Obituary: Gervase de Peyer (1926–2017)

The LSO is sad to hear of the death on 3 February 2017 of its former Principal Clarinet Gervase de Peyer. Gervase joined the Orchestra in 1955, leaving in 1972 to continue his work with the Chamber Music Society of which he was a founder member at the then-relatively new Lincoln Center in New York.

Like Sir Neville Marriner, Gervase de Peyer joined the LSO at a key moment in the Orchestra’s history. 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, William Waterhouse and Neville Marriner. Gervase had been introduced to the LSO's then Principal Conductor Josef Krips through his work with Benjamin Britten at the Aldeburgh Festival as part of the Melos Ensemble of London.

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During his time with the LSO Gervase's reputation as a fine chamber music player and soloist, honed in the Melos Ensemble, was exploited to the full. He appeared frequently as soloist with the Orchestra and with his colleagues in chamber music concerts (Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante made many appearances on the programme), and many of these were recorded. His relationships with composers of the day resulted in many commissions and premieres of concertos written specially for him, including works by Aaron Copland and Thea Musgrave.

With his work with the Melos Ensemble and Chamber Music Society meaning he was spending an increasing amount of time in the US, Gervase relinquished his LSO position. He returned to the UK in later life, continuing his chamber and solo appearances, teaching and giving masterclasses right until the end.

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His beautiful, naturally musical playing made him a inspirational figure for future generations of clarinet players, and is very well summed up in this quote from the Washington Post: 'His phrasing is like that of a human singer, but with a power, agility and range beyond any singer's capability; technique that treats the music as though it were happening spontaneously for the first time; an acute awareness of overall form and a tone like a voice coming down from Heaven - voices, actually, because the clarinet has more than one.'

The LSO sends its condolences to his widow Katia and his family and friends. He will be missed by his colleagues here and around the world.

Top: performing Weber Clarinet Concerto with Colin Davis on the podium in Tokyo, Japan, during the 1964 World Tour © LSO Archive
Middle: performing Weber Clarinet Concerto with Colin Davis on the podium in Tokyo, Japan, during the 1964 World Tour © LSO Archive
Bottom: with Principal Clarinet Chris Richards (L) and Principal E-flat Clarinet Chi-Yu Mo (R) at the 2016 LSO Players Reunion © Chi-Yu Mo