To Celebrate, to Commemorate: Sir Neville Marriner

St Martin in the Fields c.1900

St Martin in the Fields c.1900

We were all very saddened at MusiCB3 to learn of the death of Sir Neville Marriner on 2nd October. He has been an integral and vibrant part of musical life not just in the UK, but globally for well over fifty years and will be much missed.

Sir Neville was, of course, the founder of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields which quickly became established as one of the leading chamber ensembles of the twentieth century. This he did in 1958 whilst still Principal Second Violin in the London Symphony Orchestra (his son, Andrew is now their Principal Clarinet). The ensemble enjoys a worldwide reputation not only for its sheer excellence of musicianship, but as one of the most-recorded bands with over 500 discs to its name. Sir Neville remained at the helm of the Academy for the next five decades, passing on the Directorship to the violinist Joshua Bell in 2011 and becoming the band’s Life President.

Happily, this did not mean that Sir Neville stepped off the podium, but continued to conduct the Academy several times a season. Indeed he was working with them until very shortly before he died.

I was lucky enough to attend a concert given by the Academy at its eponymous spiritual home which Sir Neville directed as part of the celebrations for his ninetieth birthday two years ago. Sitting contentedly and comfortably on my cushion on the pews at the back of the nave, there was a very special anticipatory atmosphere as we waited for Sir Neville to appear and begin the evening. The energy he radiated when he did stride swiftly down the aisle, eyes twinkling, was breathtaking. Was this man really 90? Surely it must be his thirty year old alter ego. The evening’s music was, naturally, delivered with the usual superb polish and sensitivity that Sir Neville and his players always possess. We began with a crisp account of Mozart’s overture to the Marriage of Figaro [ M260.d.95.19], displaying the delicacy, precision and finesse for which the ensemble is famed. An atmospheric Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis [ M310.a.90.45] by Vaughan Williams followed with some magical playing from the solo string quartet. Then the Barber Adagio [M320.b.95.69] had us all blinking back the tears before a spirited performance of Mozart’s “little” G minor symphony, K183 [M319.d.4.26], ended the evening with panache.

The concert was hosted by David Mellor and broadcast on 1 June on Classic FM, and during the evening, Mellor talked to Sir Neville about his career and the Academy. How glad I am, that I was there and able to share the very special atmosphere.

“Marriner and his band’s uniquely balanced and polished sound have become an indelible part of classical music’s heartlands.” Guy Dammann, The Guardian 2 April 2014.

‘May his dear soul find eternal rest” Norman Lebrecht’s tribute on his Slipped Disc blog

“He was one of us”. Robert Smissen, principal viola of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, published his appreciation in The Guardian on 4 October.

“The Academy’s fresh, technically brilliant, interpretations of the pre-classical and classical repertoire were a revelation … ” From the obituary published in  The Telegraph

Thank you, Sir Neville, for such consummate music-making. We treasure it, and you.


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