Sunday, October 2, 2016

Neville Marriner (1924-2016)

Neville Marriner, founder and longtime director of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, has died at 92.

A violinist who had played in chamber ensembles led by Boyd Neel and Thurston Dart and in the Philharmonia and London Symphony orchestras
(in the latter as principal second violinist), Marriner was tapped as the leader (concertmaster) of a 12-member string ensemble at St. Martin in the Fields, a London church, for five concerts in the 1958-59 season.

Those performances led to the establishment of the chamber orchestra dubbed the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, which made its formal debut in November 1959.

In 1961, the ensemble made its first recording, of baroque music for strings, for the L’Oiseau Lyre label. Over the years, the academy built a discography of more than 500 recordings – the largest of any orchestra – of repertory ranging from the baroque to the modern. Its best-seller was the soundtrack album from Milos Forman’s film “Amadeus,” which sold 6.5 million copies.

Marriner traded the violin for the conductor’s baton after studies with Pierre Monteux, under whose direction he had played in the London Symphony. He became a full-time conductor in 1969; in the same year, he became music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, which he led until 1978.

Conducting symphony orchestras from the mid-1970s onwards, Marriner served as music director of the Minnesota Orchestra (1979-86) and principal conductor of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra (1986-89).

Marriner, who was knighted in 1985, remained the music director of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields until 2011, when he was succeeded by violinist Joshua Bell. Thereafter, Marriner was the academy’s life president.

“Marriner was not a ‘deep’ conductor, but he was a very good one,” Tully Potter and John Amis write in an obituary for The Guardian. “His style mirrored his outward appearance, which was neat and dapper, and his manner, which was self-deprecating in an English way. If he lacked the ability of the greatest orchestral directors to see and convey a work as one massive entity, he was able to give each movement of a symphony or concerto a convincing shape.”

The Guardian obituary:

Another obituary, by Tim Page for The Washington Post:

Norman Lebrecht notes that Marriner was the longest-surviving active musician to have performed, as an orchestral violinist, under the direction of Henry J. Wood (founder of London’s Promenade Concerts), Arturo Toscanini and Wilhelm Furtw√§ngler: