Last Modified July 20, 2002
The name David Lloyd-Jones has become increasingly familiar to those who collect classical music on compact disc. Although he made his first album in the early 1970s, it is his recent recordings for Hyperion and Naxos that have established him as a conductor of great charm and sensitivity and made him a favorite with the critics. Even though most of his recordings have been of 20th Century British music, it is the music of Russia that is his first love. I hope we will soon hear his Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Borodin, etc. on disc for it is obvious he has much to say on these composers. But for now, we can be happy that Naxos has chosen him to record the complete symphonies and tone poems of Sir Arnold Bax. Bax, the most Russian-influenced of British composers, is a natural choice for Lloyd-Jones who emphasizes the passion and drama in Bax’s music. I met with David and his wife in their London apartment last summer to discuss his career and the music of Bax. A warmer, more gracious couple I could never hope to meet. What follows is the text of our interview. Please also see Ian Lace’s essay on Bax’s Symphonies for an additional discussion with Lloyd-Jones about the Bax symphonies.
Richard Adams: You have had an extremely successful recording career with several highly-praised discs of music by Walton, Lambert, Bliss, Delius, VW, Berners and now Bax to your credit. I suspect you are best known to music lovers outside the UK through those recordings, but in Britain you are very well known as a conductor in both the concert hall and opera house. I’d like to talk a little about your career history. You started pretty near the top with a position at Covent Garden.
David Lloyd-Jones: Yes, but it was a very lowly position . When I started out in the profession, I was a rarity – a musician who could speak Russian. Just at that time, Covent Garden had decided to perform Boris Godunov in Russian. That is very common worldwide now but I’m talking about 1959. Rafael Kubelik had recently taken over and he was determined that mixed language performances, with Christoff as Boris singing in Russian and the rest of the cast singing in English, should never happen again; a decision that was absolutely right. So, if you want to do Boris and you want to have Christoff, what do you do? You make everyone else learn Russian phonetically and at the time this was considered to be like sending people to the moon. They decided to do it however and they had heard of me and knew I could speak Russian so I was taken on. I wasn’t conducting, of course, I was only coaching it. I did conduct Boris later at Covent Garden in the 1970s with Christoff and with Ghiaurov. And I’ve conducted it a lot since in other places including twice in the former Soviet Union. So my knowledge of Russian and Russian music was a very good passport to the profession for me.
RA: Would you talk a little about your career leading up to your position at Covent Garden.
DL-J: I was at Oxford and I also studied to some extent with the composer Iain Hamilton and with the conductor Sir John Pritchard. When I say studied, I mean I assisted him. The best way to study conducting is to assist someone and to learn as you do it. I was chorus master of a small opera company in London called the New Opera Company. I also conducted some performances of new operas for them.
RA: So your first professional conducting assignments were with the New Opera Company?
DL-J: Yes, they gave me some opportunities and then the BBC started to ask me to do things. I’d do a concert here and there and a small festival appearance now and then. You know, it’s a funny thing; it’s thought to be difficult getting started as a conductor and it is, but in another way it isn’t so hard. Once your name starts being talked about, people are always on the lookout for so-called bright young things. They try people out. Very often it is in the middle of a career that it’s hard to keep the momentum going.
RA: Who were your musical mentors?
DL-J: I’ve just mentioned one: John Pritchard; a conductor who was much loved by everybody in the profession. But the most important for me was Sir Charles Mackerras who is now a great personal friend and who has been marvelous to me throughout my career. I never had a lesson from him but I was his second-in-command at Sadler’s Wells and English National Opera in the 1970s. Mentors are important because conducting is, in one sense, a rather lonely profession. You have such an enormous responsibility to a large number of people. It is very necessary to have someone to discuss things with if there is a problem or if you don’t know how to tackle something. This is where the whole business of an opera house training comes in. There is a team and you always have a senior person to turn to if you have a question.
RA: When did you make your first recording?
D L-J: My recording career started in 1972 when I did an LP of Russian music for Philips: Balakirev’s King Lear Overture, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sadko, Borodin’s Third Symphony and the world premiere recording of the original version of A Night on Bald Mountain. I only had the chance to do it because Haitink fell ill and had to cancel some sessions with the London Philharmonic and Charles Mackerras recommended me to Philips. The disc did very well and received marvelous reviews; The Sunday Times voted it Record of the Year. That was my start. I believe the Mussorgsky item is now available on CD.
RA: Having grown up in London in the 1940s and 1950s, you must have some wonderful recollections of various musical events and personalities.
D L-J: I was taken to my very first concert on my tenth birthday – November 19, 1944 – and the conductor was Sir Thomas Beecham. I recently discovered that the first item on the programme was Rimsky’s May Night Overture, so you might say I started out well. My first opera was The Magic Flute at Covent Garden in 1947. I was lucky in that I saw and heard a lot of people who are now considered pre-war people. I saw Toscanini, Walter, Krauss and Erich Kleiber conduct; I also saw Furtwangler several times and even went to some of his rehearsals. I heard Flagstad sing Brunnhilde and Welitsch’s Salome. Beecham conducted my first Meistersinger and I went to many of his concerts and rehearsals and even met him. My one sadness is that I was invited by a friend’s mother in 1944 to go to London to hear Sir Henry Wood’s Jubilee Prom. My parents thought it a bad idea because there were flying bombs exploding everywhere. Mind you, they were also exploding in Surrey where we were living at the time but not as many as in London. I would love to be able to say I saw Sir Henry Wood in action but then that really would make me seem as old as God. The other conductor I could have seen on many occasions but didn’t was DeSabata. And Boult I remember when he was still with the BBC and then with the LPO but neither he nor the LPO were in their best phase at that time. Boult could be lackadaisical. He didn’t like anything to be too streamlined or perfect. He liked a certain spur-of-the-moment quality but I remember a most fantastic VW Job at the Proms and many other fine concerts. I met him on several occasions. Those were good times.
RA: What about Sir John Barbirolli?
D L-J: I was basically in London and Sir John was in Manchester. Every now and then he would bring the Halle down for a concert. He was a wonderful musician and a tireless worker. He also had a great sense of humor. At the time I used to feel he was the British Bernstein. Sometimes, and not just in British music, I used to feel that JB over-egged the pudding, but he was a very great man and conductor.
RA: Do you have any recollections of seeing any of the British composers of that period?
D L-J: I never met Bax but I saw him. It was at the Royal Festival Hall on June 1, 1953, the night before the Coronation. Several of the major British composers contributed to a collection called, A GARLAND FOR THE QUEEN. Bliss, Bax, VW, Tippett…they all wrote something. I saw Bax then. I met Tippett quite early on and got to know him quite well. I knew Britten and I once found myself sitting next to VW at a rehearsal of Job and I asked him to autograph my score. Bliss I met with Shostakovich in London in 1958. I didn’t have an extensive conversation with him because I spoke more with Shostakovich. I knew Walton quite well. The composer I would most liked to have met was Constant Lambert, although I wouldn’t have wanted to meet him during the last couple of years of his life as he was in a bad way. I had an interest in his music largely because I read Music Ho at school. That was the time of my awakening interest in Russian music and, of course, Russian music comes out very well in Music Ho.
RA: You have edited the definitive edition of the original orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov:
D L-J: The musicologist Pavel Lamm was the first person to do anything to the originalBorisand that was in 1928 . It came out in a lithographed edition of some 200 copies but it was never put on sale. The Soviet State Music Publishers issued it as a co-publication with Oxford University Press, so since 1928, OUP has had an interest in Boris. In 1968, OUP reissued the vocal score in a new translation by me because it had gone out of print. I told OUP the world badly needed a proper edition of the full score and they suggested I should do it. What was difficult about it was that I had to go to Russia in order to seethe original manuscripts but I couldn’t tell anyone there what I was doing because they would have made things difficult for me. I couldn’t explain to them that OUP had a half interest in this work as the people I was dealing with had probably never heard of Oxford let alone OUP. You can’t imagine the level of ignorance of the West over there at that time. During my research, I managed to unearth some of the orchestral parts that had been used during the original performances in 1874. The Russians didn’t show the slightest bit of interest when I told them.
RA: How was your edition received in the Soviet Union?
D L-J: A funny thing happened. I gave a copy of it to my friend Gennady Rozhdestvensky and he took it back to Moscow. The Soviet State Music Publishers later came to him saying that they wanted to publish an edition of the original Boris, and they asked him to be the editor-in-chief. He told them they were too late and produced my edition. Apparently, they almost died of shock, so instead, they republished my edition in the Soviet Union. It has now been done in almost every major opera house in the world including Kirov, Paris, Vienna, Met, Covent Garden, Sydney, etc. Only the Bolshoi remains loyal to Rimsky.
RA: You were given the assignment by the Arts Council to create an opera company in Northern England.
D L-J: Until the Autumn of 1978 there were no full-time opera companies in England outside London. It’s unbelievable when you think of all the millions of people in Northern England. Even if only one in a thousand wanted to see an opera, that’s still an awful lot of people. There have always been those who demanded opera and the Arts Council had to provide it. What they originally did was to send English National Opera on tour every spring. But these productions were designed to fit the London Coliseum and wouldn’t always fit in the theaters in Leeds, Manchester, etc. They used to have to leave half the scenery in the street! So the Arts Council decided their money would be much better spent providing a proper opera company in northern England, which is what they did in 1978. This was just before Mrs. Thatcher, thank God, because it would never have happened under her. What was fantastic about it was that it wasn’t started up as a trial run but was created as a permanent company. Before we could give our first performance, we had to form a full orchestra, chorus and administration. I had to audition an entire orchestra and chorus. Both were excellent right from the opening night – you can hear that from the BBC recording of the occasion.
RA: The orchestra you created is known as the English Northern Philharmonia. What was it like creating this orchestra?
D L-J: The orchestral manager, Ian Killik, and I listened to over 300 auditions while I was still doing my conducting work at English National Opera in London. Right from the outset the Arts Council told us that, in addition to playing for the opera performances, they wanted the orchestra to give symphony and choral concerts in the region. The ENP is the only symphony orchestra East of the Pennines in England. Opera North has done amazingly well. It is very highly thought of.
RA: Your repertoire was very adventurous.
D L-J: Yes, we did Peter Grimes in our very first year as part of our 12-opera season. The second year we did A Village Romeo and Juliet and Rosenkavalier.We did The Midsummer Marriage, Prince Igor, The Love of the Three Oranges and TheTrojans, which is a great love of mine. We didn’t do a lot of Wagner because it is so expensive to mount. I did 12 years there conducting fifty different productions and umpteen concerts and I still do a number of things with them. I should mention that, right from the start, we had tremendous support from the Leeds audiences, who were and are, fantastic.
RA: Your first recordings for Hyperion were with the English Northern Philharmonia.
D L-J: That’s right. The orchestra hadn’t made any records and I realized it would never get the sort of world-wide reputation it deserved unless we could record something. So I went to Hyperion and I proposed the ballet disc of Lambert, Walton and Bliss. This program links three British ballets and the linking people are Lambert, Margot Fonteyn and Ashton.
RA: It was also a highly successful disc.
D L-J: Yes, my very first recording with them was short-listed by Gramophone for Orchestral Record of the Year. Next we did a disc of Victorian Overtures which contained some attractive music from composers you may never have heard of , and one work, the Chevy Chace Overture by Macfarren, which has never been published.
RA: How did you come upon these scores?
D L-J: I spent hours and hours researching the pieces. I felt there was a real gap in the catalog of British orchestral music leading up to Elgar. I thought a few snappy overtures might be the best way of doing it rather than wade through endless dusty cantatas and symphonies.
RA: That disc was followed up by an all-Lambert disc.
D L-J: That was also my idea. I told Ted Perry of Hyperion about an orchestral section in Summer’s Last Will and Testament called “King Pest” which Lambert said could be performed on it’s own, and that maybe we should do it. Ted said we should do the whole piece! I never thought he would say that. That was a terrific undertaking. I was determined to perform it in public beforehand, so we had to set up a performance of it in Leed’s Town Hall at considerable expense. I am particularly pleased with The Rio Grande on the same disc. It is a really good performance even if I say so myself. I used the chorus of Opera North which is a theater chorus and has a real punchy style which is what the piece calls for. The other thing is that Sally Burgess, who sings the solo, is a member of English National Opera but also does a lot of crossover stuff, sort of cabaret and jazz. So she knows the idiom Lambert wanted and sounds dead right. The orchestra played it marvelously and the chorus sings it so decisively. Summer’s Last Will has some dullish bits but also some great sections. You know the premiere was just a few days after King George V died. The performance happened but several important people who should have been at the premiere didn’t go because they felt it was too soon after the King’s death. Music in London during those days was very society oriented.
RA: You are now also recording for the Naxos and Marco Polo labels. How did this association come about?
D L-J: It is all thanks to David Denton, who worked for Naxos and who has an encyclopedic knowledge of British music. The first thing we did were some ballets by Lord Berners. We did that album over in Ireland and we had the most horrible time because the parts for Cupid and Psyche were in an awful mess. We weren’t able to complete it because of all the mistakes. I had to go back and finish it a month later.
RA: Whose idea was it to record Bliss?
D L-J: That was my idea. I was going to do Gerontius but that fell through I suggested we do a complete Adam Zero and the Colour Symphony.We found we had some spare sessions at that time so we added the Cello Concerto, Music for Strings and the world premiere recording of the early Two Studies. The next record was of early Delius including three works that had never been played before ever. Not that the record says so! Not only were these world premiere recordings but they were premiere performances. Until we read them through at rehearsal, they had never been heard, not by Delius, Beecham or anyone else.
RA: How did you discover this music?
D L-J: The music, believe it or not , was published. I went into Blackwells’s music shop in Oxford and found the scores on the shelf as part of the Delius edition. They had only been published for about a year or so. I came rushing back to London, phoned up a contact at the Delius Trust and asked him how often these works had been performed and he said never. There weren’t even any orchestral parts so Boosey and Hawkes quickly made some up especially for the recording. I was already planning an early Delius disc as I had just done a concert performance of the complete Koanga and I wanted desperately to do the wonderful Closing Scene.
RA: How did the Bax Cycle come about?
D L-J: That was David Denton’s idea. He believed Naxos should have a complete Bax cycle and he asked me to do it. It was marvelous because just at that same time, Naxos started using the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. They are a very big orchestra with triple wind on contract. If I had used the English Northern Philharmonia, we would have had to augment the orchestra significantly which is very expensive. The RSNO didn’t have to be augmented much. So even when doing a really large work like the Second Symphony, it was all in a day’s work for them. It was wonderful doing Bax with an orchestra very used to doing big-bone stuff. And it’s been a very happy partnership.
RA: How has the orchestra responded to playing the music?
D L-J: I think they’ve enjoyed doing Bax. Obviously they realize it’s marvelously written stuff. I chose the Second Symphony for our first recording because I wanted to start off with something that would really impress them and get them hooked. When I started the session I told them we were about to record the Bax symphonies together and that Bax was an Englishman. They are the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, so they all groaned! Then I told them Bax wrote his last four symphonies in Scotland and they were far happier. Certainly the orchestra hasn’t complained about doing Bax. Do you know Bernard Shore? He was the founding principal viola of BBC Symphony Orchestra and he wrote a book called the The Orchestra Speaks which is about music from the orchestral musicians point of view. It was wildly successful so he followed it up with a book called Sixteen Symphonies in which he talked about the way in which conductors approach various scores. One of them is Bax’s Third. Remember, he had played in the premiere with Sir Henry Wood which was one of the first things the BBC Symphony Orchestra did within a year of being founded. The Third was dedicated to Wood and was therefore done every year at the Proms thereafter. In the chapter, Shore says that many orchestral players grumbled that Bax wrote so many notes in his scores. They can’t have played much Richard Strauss! Bax is like Webern compared with Strauss. I think one work the RSNO had a real affinity for was The Tale The Pine Trees Knew which is really quite Scottish. Here Bax is becoming more northern and the texture is much sparser, in a word, more Sibelian and my God, the RSNO know something about Sibelius from the late Sir Alexander Gibson, who was a great personal friend of mine.
RA: Are you enthusiastic about your Bax discs?
D L-J: Oh yes, but so far I’ve only heard the first two symphonies edited. The first disc to be released starts off with In the Faery Hills.It will make a wonderful opening to the Bax cycle as it’s like the opening of some secret window onto the Baxian landscape. It has a strong Irish feel and is an adorable piece. Then comes The Garden of Fand and then the First Symphony. It’s amazing stuff, that First Symphony. So I think this first disc will provide a useful overview of the early years of Bax.
RA: What do you think of Bax’s overall accomplishment as a composer?
D L-J: One of the things about Bax – and the same is true of Elgar – is that if you play his music for sound, you risk losing out on the latent passion behind the music. And you know, that funny looking little owl called Arnold Bax was quite a passionate man! He had a wife and two mistresses at the same time and that’s at least two more than I have! He’d meet some young school-girl and fall in love and write her love poems, and it’s all there in the music. If you play these things just making them sound gorgeous, you’re in danger of robbing the music of the pent-up-emotion which is also there.
RA: How would you compare the Bax symphonies with those of his contemporaries?
D L-J: Well, the Bax symphonies don’t have the obvious variety of those by Vaughan Williams. You could say the same of Haydn compared to Mozart. That said, there is a wonderful family resemblance among the Bax symphonies.
RA: I think there is more variety among the symphonies than they are given credit for. I mean the Fourth Symphony doesn’t resemble the others at all and Seventh is totally different in tone from its predecessors.
D L-J: Yes, but isn’t that because there is more fast music in the Fourth Symphony? Sometimes with Bax I feel there isn’t enough true fast music.
RA: Do you think any of the Bax symphonies have the potential of becoming popular?
D L-J: I think the first two symphonies have the kind of fire in the belly that could cause them to make real contact with people. With those early symphonies you feel here is someone with something to say with a lot of passion behind it. Both works are very committed. I think they could get played a lot more. But even now, for those people who dictate public taste such as the people who plan the concert schedules, Bax is not really their cup of tea. Bax has gone through a really bad trough but I’m sure he is now coming back.
RA: I think one of the problems is that there is a fair amount of second-rate Bax that gets played more often than his stronger works.
D L-J: That’s right, but then there is a lot of second rate Wordsworth, Renoir, Strauss, etc. You always get some artists where you have to accept a certain amount of dross in order to dig out the gold. And then there are those other people who are so fastidious that all they wrote were masterpieces but now and then I think they should have taken it easy a little. I mean you can’t produce masterpieces all the time, or at least it shouldn’t appear so.
RA: I think the Seventh Symphony is the most underrated of the cycle.
D L-J: I’m inclined to agree. Even if it doesn’t burn with quite the same intensity as the earlier symphonies, it is a work full of beautiful music. It’s also possibly the most tightly organized.
RA: You are recording several of the tone poems as well. Do you have any particular favorites?
D L-J: As I have said I have a special affection for In the Faery Hills, but I think November Woods is more me than anything else. It’s really most impressive. And again, I’ve tried to make it sound impassioned. It is a turbulent piece. That will be coupled with the Second Symphony.
RA: What other recordings do you have planned?
D L-J: I have done albums of Elgar, Holst, Britten and several others and I believe there are some indications that they may at last be released in the Spring.
RA: What non-British music would you like to record?
D L-J: Well, of course I’d love to do Boris Godunov and some more Tchaikovsky, who I am wild about. I’d like to do the Four Suites although they are far from perfect works. There are many things I’d like to do, but then there are already so many records!
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