Douglas Weiland

~ Composer ~

Douglas Weiland tribute to Sir Neville Marriner

A personal tribute from Douglas Weiland

“The Punch Bowl, Norfolk: Sunday 2nd October 2016.

My thoughts and prayers are with Lady Molly Marriner and Andrew Marriner at this very sombre time, joining as I do the rest of the world of Classical Music in mourning the passing away of the utterly unique person and phenomenon that we all know as Sir Neville Marriner.

I can make no attempt to even begin covering Sir Neville’s vast musical achievements – and it is a staggering legacy; this I leave to the many others much better equipped, the fruits of which we all look forward to reading during the coming weeks and years. Here I pay tribute through the narrow funnel of my own, I guess rather limited, or specialised professional experiences of the great man. And that’s just the point of mine here. Because, in spite of his for long time legendary place in the world of music, (in achievement reckoned by many second only to Herbert von Karajan) it became clear to me in those occasions that I had the great privilege of working with him as a composer, he never mislaid his original genius, a multi-dimensional artistic gift uniquely his own that I suspect at the outset led him along that bold path through the music industry. He was known to me during these latter decades, apart from that known by all, as an irrepressible music connoisseur. A man of artistic vision and perception. This is clear of course: he commissioned me three times. This dry wit was his too. I have such fond memories, now… very moving for me… and a couple of mild anecdotes I feel sure he will not mind me sharing.

Three magnificent commissions by which Sir Neville honoured me. I had no status by which I could be safely categorised. Entering into this kind of artistic vision revealed something of the stature of the man. To judge my music thus far produced, purely in terms of what that music might reveal itself to be, and not by any other criteria, social or otherwise; this, as the years have gone on, I have found all the more remarkable. The second of these was a Clarinet Concerto, for his son, the eminent clarinettist Andrew Marriner. The work remains one of my proudest achievements. I had met Sir Neville in total throughout my life on probably no more than a handful of occasions by the time the concerto was finished. He graciously invited me to his home in Kensington so that I might deliver the score in person. With Lady Marriner we had a brief and happy celebration. Then a little later on, up in his attic room – Beyer Leverkusen vs Arsenal I think it was, Champion’s League match just concluding on the television – it was the way he said to me: “do write something on the front of the manuscript will you?” Then adding, “NOTHING SOPPY!” He really didn’t want the pompous “To Sir Neville, in deepest gratitude for the greatest honour and with eternal thanks…” spiel – and we had a good laugh over that and the concise inscription I did end up with, which if I recall correctly made reference to an excellent glass of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc.

And to follow on, the occasion that is indelibly printed on my soul. That most memorable, of his conducting the world premiere of this same concerto, with Andrew, and the excellent players of the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra. (A truly magnificent premiere.) Sir Neville had recently become the MCO’s patron. I had been brought over for the occasion. We were in rehearsal. First rehearsal. Apparently the Marriners had had an horrendous flight from London – terrible weather conditions for most of the way to Melbourne – imagine that. Mine turned out not so bad. This was in 2009 – Sir Neville was 85. Unbelievable. Somehow he seemed fighting fit, as indeed he must have been. First rehearsal. He had done the business of commissioning the piece. I had done the business of writing it. Now, eight years on, the other business… I could tell what he would surely be thinking: “the last thing I need is this composer pacing behind me, arms flapping, gesticulating, paranoid about every other bar”, etc. If he had been thinking this (no doubts) he probably would not have known I was thinking what I had bet he was thinking. The point being he would soon see I wasn’t going to give him the slightest trouble. It came to about 15 minutes into the first rehearsal of the work – the opening half of First Movement. (Allegro ma non troppo). Never been heard before. He turned and motioned to me to come to his side – a question here, a point to discuss there. All going smoothly. He then braved the question – something to the effect: “so what do you think so far?” I thought for a few seconds, looking down. Everyone was quiet. Sir Neville was standing solid and upright, as he always did, arms hanging loose-stretched down either side his body, baton pointed down in right hand, he also looking down at the score. He had asked me what I thought. I said, eventually: “may I speak my mind?” The hall seemed still. He gauged his options for a few seconds. Didn’t budge. Then he said: “yes” – rather quietly I thought. Wandering what pain-in-the-neck awkward thing I might request he should do that he wasn’t doing. After another pause, by which time the Australians were riveted gripped at the English manner of going about their work, I said: “It’s a little too fast.” From that moment all continued as you were, and the great man could see what a perfectly amiable and easy-going fellow to work with I was. As my other, dear old colleagues and friends of the Australian Quartet will concur, I never would have it any other way…

It says a great deal to me that, in writing this very humble tribute, there should spring forth such life, humour and amiability of spirit. In a hard-nosed and often razor-edge world, my experience was that he managed to generate this in abundance. And this genuine amiability it seemed to me went hand-in-hand with his whole artistic make-up, his charismatic authority.

Greatly moved, and in harmony with these deep and most sincere condolences that are now so much with Lady Marriner and Andrew Marriner at this time, as conveyed in the two letters just put in the post, I say farewell to not just one of the world’s great musicians, but one whose impact on the musical life of this country has been uniquely second to none; whose impact on my life as a composer remains unquantifiable, and for me the greatest privilege I will ever know. (Ah…I hear him… “NOTHING SOPPY!”) (Sorry..)”

DGW