Fond tributes have been paid to conductor Sir Neville Marriner, who has died aged 92.
On the website of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields (ASMF), the ensemble Sir Neville founded in 1959, current Academy director Joshua Bell describes his predecessor as ‘one of the most extraordinary human beings I have ever known. I will remember him for his brilliance, his integrity and his humour, both on and off the concert platform.’ Bell’s memories will doubtless strike a chord with hundreds of musicians with whom the immensely popular Marriner performed over his very long career.
Born in April 1924, Sir Neville studied in London and Paris before beginning his career as a violinist, not least as a member of the London Symphony Orchestra from 1954-69. It was in 1959 that he and a group of friends, who had been rehearsing together at his house, gave their first performance as an ensemble. The venue for that first performance, the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields on the corner of Trafalgar Square, gave the new orchestra its name.
Within a few short years, the ASMF had become not just nationally but globally well known, partly through playing live but also, and very significantly, from its prolific number of recordings. The first of those recordings, made in March 1961, was entitled A Recital by the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields and featured works by Corelli, Albicastro, Torelli and Locatelli.
Over 500 more recordings were to follow, notably of Baroque and Classical repertoire but not exclusively so. Many were widely acclaimed but, when BBC Music Magazine asked Sir Neville to choose his favourite earlier this year, he named his 1991 disc of Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 and In the South.
Marriner initially directed the ASMF from the front of the first violins, but in 1969 he decided to learn his trade as a conductor, encouraged not least by Pierre Monteux, under whose baton he himself had played and been greatly inspired. Among the conducting posts he went on to hold were those of music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, music director of the Minnesota Orchestra and principal conductor of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra.
In 2011, he retired as music director of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, handing over the baton to Joshua Bell. He continued to conduct and tour regularly, however, right until the end – 2014 saw him celebrate his 90th birthday year with a tour to the Far East.
‘Why do we do it? A certain vanity, I suppose, and a certain terror,’ he told James Naughtie in a BBC Music Magazine interview, also in 2014. ‘You looked in the diary – nothing next week, nothing the week after, nothing coming in. That feeling has stayed with me. Even now, I seldom say no.’