The nicest man in classical music lays down his baton

The nicest man in classical music lays down his baton


norman lebrecht

November 09, 2021

A wave of regret is running through the musical field at the realisation that next week will see the last public performance of Roger Norrington, classical explorer, conductor and interlocutor.

In contrast to the little Ayatollahs of the early music movement, riger was always comradely, consultative, eager to learn from other musicians. I conducted two extensive conversations with him – one a Lebrecht Interview on the BBC, the other on film in Zurich.

He was always interested in other opinions.

We shall miss him greatly in the rehearsal room.



  • Una Barry says:

    I have always had a soft spot for Roger as a conductor, a fine singer, and as a person. I was in Kent Opera for two years when he was the musical director. He was great fun, he was witty and so down to earth. His Traviata produced by Jonathan Miller was second to none, and it scraped off the musical and self-indulgent production varnish as well to be such a moving interpretation. He will be greatly missed by so any of us but his contribution has been enormous, and his recordings too are there.

  • RW2013 says:

    I was very grateful for his Vaughan Williams cycle in my town a few years ago.

  • A.L. says:

    His recording of the Beethoven symphonies left a positively indelible impression on me, for life. And I write this as an incurable (and unapologetic) allergic to HIP, original instruments and all that jazz.

    • Una says:

      Yes, same here. Not into the prehistoric instruments either but that doesn’t matter. His Beethoven is greater than that.

  • Thomas M. says:

    Nice he maybe, but he’s probably the worst conductor alive today. His insistence on vibrato-less string playing destroyed many wonderful works. I myself was an unfortunate victim of one of his Proms concerts, which included Elgar’s grand Symphony No.1. Without vibrato, not so grand. He drained all the power and color from the piece. A disturbingly wrong-headed interpretation. There’s no point in listening to anything from Norrington beyond Mozart and Beethoven, and he wasn’t that great in those works either. His retirement is long overdue.

    • Rabengeraun says:

      Very well said – I always thought “period performance practice” was a gimmick when it became all the rage in the ‘80s and I’ve not wavered from my view since. Norrington’s slavish observation of Beethoven’s metronome marks was, at least in some cases, downright derisory.

    • Patrick Gillot says:

      Completely agree. Awful conducting.

  • Bernard Jacobson says:

    “The nicest man in classical music”? He can’t have been that for very long, since it’s only a few weeks since Bernard Haitink died.

    • Gustavo says:

      Perhaps we need a top-ten list of the nicest men and nicest women in classical music?

      Dead and alive.

      I think Neeme Järvi is the nicest, followed by Simon Rattle.

      Oh yes, and Mariss of course, and Kirill…

  • La plus belle voix says:

    At least he does not punch people backstage.

  • Amos says:

    The nicest man in classical music who still makes time to speak to the editor.

  • Duncan says:

    Memorable Roger quote from a rehearsal of Bach’s St Matthew Passion in Winchester Cathedral: “Look, I know you’re on your way to crucify Jesus, but this is a gavotte, for goodness sake…!”

  • Frank Flambeau says:

    Did he win the nicest man contest? How do you measure this?

    • Gustavo says:

      Ratio between the number of record covers containing a photo of the respective artist and the number of covers without the artist’s image.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It’s done with a small device, the phrasmograph. The extension, which consists of a circulating little wheel with little iron plates, is put into the mouth for 10 minutes, which causes extreme irritation. The duration of tolerance is then measured against a chart with graphics, and numbers from 1 to 10. Mr Norrington sat still and smiling for the full 10 minutes and even asked for another session. No other performer in classical music had gone so far.

    • Una says:

      Yes, by some of us who worked with him. And his Schutz Choir of London as well as Kent Opera. He being such a fine singer made a huge difference.

    • The Thinker says:

      By height and weight divided by pi.

  • Jack says:

    I will miss him greatly. Will never forget his Schubert 9 with Orch of St Lukes in Carnegie Hall.

  • Marco van de Klundert says:

    Don’t rule out Ed Spanjaard in the contest for the nicest baton in the world

  • Pablo says:

    A wave of regret? What utter nonsense!

  • Ed says:

    I will miss him greatly. Will never forget his Haydn The Seasons in Berlin. His Haydn is unique.