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December 2020 Obituaries

Our summary of those the
classical music world has lost this month


Here are brief details of some of the people lost to the classical music world during December 2020. May they rest in peace.

Chinese-born British pianist Fou Ts'ong died on 28 December, aged eighty-six.

Israeli violinist Ivry Gitlis died on 24 December, aged ninety-eight.

The much-honoured British pianist and piano teacher Fanny Waterman died in a care home in Ilkley, West Yorkshire on 20 December, aged 100. Born in Leeds on 22 March 1920, after early studies with Tobias Matthay, she won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music and studied with Cyril Smith. A promising early career - Leeds Symphony Society in 1941, the London Proms in 1942 - was disrupted by World War II and her duties as a mother. She founded the Leeds International Piano Competition with Marion Harewood and Roslyn Lyons in 1961 and was artistic director of the competition until 2015. She was also chair of the competition jury from 1981 until 2015. She also sat on the juries of other major piano competitions, taught notable students including Paul Crossley and Benjamin Frith, and published piano instruction books.

Fanny Waterman (1920-2020)
Fanny Waterman (1920-2020)

British conductor, composer and radio presenter Kenneth Alwyn passed away on 10 December (or 11 December, according to some sources), aged ninety-five. Born Kenneth Alwyn Wetherell in Croydon on 28 July 1925, he studied at London's Royal Academy of Music after the war - organ, singing and viola with C H Trevor. He won the Manns Memorial Prize for conducting, founded the RAM Madrigal Choir and was opera coach and sub-professor of organ. After working briefly in Singapore and New Zealand, he conducted at Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet - now Birmingham Royal Ballet - from 1952. He moved to the Royal Ballet in 1957, taking over the original production of The Prince of the Pagodas from its composer, Benjamin Britten, and also working alongside Ernest Ansermet, Arthur Bliss, Hans Werner Henze, Malcolm Sargent and William Walton. He toured Europe, the Far East, North America and South Africa as a conductor. As principal conductor of Tokyo's Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, he introduced various British works to Japanese audiences, including Holst's The Planets. He was musical director for the first productions of many British and Broadway musicals. His recorded legacy includes Decca's first stereo recording of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, which used the sound of slowed-down gunshots to sound like cannons firing. Alwyn had a long association with the BBC as conductor and presenter, particularly of light music, He conducted all of the corporation's orchestras and played his part in an educational project to teach music in schools through TV.

Kenneth Alwyn (1925-2020) in 1961, conducting 'Auld Lang Syne' in Osaka
Kenneth Alwyn (1925-2020) in 1961, conducting Auld Lang Syne in Osaka

American experimental avant-garde composer, poet and teacher Harold Budd died on 8 December, aged eighty-four, due to complications from COVID-19. Born Harold Montgomory Budd in Los Angeles on 24 May 1936, he grew up in Victorville, California and played drums in the army regimental band. He studied harmony at Los Angeles Community College and was encouraged to compose. From 1962 onwards he became notable locally as a composer in the avant-garde community, mostly creating minimalist drone music, influenced by John Cage, Morton Feldman and Mark Rothko. He studied music at the University of Southern California and then taught at the California Institute for the Arts. He gave up composition for a while, siting the 'academic pyrotechnics' of the avant-garde community. Later, via Gavin Bryars, he was taken up by Brian Eno, who referred to Budd as 'a great abstract painter trapped in the body of a musician', and who began producing recordings of Budd's compositions. Some describe Budd's music as 'ambient', a description which Budd contested. His recordings featured synthesisers, electronic treatments, his own 'soft pedal' piano playing style and collaborations with other musicians.

Harold Budd (1936-2020)
Harold Budd (1936-2020)

Czech composer and pianist Vadim Petrov passed away on 7 December, aged eighty-eight. Born on 24 May 1932 into an aristocratic Russian family, he studied at the Music Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. He wrote a symphonic poem The Vítkov Hill for his graduation composition. His artistic work was banned when the Prague Spring period ended, and he taught at a conservatory and secondary school for the visually impaired, later moving to the Prague Conservatory, where he taught theory and composition. He created nearly 1,300 works, concentrating mainly on music for film, radio, theatre and television, but he also wrote orchestral, chamber, choral and vocal music.

Lithuanian conductor Petras Bingelis died in Kaunas, Lithuania's second largest city, on 6 December, aged seventy-seven. He was born in the small village of Mardasava in the south east of the country, on 3 January 1943. He studied choral conducting with Edmundas Sapranavičius at Vilnius Juozas Tallat-Kelpša Music Technical School and with Antanas Budriūnas and Rimtautas Kašponis at Lithuanian State Conservatory. He also studied in Leipzig and Weimar. He was organiser, artistic director and chief conductor of the 70-80 voice Kaunas State Choir for about five decades, teaching the choir 150 large-scale works and touring internationally. He was artistic director and conductor of Kaunas State Musical Theatre. He frequently conducted the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra, the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra and the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra. He was the founder (in 1996) and artistic director of Pažaislis Music Festival and chairman of Kaunas Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis Society. He was head of the Choir Conducting Department of the Lithuanian State Conservatory and held various other academic appointments.

Austrian tenor and actor Klaus Ofczarek died on 6 December, aged eighty-one. Born in Vienna on 17 March 1939, he studied acting and singing at the Vienna Conservatory. He worked at Vienna Chamber Opera, Stadttheater St Pölten und St Gallen and at the Graz Opera House. He toured the USA and made appearances in Bern, Frankfurt and at the Vienna Volksoper, where he was a member of the ensemble from 1990. He also played the medical adviser in Lulu during the 2005/6 season at Vienna State Opera, and worked on various TV productions and films.

Posted 13 December 2020 and last updated 10 January 2021 by Keith Bramich




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