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With an illustrious career and extensive discography behind him, Sir Neville Marriner was still performing with the orchestra he founded - the Academy of St Martin in the Fields - when he died at the age of 92.
Neville Marriner was born on 15 April 1924 in Lincoln. He was taught the violin, initially by his father, before entering the Royal College of Music at 13. During the Second World War, while still studying – and when so many orchestral players were serving away - Marriner had the extraordinary experience of playing with great orchestras including the LSO, under such conductors as Sir Henry Wood.
When he himself was called up during World War II, Marriner served in the Royal Navy, participating in motorboat raids into France. He was invalided out of the Navy with kidney damage. After the war he returned to the Royal College of Music and then went to complete his studies at the Paris Conservatoire.
After teaching at Eton for a year, Marriner became a professor at the Royal Academy of Music. He also became a member of the Martin String Quartet as well as of the Jacobean Ensemble, which specialised in the music of the 17th and 18th centuries, and made several recordings.
Marriner joined the Philharmonia Orchestra as a violinist in 1952, and became principal second violin of the London Symphony Orchestra four years later, remaining in this post until 1968. He recalled that he ‘…larked about with the best of them’, once bombing the LSO’s tour bus with flour bags from a friend’s Tiger Moth plane.
In 1959, having been asked to put on a series of concerts for the London church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Marriner formed his small ensemble. ‘I think we got together as the Academy to give ourselves…responsibility and to play well,' he said. 'One thing we were looking for from the start was players who really fitted together, who sounded in tune.’
When selecting musicians for his orchestra, Marriner asked himself three questions; ‘Can they play?’ ‘Can they be absorbed into the orchestra’s style?’ and ‘Can we live with them?...If they are miserable devils they don’t get invited back!’ Marriner has made numerous recordings with the Academy and other orchestras, covering the full gamut of the 18th and 19th century repertoires, and moving into the 20th century with composers such as Tippett and Nicholas Maw.
Marriner was the first music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, from 1969 to 1978. His success with this group led to offers to conduct major American orchestras in Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, and San Francisco.
For his opera debut, Marriner conducted Mozart’s 'The Marriage of Figaro' at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. He then went on to work for several years with the Opera de Lyon. He made his American debut conducting Rossini’s 'La Cenerentola' in Los Angeles. He is pictured here in 1965 with soprano Sheila Armstrong.
Sir Neville was the father of Andrew Marriner, the Principal Clarinet of the London Symphony Orchestra since 1986. Together they recorded Howard Blake’s Clarinet Concerto with the Academy of St Martins in the Field.
Marriner served as associate conductor of the Northern Sinfonia from 1971 to 1973, and as artistic director of the South Bank Summer Music Festival in London between 1975 and 1977. He was also chief conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra from 1979 to 1986.
Sir Neville and the Academy recorded all the music for the original soundtrack to the film 'Amadeus', the album of which became one of the most popular classical music albums ever. Marriner agreed to score the film if Mozart's music was completely unchanged from his original versions. He did, however, add some notes to Salieri's music that are noticeable at the beginning of the film, as Salieri begins his confession.
In 1979 Marriner was made a CBE and in 1985, he received a knighthood. He returned to Europe in 1986 as chief conductor of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, remaining active throughout this period as a recording artist with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.
In his latter years, Sir Neville enjoyed a career as a freelance international conductor, commenting: "The awful thing about a conductor becoming geriatric is that you seem to become more desirable, not less. I just wish all these offers had come in when I was 30!"
In 2011, Sir Neville retired as Music Director of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields after more than 50 years of service, and handed over the baton to the acclaimed American violinist Joshua Bell.
Sir Neville remained committed to the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. He was its Life President and continued to conduct the orchestra at home and on tour until his death in 2016. He described the ensemble ‘…as a regenerative institution. I would like new people with new ideas to come into it and change it.’
On 15 March 2016, Sir Neville Marriner was made a Companion of Honour by the Duke of Cambridge during an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace. It was just one of many accolades bestowed upon a conductor whose career continued until he died at 92. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire/Press Association