The Milken Archive of Jewish Music mourns the loss of Sir Neville Marriner, the prolific maestro who, with the Academy and Chorus of St Martin-in-the-Fields, conducted the Archive’s landmark recording of composer Thomas Beveridge’s interfaith oratorio Yizkor Requiem. The work explores loss, remembrance, and grieving in both Catholic and Jewish liturgical musical traditions for the end of life. Marriner and the Academy also recorded the cantata Naomi and Ruth by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. The recordings featured noted vocal soloists Robert Brubaker and Ana Maria Martinez.
Milken Archive Artist and Repertoire Adviser Paul Schwendener, who earlier collaborated with Sir Neville Marriner in the production of the Complete Mozart Edition, recalled Sir Neville’s reaction to the Archive’s invitation to record unfamiliar Jewish works: “He was immediately fascinated by the quality and uniqueness of the repertoire, and he relished the challenge of learning new music, even in his late 70s. The recording sessions in London were a pure pleasure, and Sir Neville’s charisma energized everyone who was involved."
"It is remarkably satisfying to be involved in a piece like this,” Marriner noted at the recording sessions. Commenting on the blending of Jewish and Christian custom in Yizkor Requiem, he added, "I feel the [religious] sentiment is very much the same. In this particular Requiem it is a service of remembrance. Therefore there is no ultimate sort of death. We have rather just remembering the good things about life. It's the sort of Requiem I'd like for myself."
Marriner was born in Lincoln, England in 1924. His father was a builder and amateur musician who taught his son both piano and violin. Marriner took to the violin and at age 16 won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London where he studied violin, piano and composition. From 1952 to 1968, he played second violin in the London Symphony Orchestra. In 1959, dissatisfied with the level of playing in the large orchestras, Marriner gathered like-minded musicians who “sounded in tune and who fitted together” into an ensemble. They took their name from the location of their first professional concert, calling themselves “The Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields.” The Academy would go on to have one of the most extensive recording careers of any ensemble.
Sir Neville Marriner at a Milken Archive recording session for Thomas Beveridge's Yizkor Requiem in September 2000.
After studying conducting in America with Pierre Monteux, Marriner founded the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in 1969 and served as Music Director and Principle Conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra from 1979 to 1986 before returning to Europe to become principal conductor of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1986 to 1989—all while continuing to work with the Academy. His extensive repertory came to include Bach, Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart, Dvořák, Bartok and Britten. Perhaps his most popular recording was as musical director for the film Amadeus. He was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1979 and knighted in 1985.
“Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy contributed to one of the most important works in the Milken Archive’s repertoire,” said Founder Lowell Milken, “a recording that inspires all who listen to its ecumenical message.”
When asked what he would like on his gravestone in a 2009 interview with Dorset Magazine, Marriner replied, “Follow the Beat.” Given his immense catalogue of recordings, listeners shall heed his advice for generations to come.