The London Symphony Orchestra is saddened to hear of the death of Sir Neville Marriner who passed away on 2 October 2016 at the age of 92. Originally a violinist, Sir Neville went on to found the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and a number of other chamber orchestras around the world, becoming one of this country’s most highly regarded conductors.
Neville Marriner first became a member of the LSO in the mid-1950s at a key moment in the Orchestra’s history, having first played with the Orchestra on and off through the Second World War whilst the numbers were reduced through war service. In 1955 the majority of the LSO’s principal players resigned en masse after an argument about rules and tradition, chiefly over the issue of accepting film session work outside the LSO’s official engagements. Forced to recruit quickly, the Board turned to a group of exceptional young musicians, among them those whose names became legends in the LSO – Barry Tuckwell, Denis Wick, Gervase de Peyer, William Waterhouse and the 30-year-old Neville Marriner as Principal Second Violin.
The Orchestra’s starry and flamboyant reputation in the 1960s and 1970s was entirely thanks to these brilliant musicians and huge characters. Free spirits and mavericks were welcomed in the Orchestra, with stories of extravagant behaviour becoming common-place. One story, oft repeated, tells of the time that Neville travelled to an LSO concert with violinist and former RAF pilot Peter Gibb, who owned a Tiger Moth. 'One day we took a lot of flour bags up with us and bombed the LSO bus on the road from Brussels to Oostend,' he recalled. 'I don't think I could tolerate players like that in my orchestra now.'
Sir Arthur Bliss conducting the LSO on the 1964 World Tour. Sir Neville Marriner leading the Second Violins. © LSO Archive
In 1958, Neville Marriner’s career took a new turn. From a group of friends who met in his living room to rehearse without conductors, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields was born. The aim was to form a top-class chamber group from London’s finest musicians, eventually taking its name from the church in Trafalgar Square in which the group performed its first concert series. Initially leading from the violin, Neville was encouraged to move into conducting in a more traditional manner by the then-Principal Conductor of the LSO, Pierre Monteux, finally leaving the LSO and orchestral playing behind for good in 1969.
The Academy went on to become one of London’s finest chamber orchestras. The partnership between orchestra and conductor was one of the most enduring, lasting as it did from 1958 until he became its Life President in 2011, and his retaining conducting dates with them right up until his death. It was in the area of recording that the partnership made an enormous impact, with the largest discography of any chamber orchestra worldwide – including the soundtrack to the film Amadeus (1984) which introduced millions of new listeners to Mozart. A cartoon in The New Yorker summed up his achievement. It showed a parrot listening to a radio announcer: 'That was the Academy of St Martin in the Fields…' to which the parrot responds: '…conducted by Sir Neville Marriner.'
The Marriner name lives on in the LSO with Sir Neville’s son Andrew as Principal Clarinet, who joined the Orchestra 30 years ago in 1986. We send our condolences to Andrew, his widow Molly and the whole Marriner family, and to Sir Neville’s many musical colleagues throughout the world. He will be greatly missed.
Andrew Marriner points out his father in a an early photo on the wall backstage at Osaka Symphony Hall whilst on tour with the LSO. Several months later Sir Neville Marriner points out the same photo whilst on tour with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.
Top photo: Sir Neville Marriner as violinist, by Mary Morris Lawrence © LSO Archive