A farewell to Patrick Harrild, Principal Tuba

After nearly 30 years as the man in the Principal Tuba seat, Patrick Harrild's last official day as a Member of the London Symphony Orchestra has dawned. Tonight he'll play his last concert – Mahler 7 with Gianandrea Noseda and Berg Violin Concerto with Janine Jansen – before he heads off into retirement.

At this morning's rehearsal his colleagues paid tribute to his long and distinguished career. Friend and colleague, LSO Principal Trombone Dudley Bright, gave a speech and presented Patrick with gifts before allowing him to take the stand for an emotional farewell. Here's Dudley's speech in full:

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'Today is indeed a sad day, for the LSO sees the retirement of it’s principal tuba Patrick Harrild. It gives us an opportunity however, to celebrate and congratulate him on a long, full and illustrious career which began in 1974 when he became principal tuba of the RPO under the legendary Rudolph Kempe. Then, just under 30 years ago he was enticed to succeed his old teacher John Fletcher and join the LSO. Abbado had just departed and Micheal Tilson Thomas was soon appointed principal conductor.

In 1991 Patrick’s recording with the LSO of the Vaughan Williams tuba concerto was released, soon becoming a top recommendation. One YouTube comment says “What tuba player can resist the gnawing temptation to drop his jaw when he hears the unbelievable Patrick Harrild?”. In 1998 he was once again soloist with LSO, this time under the composer’s baton for the UK premier of John Williams’ concerto. For a greater proportion of his membership he served with distinction on the Orchestra’s board of directors and for part of that time he was also Chairman. He has always been one to go the extra mile and has consistently served his orchestra unselfishly and with great loyalty. His outstanding contribution was perhaps an ambassadorial role, often exercising great diplomacy, generously giving up much of his spare time (and still does) to make contacts and cement relationships with conductors, artists and supporters of the LSO to the lasting benefit to the orchestra.

One might say it was this spirit landed him with the tuba in the first place. As a young lad out in the far east – of Essex – he made such good job of cleaning the filthy old brass instrument he was given, it was decided to give him the tuba to take home – to clean. Patrick, we are extremely grateful that your cleaning skills where recognised all those years ago. Perhaps if you had realised then that Beethoven never wrote a single quaver for the
instrument, that Dvorak’s New World symphony has only 14 notes to play, or that you’d be the butt of jokes on the bus like, “I bet you wished you played the piccolo”, you might have instead pursued your other dream to become a singer. As it happens you found a wonderful way to combine the two.

It is your conviction that the Tuba can and should make essentially a musical, vocal sound that has seen your students at the Royal Academy and Guildhall go on to occupy over half the Tuba positions in this country, and many many more in Europe and worldwide. His work among young people through LSO Discovery in particular side by side sessions and the LSO Brass Academy, the National Youth Orchestra and the Royal Military School of Music Kneller Hall is legendary. His coaching in all these arenas is sympathetic, understanding, inspirational yet demanding. He has an ability to catch the attention and enthuse, often employing strikingly original and inventive imagery to get over his concept of essentially musical and singing brass playing. His work on the LSO Live listening committee and Donatella Flick Conducting Competition jury is no less dedicated and committed.

Patrick and I have been friends since college days and it has been a huge personal pleasure to eventually join him in the brass section of the LSO and to benefit from his huge experience; his encouragement, advice and support. His ability to be amazingly diplomatic turns any criticism into what seems like a compliment and, when I’m too stubborn or thick to see it, he is the epitome of kindness and tact.

Patrick’s zest for life and generosity of spirit will not allow this essentially private man to burden those around him with his own concerns. No doubt there have been moments of frustration, worry and heartache, but he has never allowed them to show or affect his devotion to the LSO.

His qualities of patience and tenacity have never been so evident than when he has undertaken the arduous duties of organising, cajoling and leading an unruly group of brass players from over there, to appear from time to time as the LSO Brass Ensemble. Without your selfless determination to make things happen, your organisational skills, not to mention your immense patience and good humour, I doubt I would have had the pleasure of playing in many fine brass concerts here in the Barbican or on three brilliant tours of Japan, where incidentally Patrick undertook to introduce the pieces in Japanese.

His playing is always ebullient and engaging and his insistence on musical above technical considerations, has raised the tuba to new heights. Yet in inviting respect for his frankly ridiculous instrument he has never got precious about it. He never takes it or himself too seriously. I recall the good humour, not to mention astonishing virtuosity with which he approached the massive tuba cadenza in the Final Fantasy concerts.

We couldn’t let you go without out presenting you with some tokens of the appreciation from the members of the LSO. We hope you will give them pride of place in your prospective new home in Spain and give us a thought occasionally. With advice from your wife and help from the orchestra’s archivist Libby Rice we have assembled a small library of photos to remind you of your life here. There will be 16 framed photographs similar to
these, and an album with a miscellany of other shots. If that’s not enough we also have a photo of the entire orchestra signed by it’s members.'

Dudley also presented Patrick with a selection of fine wines, to which he is rather partial!

From everyone at the London Symphony Orchestra, we wish Patrick a very happy retirement. We will miss him hugely. As Gareth Davies, Principal Flute and current Chairman, said at the end of the presentation, tomorrow the LSO will feel a little less like the LSO.