The new chief conductor of the LSO shares his thoughts on the life of the revered composer, who died earlier this week.
Conductor Sir Simon Rattle has offered a touching tribute to the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who died earlier this week aged 81. The new principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra is due to give the world premiere of the last composition Maxwell Davies’ completed before his death. The Hogboon is a new opera for a non-professional cast of amateur singers and children, which will have its first outing at the Barbican Centre on June 26. Rattle’s poignant reflection on his personal relationship with the revered composer, who was known affectionately by the nickname “Max”, was published yesterday on the LSO’s website.
“It is clear to everyone that we have lost a wonderful composer and one of our most important artistic figures, a man who embodied music, and who wanted it to be part of everybody’s life, from the youngest to the oldest. He wrote for every possible type of ability, from some of the thorniest orchestral scores of their time to music for young people that was as practical as it is irresistible. It is now a sad irony that the LSO were responsible for his last two large scale works; one was the powerful 10th symphony, which he was well enough to hear in London in 2016; his last piece, The Hogboon, we will premiere in June. Fittingly, it is designed to be performed by children, amateur singers and professionals, and it looks like an instant classic on the page. He was certainly very proud of it, and was impatient to hear it.
Personally he was a hero for me from childhood onwards; as a young teen my parents used to curse him, as I had read that he loved purple and I was therefore unwilling to wear any other colour. Some of the first music I conducted were his chamber pieces: Seven in Nomine and Antichrist. When the Philharmonia asked me to premiere his first symphony in 1978, I felt as though all my Christmases had arrived at once, and I will never forget the thrill of sitting down in his publisher’s office and reading through the score, feeling the visceral power leaping out of the page. His thank you present was typically thoughtful; ‘Simon’, he said, ‘I think your life will be improved by a taste for good wine. I will send you 24 half bottles, 12 pairs of my favourite wines, and you can see what appeals to you. Don’t forget what you are tasting!’ This desire to share pleasure and knowledge was also maybe the key to his music, so often written for friends, or with specific people in mind. His political activity too was always designed to remind people that music was for everyone and could never be taken for granted – a view he promulgated with passion and sometimes acid wit. He kept his pixie sparkle to the end, and the unwavering intensity of his eyes will remain forever with all of us who knew and loved him.“