A Discussion with David
THE SIR ARNOLD BAX WEB SITE
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
RA: Your first recordings for Hyperion were with the English
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
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
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
RA: How would you compare the Bax symphonies with those of
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
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
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
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
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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