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Sir John Manduell dies at 89

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Sir John Manduell
Sir John Manduell CBE 1928 – 2017

There was a time when the name of John Manduell would simply have been impossible to escape were you a musician or composer connected to the British music scene. The catalogue of John’s positions of leadership in major musical institutions is unparallelled and the legacy of his influence will continue to be felt and recognised long after his passing.

The extent of his vision went far beyond the shores of these islands and in addition to his well-deserved knighthood, earned him the coveted French Chevalier de L’ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

It is certainly worth noting that he held several of his positions for many years and in particular as first Music Director of the Cheltenham Internationl Festival (25 years); founding Director of the Northern and then Royal Northern School of music (23 years).

He was equally effective in the school of short sharp shock bringing a hefty dose of experience to the Venezuela music scheme, El Sistema and underpinning the ethos and reach of BBC Radio 3 when he was invited to plan and implement the ‘Third’ programme.

For people of such legion and legend, it is the personal reminiscences that are often the most telling. I first got to know John in 1989 as a newish member of the Executive Committee of the Composers’ Guild of great Britain, when John was Chairman. Leading composers is somewhat like trying to herd cats – a nigh-on impossible task, but John had the right word for the right person at the right season (always delivered in a rich baritone) and inspired confidence and belief.

He had an incisive mind and could cut quickly to the chase but was never a bully or lacking in grace. In fact, one of his hallmarks was his generosity of spirit and I quickly adopted one of his attitudes which is best summed up as he described it himself as ‘blessings are cheap’.

If I had to draw a comparison with other public figures, Sir David Frost comes to mind – they had the same articulacy, humour, self-belief and charm (not to mention the ties and flares!)

If he had any regrets (which he would never have voiced) I suspect it would have been that he did not have as much time as he would have liked to compose. Several of his works became popular, among them Prayers from the Ark, five cameos for solo clarinet. Each cameo is prefaced by a poem which I had the privilege of performing with Geraldine Allen (clarinet) at the Cheltenham Festival in the 1990’s. John was in the audience, as was Judith Weir whose Sketches from a Bagpiper’s Album for clarinet and piano was being performed in the same programme: Gerladine again with the late lamented Anthony Goldstone.

I count myself fortunate to have known John and to have kept in touch over a period of nearly three decades.

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