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Monday, October 03, 2016


We learned today of the death of Sir Neville Marriner, founder and longtime conductor of the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.  Music lovers in our region will mourn the loss of their sometime conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra.

The Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields was founded in 1958 by Marriner, congregating 15 friends and ultimately becoming one of the most recorded of all chamber orchestras.  Their recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons was a best-seller in 1969 and their soundtrack from  Amadeus sold more than 6.5 million copies, reached No. 1 on the Billboard classical albums chart and won a Grammy in 1984.

A violinist, pianist and composer by training, Marriner worked steadily, with the London Symphony and then with his chamber orchestra.  They took their name from a church where the group met to play.

I will always recall Marriner as a gracious and kindly professional.  My husband and I took my little sister, a budding violinist herself, to hear the Minnesota Orchestra when they played in Grand Forks at the Chester Fritz Auditorium.  She was spellbound, of course.  At the conclusion of the concert, I insisted we go backstage where I knew my way around to the Green Room, having worked at the facility myself.  She knocked timidly and excitedly on the door and Sir Neville himself opened the door.  He was in a white turtleneck shirt and a navy blazer with a school emblem on the pocket – handsome and dapper, the very model of an English gentleman.  Instead of just saying “Thank you for coming,” he addressed Biddy directly, asking her which pieces she enjoyed most, how she thought they had “gone”, as though to a fellow player.  She responded enthusiastically.  She was about 14.  Many years later, now a regular violinist with the Grand Forks Symphony, a beautiful young lady, she, our sister Amy and our mother went to Minneapolis to hear the Minnesota Orchestra during their last season (for a time) under Marriner.  This time she took it upon herself to go backstage.  Years and thousands of acclaimed concerts after their first meeting, Marriner greeted her with “I remember you! We met in North Dakota!”  They talked about the music, about Marriner’s plans for future projects.  Always the kindest of gentlemen and with a memory like a cast-iron vault.  Marriner was a great inspiration to my sister and undoubtedly millions of others, musicians as well as devoted music lovers.  Biddy, who had always been very quiet, said that after meeting him and conversing she always felt more open and out-going with people she met; his personality had a profound effect.

Marriner’s son, Andrew, is principle clarinetist with the London Symphony and soloist as well as prominent in the area of chamber music. 

Marriner was a hard-working artist, having conducted most recently last week in Italy, and scheduled to be conducting the Minnesota Orchestra again in January, 2017.  He died at age 92 at home in England October 2, 2016.  He will long be remembered.  Farewell, Sir Neville!   Until we meet again!

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