Death of a London orchestra boss

Death of a London orchestra boss


norman lebrecht

October 10, 2021

We have been notified of the death of John Boyden, managing director of the London Symphony Orchestra in a boisterous era and a major casualty of its colourful turmoil. Boyden was hired in 1974 with a brief to replace Andre Previn as principal conductor. He was toppled the following year by Previn’s supporters, one of four chief execs at the LSO in a decade.

Son of a trumpet player in the London Philharmonic, John Boyden ran a shop in Richmond called Philharmonic Records, with a siddeline in high-quality self-produced releases. He was the force behind Paul Hamlyn’s budget label Classics for Pleasure, raising a controversial puff of tobacco sponsorship.

On being ousted by the LSO, Boyden founded Enigma Records, producing outstanding releases by John Lill, Lindsay String Quartet, John Lubbock, James Loughran, Simon Rattle, Vernon Handley and others. A constant source of effervescence, he founded and ran the New Queens Hall Orchestra, which played late-19th century music on instruments of that period. He was a thorn in the thigh of a complacent music establishment.

John died on September 20 and was buried on October 5.

Boyden with NQHO players


  • Mark Mortimer says:

    I met John Boyden once at a conducting masterclass when he came as guest speaker. He was a character but rather unoptimistic or realistic (perhaps- depending on point of view) on the prospects for young (or me at the time) aspiring baton waivers in the UK saying’ You’re all doomed!’

  • Graham Elliott says:

    Owing to my interest in early twentieth century woodwind instruments (which I play on myself) I decided follow the performances of the revived New Queen’s Hall Orchestra closely. I also decided to write to John Boyden, without any introduction, and possessing no credentials. He immediately responded and we had an ongoing occasional correspondence. His letters were detailed and totally friendly.

    He was a delight to correspond with. I never met him in person, but I didn’t need to. The letters were more than sufficient.

    His views were very particular, and he held to them against all prevailing views. But they had a strong logic, and he presented them clearly and coherently.

    RIP John Boyden, and thanks for your kindness.

  • Anonymous says:

    That’s not the NQHO as it features the front desk of the RPO from over twenty years ago.

  • UK Arts Administrator says:

    John Boyden was indeed quite some innovator in the world of recorded music. Born in 1936, at the age of just 20 he was made sub-manager of the HMV store in Oxford Street. He moved into music producing – during his lifetime he was producer for at least 2,000 recordings – and in 1970 launched Classics for Pleasure. One of the world’s first successful budget labels, at one point CFP was making a sixth of the UK’s classical sales. He also worked for EMI, where he brokered a deal between Imperial Tobacco and the London Philharmonic. Made managing director of the LSO, and only six months later leaving again (he said that his attempt to introduce a market-led approach went down exceptionally badly), he was rumoured even during his brief tenure at the LSO to be feeding pieces to Private Eye’s “Lunchtime O’Boulez” column – true or not, the LSO and Private Eye were certainly daggers drawn at the time. Post-LSO, in 1976 he founded Enigma Classics, which he built solidly enough for it to be sold to Warner Bros. When Warners lost interest in classical music at the end of 1979, Enigma was sold and came to form the basis for the ASV catalogue.

    In 1980 Boyden jointly founded Finesplice, one of Europe’s first dedicated post-production houses for recorded music editing where, for several decades, his business partner there, Ben Turner, was one of the “go-to” digital editors. All through the 1980s Boyden and his company Boyden Associates were advisers to the Pickwick Group, which created a large catalogue of mid-priced CDs for its IMP label: Boyden produced several hundred masters for Pickwick. In 1986 he provided Warner Bros with a structure for re-entering the classical market, and he was a major advisor behind the Collins Classics label (which after it ceased became a major enabler, thanks to its stock of ready-made and now unwanted masters, for the start-up of “own-labels” including Coro). Boyden also set up an artist agency, Manygate.

    As a recording producer Boyden’s releases were not all without fault, and he remained much amused that his best-selling recording of the Brandenburg Concertos for CFP, with an orchestra created primarily for the label, the Virtuosi of England, contained a distinctly jazzy bar, due to what he held out was a perfect edit: just one that happened to miss out a vital quaver (it didn’t stop the set selling well into six figures).

    Boyden also had a fine eye for spotting and promoting talent of the future, and claimed to have created the début recordings of (amongst others) Dame Margaret Price, Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Andrew Davis, the Lindsay, Gabrieli and Brodsky Quartets, the Nash Ensemble, Julian Lloyd Webber, John Lill, the Clerkes of Oxenford and Emma Johnson. The power behind the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra, and highly critical of the acoustics of the existing orchestral concert halls in London, Boyden was also involved with the plans to create a new concert hall in Wimbledon. Despite being well into his eighties, it was no surprise to find Boyden involved in the opening concert of the new Storey’s Field arts centre in Cambridge.

    John Boyden was a real character who never stopped trying, fearlessly, to find new ways to enliven the performance of serious music and to bring it to a wider audience. His legacy lives on in those thousands of recordings which would not have been created without his considerable musical, organisational and business skills.

  • sonicsinfonia says:

    “Thorn in the thigh?” – never heard that before, even allowing for a lisp! Thorn in the side, perhaps?

  • Robert Roy says:

    I spent so much of my teenage pocket money buying MfP and CfP records. The name John Boyden was always involved.

    Thank you, Mr. Boyden and Rest in Peace.

  • Equal temperament says:

    John Boyden was a great record producer from whom I learnt a great deal. He was very kind to me and to many others.

  • Nick2 says:

    I first met John Boyden when he was producing an opera highlights disc for the CFP label, one that received excellent reviews (one I recall was from Robert Ponsonby) and remains in the catalogue to this day some 35 years later. He was extremely professional allied to a rather cheeky sense of humour and always fun to be around.

    Some years later after he had founded Enigma, we enjoyed an hilarious lunch in London. I had read that he was planning a complete cycle of the Tchaikovsky symphonies to be conducted by Ling Tung, the Chinese-American conductor who had been fired a few years earlier by the Hong Kong Philharmonic. John let out a loud laugh. “That’s assuming he’s sold enough chicken noodle soup!” It was not said as a snide remark; merely recognition that the idea had been Tung’s and Tung would be paying for the orchestra and all the sessions, a not unusual situation with London orchestras at that time. It never happened, as far as I know.

    I last met up with him about ten years ago when I took the train down to enjoy another wonderfully amusing pub lunch at his local before visiting the studio in his home to hear his latest Queens Hall orchestra recording.

    Thank you for all the happy times dear John. My deepest condolences to your family and friends.

  • Corno di Caccia says:

    Along with other contributors, John Boyden’s name will – for this writer – always be associated with those wonderful Classics for Pleasure Vinyl LPs which I bought as a teenage record collector in the 1970s. In particular I recall the excitement in buying those that made up my first complete recordings of the Symphonies of Brahms with James Loughran and the Halle Orchestra (apologies for the lack of accent, my phone doesn’t ‘do’ them) as they came out one by one, to this day they are still treasured as a remarkable set. His name became as familiar and as vital to me as the details of the music recorded, the orchestras, and the conductors on each LP cover, thereby making him an invaluable part of my musical education as a young musician. Thank you, Mr. Boyden. The recordings which I still possess will be a living memorial to a very special man. RIP.

  • Corno di Caccia says:

    @Robin Smith. I’m someone who contributes a lot more than just six words!

  • John Borstlap says:

    The NQHO premiered a piece of mine in 2001 in the Bridgewsater Hall in Manchester. Because he could not believe what he saw in the score, he needed a pianist to play the music so that he could hear it. Performance went reasonably well, in spite of his smuggling with rehearsel time to save money. I never heard again of the orchestra, I guess it no longer exists.

    His idea of having period instruments of around 1900 for the music of that time, so that not a frustrating balancing of brass was necessary, was a correct one. From the twenties onwards, brass became much louder because of a different built. This means that in tuttis they always overpower the rest of the orchestra. The older instruments had less volume and fitted more naturally within the total sound, and this was for the brass players also better: under good conductors and with modern instruments, they have to restrain themselves to not being too loud, while with the older instruments they can play freely their uninhibited fortes without them overpowering the rest of the orchestra. Also, the sound of the older instruments had more harmonics which gave it a more transparant sound, comparable with the older recordings of the VPO.

    I don’t understand why this idea did not catch-on. It was a very good idea.

    And what happened with the instruments? Sealed-up again in the cupboard from which they were liberated?

  • John Worthington says:

    I am so very sad to learn of the death of John Boyden.For over 40 years I tuned his Bechstein piano,watched his family grow up and sadly,I think owing to both mobile number and address changes,lost touch these last 5 years.John and I got on so well and I loved being up-dated about all that he was involved in.Of course I would like to,if possible,convey my sincere condolences to his family at this sad time.Assured that I shall ask for a Traditional Mass to be said for the happy repose of his soul.Requiescat in pace John,until we meet again one day.

  • John Worthington says:

    So glad to read that I have established contact.I tried a follow up after reading both The Times and Daily Telegraph obituries to dear John but went round in circles with those papers!