Scotland farewells a flamboyant head of music

Scotland farewells a flamboyant head of music


norman lebrecht

March 25, 2023

A fond tribute by Tim German to a cornerstone of Scottish Opera, who retires this week:

Tonight the famously moustachioed Head of Music at Scottish Opera, Derek Clark, is conducting his final performance before retiring. Derek has has an extensive influence Scotland’s operatic and musical scene.

As a tribute to this brilliant, witty, quietly unassuming and just get on with it, conductor, composer and arranger, the company have put together an hilarious video tribute (link below) which lovingly and humourously portays Derek, his moustache and his operatic journey.

Originally from Dumbarton, Derek studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama before landing his first job in 1977 as repetiteur and conductor at Welsh National Opera. Whilst at WNO he met his late wife, the talented New Zealand mezzo-soprano Heather Fryer. He arranged and composed works for performance by WNO. His first children’s opera ‘Hardlock House’ was performed by the company in schools across Wales & the Midlands. Friend and tenor, Tim German, who sang the role of the evil Captain Grimthorpe in Hardlock House, remembers that his character disguised himself with a false moustache which he left behind when he ran away from the reported Haunted House.. Tim says,’That’s something Derek has never done, his moustache has been very much part of his defining persona since he was a student’.

Derek left WNO in 1997 to take up the position of Head of Music at Scottish Opera. Derek has been a well-loved and central rock for the company at times of great success and great turmoil for the company for which he has conducted many SNO operas and concerts. His edited and often reduced scoring versions for medium-sized orchestras have toured smaller venues across Scotland, in London and across the world. His time at SO has been expertly documented in the video ‘Derek will Do It’. Led by the previous chorus master and now Head of Music at Garsington Opera, Jonathan Cole-Swinard, Derek’s SNO journey is set to a parody of ‘patter’ music by Arthur Sullivan, the very type of parody that Derek himself would write!

Last year Derek conducted the much praised run of performances of Utopia Ltd and The Gondoliers in Scotland and at the Hackney Empire in London. Both were edited by Derek and the well-reviewed and witty production of The Gondoliers was recorded and shown television.

This Saturday he bows out from his position at SNO when he conducts last of the five star reviewed performance of Puccini’s Il Trittico at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh.


  • Donald Maxwell says:

    Brilliantly clever, and a very well deserved Utopian tribute. A first class musician in every way, a charming and modest colleague and with a very neat line in Presbyterian humour!

  • Nick2 says:

    The SNO is not Scottish Opera. It was the acronym formerly given to the Scottish National Orchestra before it added Royal.

    May I just add that having seen Sir David McVicar’s production of Il Trittico last week, it is world class. A fitting way for Derek Clark to take his leave of the company.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Wonderful tribute to a wonderful man. After replying very fully to an enquiry I had made to SO I met him in 2003 in Glasgow. He could not have been more helpful, constructive and encouraging. May he prosper in retirement as he clearly did at work.

  • Mary says:

    A lovely, kind, knowledgeable human being and musician.

  • Goldberg Variations says:

    A fitting tribute to a wonderful musician – Derek will be pleased that it took inspiration from his beloved G+S (a guilty pleasure which I share). I hope the company realise how lucky they were to have had such a consummate musician heading up the music department for so many years. He was the one constant amidst the artistic and financial turmoil. Pleased that he conducted an excellent Trittico for his swan song.

  • Nemorino's Uncle says:

    One of the best.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    What is this obsession with verbing so many nouns?? How about nouning some adjectives for a change?

  • Elizabeth Mason says:

    Happy retirement Derek, Ralph Mason would have been very pleased by your success. As you know he was familiar with a patter song or two!