Prolific Conductor Neville Marriner Has Died

Oct 2, 2016
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Neville Marriner, the British violinist and conductor who founded one of the world's most popular chamber orchestras, has died today in London. He was 92. One of the 20th century's most prolific recording artists, Marriner's Academy of St. Martin in the Fields is considered one of the most famous orchestras of its kind throughout the world. He's also known for conducting the soundtrack for the Academy Award-winning classic "Amadeus." Jeff Lunden has this appreciation.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: With more than 300 recordings to his credit, Marriner was one of the most influential interpreters of baroque, classical and early romantic music in the mid to late 20th century, says Tim Page professor of journalism and music at USC.

TIM PAGE: Whenever I think of Neville Marriner, I think of an old cartoon that ran in hi-fi stereo review in the late '60s or early '70s. And it was this man sitting down next to his radio and out of the radio it said and we've just heard a recording by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. And there's a parrot over in the corner, and the parrot says conducted by Neville Marriner. I mean, he was one of the most prolific of all recording artists from that time.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEVILLE MARRINER AND ACADEMY OF ST. MARTIN IN THE FIELDS PERFORMANCE OF ROSSINI'S "IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA")

LUNDEN: Marriner was born in Lincoln, England, in 1924 and began his career as a violinist. While playing in the London Symphony Orchestra, he and some other string players formed a chamber ensemble which performed in a church off Trafalgar Square. Marriner led it from his seat at the head of the first violin section until conductor Pierre Monteux came to one of his concerts, Marriner told NPR in 1997.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

NEVILLE MARRINER: I had in sort of self-defense started this group called the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields which was to play the sort of music that we weren't playing in symphony orchestras. It was the smaller ensembles' chamber music of a size that was - well, above 15, 20 players - something like that. And Pierre came to one of our concerts, and he said maybe you should stand up and conduct like (unintelligible) instead of waving your bow in this ridiculous fashion.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEVILLE MARRINER AND THE ACADEMY OF ST. MARTIN IN THE FIELDS PERFORMANCE OF HANDEL'S "WATER SUITE NO. 1")

LUNDEN: Marriner studied conducting with Monteaux and he and the Academy kept on developing their musical style.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MARRINER: It was a much cooler style than we were used to playing in symphony orchestra. As you know, you tend to wrap yourself around the 19th-century repertoire in a very full-blooded manner. With this, it was much more relaxed. In a way, it's slightly more aristocratic in style.

LUNDEN: Tim Page says that style makes their recordings timeless.

PAGE: They had a heartiness and a sort of skeletal quality compared to the big orchestra versions that were so popular then, and I think that's one of the reasons why they're still good to listen to today.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEVILLE MARRINER AND THE ACADEMY OF ST. MARTIN IN THE FIELDS PERFORMANCE OF MOZART'S "INTROITUS REQUIEM IN D MINOR")

LUNDEN: While Marriner was popular with classical music enthusiasts, it was a call from Hollywood that helped bring him and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields to millions of new listeners.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MARRINER: We had started to record quite a lot of Mozart repertoire and then the film "Amadeus" happened, and that exposed us to a much larger audience than we would have expected in the concert hall.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEVILLE MARRINER AND THE ACADEMY OF ST. MARTIN IN THE FIELDS PERFORMANCE OF MOZART'S "INTROITUS REQUIEM IN D MINOR")

LUNDEN: Over the years, Marriner founded the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, was music director of the Minnesota Orchestra and guest conducted all over the world. But it was his association with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields for which he's most remembered. After he left as music director, the orchestra gave him the title life president. Tim Page...

PAGE: Life president is about as high a ranking as you can possibly get in a London orchestra, and I must say he deserves it. He did a lot with that ensemble, and it has had a tremendous effect on all the people who work with baroque, classical and, you know, early romantic music who've come along since.

LUNDEN: For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.