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Farewell to Max

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Categories: british composers, contemporary classical music, tributes
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SirPeterMaxwellDavies

I have known Max for years – well, about 35 years, and, albeit through intermittent contact, that is still time enough to absorb a sense of the man, the musician, the communicator.

Too often styled as an ‘enfant terrible’ of the contemporary classical music world, his compositions are, to a large extent, far from the ‘difficult’ that commentators loved carelessly and lazily to use in pejorative description or parlance of avoidance, when in truth it was rather too difficult for them to take the time and trouble of better acquaintance.

Max was ever his own person – outwardly mild and congenial, inwardly robust, opinionated, fearless and frank.

A recent interview about his 10th symphony (think how many composers never got past number 9!) had him putting his work as a composer in the ‘upper end of civilised society’. Who dares, these days, from the world of contemporary music, to make such a claim?! Good on you, Max.

I knew Max when I was Chairman of the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain, and he the President. Many times, he attended occasions to deliver a keynote speech, almost always homing in on the lack of opportunity for school children to develop a love of classical music. He was no friend of any government, somewhat of an anarchist and, bizarrely, for a Master of the Queen’s Music, a courteous republican. (His own appellation for this post was MQM.)

Max was generous with his time, seldom turning down an invitation to dignify an event with his quiet, but ultimately, ruthless, presence. He saw these occasions as opportunities to bang heads together, to shake up the establishment and to harangue the authorities for lack of vision.

Max had a passion for music making, particularly within schools and the many educational projects, such as Turn of the Tide, with which he engaged, had far reaching benefits for all those who became involved.

His work is not a single canon, but a series of sub-canons. Take for example the Strathclyde Concertos, (there are 10 in all) composed for soloists from within the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and one of which (No.5 for violin and viola) he conducted at St John’s Smith Square for the Composers’ Guild 50th Anniversary Concert, which I curated. Another sub-canon is the Naxos Quartets (again a series of 10) written for the Maggini Quartet and all, of course, recorded on the Naxos label.

Given his commitment to music in education, it is fitting that his children’s opera, The Hogboon, is to receive its world premiere in June 2016 with the LSO under Sir Simon Rattle, at the Barbican. This, no doubt, will be a sell out!

I think Max would have been amused (if not bemused) to know that he made it onto BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Thought for the Day, on Wednesday 16th March. Here he was the subject of thoughts from the Rev. Lucy Winkett, herself known for her interest in and knowledge of British music and composers. She uses her tribute to Max to introduce reflections on Easter. Now if there ever was a contradiction in terms! . . . but Max, like Lucy, would have turned it to advantage!
I leave you to judge for yourself.


Rev. Lucy Winkett – Thought for the Day – 16th March 2016

Sarah Rodgers

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