal Bass player with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra for 8 years. Neville always liked it when YOU played, because he reveled in the energy he felt from his players. Soloing with the orchestra was a great pleasure; he was as good an accompanist as John Barbirolli, with whom I played in Houston. Quite candid in private conversation, he always maintained a verbal restraint during rehearsal. Neville was always a colleague. Thanks and Godspeed, Sir Neville.
As it happens, the CD that I listened the last few days was music from Walton’s score of Laurence OIivier’s film Henry V. Marvelous recording, a reminder of how good Sir Neville was. You will be missed, Maestro!
It would be fitting in memoriam if Radio 3 gives another airing to Sean Rafferty”s long extended chat a couple of years ago with Sir Neville in his home – a lovely programme.
Or the Lebrecht Interview with Sir Neville in 2011/
Had the privilege of singing under Sir Neville in 2010. He was wonderful to work with.
I had the good fortune of interviewing the great man for 2MBS-FM during what I believe was his first visit to Sydney in the mid 1970s. He was in town to conduct the inaugural concert of a newly formed chamber orchestra in the Sydney Opera House. He was so kind, gracious and generous with his time. Meeting him made a deep impression on me that has lasted to this very day. When we parted after what was a 45-minute interview, he gave me a book written many years earlier by his great friend, Thurston Dart, called the Interpretation of Music. Inside the front cover, Neville wrote some most touching words of mutual musical appreciation, and I still treasure that volume enormously and consider it a prized position. I still can’t quite believe he has gone; his extraordinary musicianship has been such a constant in so many people’s lives for so long. We are all going to miss him hugely. But you know, heaven has now gained a genuine star musician, the likes of which we may not see again for a long time. May he rest in peace and rise in glory!
I remember one very special evening with Sir Neville Marriner at the San Francisco symphony. Murray Perahia had been scheduled to play and had been taken ill. The (then) relatively unknown Yuja Wang had been tasked with playing in his place. This very young girl in a beautiful red dress came and played before an audience expecting amazing things from both The Academy and Murray Perreia – who was not there. Yuja Wang played beautifully and, when she was done, Sir Neville Marriner went to her and gave her the warmest congratulations, ending with a lovely, fatherly hug. I will never forget the sight of this tiny girl in a red dress with this stately man. The audience rose to their feet in a standing ovation for both of them.
I posted this on another page on this site, but this seemed like a more appropriate place for this lovely memory.