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Adrian A. Smith

b. Kingston-upon-Hull, 28 October 1931

d. Huddersfield, 6 December 2005

Contributions from
John Quinn
Paul Serotsky
Sir Malcolm Arnold
Arthur Butterworth MBE
Mathew Curtis
Keith Llewellyn
Elaine Carter
Marilyn and Dick Myers, Edgewood Symphony Orchestra
Stuart Marsden, SPO Trumpeter

From Paul Serotsky, writer and reviewer -

In 1991, the blossoming Slaithwaite Philharmonic forsook the comparatively cosy confines of St. Paul’s Concert Hall (Huddersfield University) for the wider expanses of Huddersfield Town Hall. Regardless of any nostalgia for the orchestra’s former venue – and there were those who would sooner have stayed "cosy" - I am certain that, had the SPO remained in St. Paul’s, it could never have staged some of the astonishing events that, with hindsight, must already have been gestating in Adrian’s imagination. As the title of his history of the SPO suggests, for Adrian nothing, but nothing, was "impossible" - the "improbable", on the other hand, was the red rag to his bull. Before the event, would we have dared to imagine that the SPO would not only put on, but also pull off, a performance of Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony, and would top that, a few years later, with Mahler’s Third? To be fair, even Adrian himself harboured secret doubts: having listened to the recording I had made of the Mahler, he rang me to express his surprise at how good it sounded (the performance, that is, not the recording). Now, it gladdens my heart to know that my modest recording allowed him, as it were, to retire to his critic’s seat in the audience

Adrian’s faith in the SPO was boundless. During those heady days of the 90s the orchestra went from strength to strength, consolidating and expanding its reputation for imaginative and adventurous programming, of works great and small, popular and neglected, but always worthy of an audience’s attention. His attitude was not "Can we do it?" but "When can we do it?" Sadly, one ambition that he never realised was to conduct the SPO in the Huddersfield première of Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie. Under his baton, that would have been a fireworks night to remember!

Ever since the Town Hall rehearsal in October 1991, when Adrian's "Excuse me, but do I know you?" registered on me as not altogether unreasonable (seeing as in the two years since our first and only meeting I had shed a singularly bushy beard), we steadily developed a relationship of mutual respect and tolerance - respect (albeit cunningly concealed) on my part, and tolerance (albeit scarcely maintained) on his! As a result, I have come to appreciate some of his less spectacularly obvious talents, in particular his editorial abilities. This all came about because, in the covering letter I sent with the SPO’s copy of each recording, I would comment on their performances. It wasn’t long before Adrian invited me to contribute to Philharmonic, the SPO’s quarterly magazine of which he was founder and editor.

Although we shared the same high regard for the proper use of the English language, in matters of style and taste we were poles apart. As one who took some pride in being the most obstreperous – for some reason, I preferred this to Adrian’s "most prolific" - contributor to Philharmonic, I was better placed than most to register admiration for his deft diplomacy and when required – which was fairly frequently - Boycott-like batsmanship. Equally, it was Adrian who took the credit, although some would prefer to say "blame", for involving me in programme note writing following my particularly enthusiastic preview of the SPO’s forthcoming Mahler Third.

Subsequently, over both articles and programme notes, we fought many a running battle, in which he would sometimes - thankfully only figuratively! - beat me about the head with Fowler’s Modern English Usage and any number of other substantial reference tomes. Come to think of it, very likely he would have taken me to task over much of what I’m writing here! Very occasionally, he seemed to lose his temper but, in another close parallel with Barbirolli, this was merely momentary exasperation, which evaporated with the moment. On one occasion, he returned a draft with a list of complaints, starting with "I’ll be blunt" (this was ominous: he was never anything else!) and ending with, ". . . and anyway, at 3100 words, it’s far too long. You’ll have to get it down to less than 2500." After much work, I returned the revision, apologising abjectly because I couldn’t get below 2600. His reply? "You took so long getting back to me I was starting to worry that you’d taken your bat home," soon followed by, "What’s 100 words between friends?" Only once did I get, "I can’t print this – you’ll have to re-write it!". Needless to say, re-write it I did.

Clearly, though, I must have benefited from his tutelage: in June 2003 he e-mailed me: "Congrats on the Vancouver commission.   Tell me - had you written programme notes before I asked you to do SPO notes?   . . . I'd like to think I was instrumental in launching you in a new direction!" Indeed he was, and I was but one of many that he had launched in one way or another. His dealings may have been – shall we say? – robust, but he was also an unstintingly supportive friend, even a surrogate, idealised father. On an occasion, when I had been callously treated by another organisation, he declared, "How can people be so insensitive to those who have given hours of their time to voluntary service?  I begin to understand the N Ireland factions and even the Taliban."

Like John Quinn, I was dragooned into MusicWeb by "another" Adrian. Perhaps surprisingly, "Adrian the Reviewer" was quite different from "Adrian the Editor/Author". Whereas the "Editor" insisted on tact and diplomacy, the "Reviewer" took the opposite viewpoint, placing absolute honesty and frankness of expression above all else. In one e-mail exchange, he said, "Having exhausted every conceivable excuse for avoiding the task, I've turned to the CDs long awaiting review.   I've just sent off two - one, of another splendid organ recital by Jean-Pierre Lecaudey, the other, of a wretched liturgical piece by a contemporary Frenchman - so bad that by comparison Stainer's The Crucifixion . . . positively glistens with inspiration."

His candid reviews in the Huddersfield Examiner are the stuff of legend. They were certainly succinct: he constantly complained about the space made available to him. They frequently got him into hot water, of a sort that led me to suspect that Arthur Butterworth had Adrian very much in mind when he wrote his carefully-considered and acutely perceptive MusicWeb article, The Critic's Prime Concern. Quite simply, Adrian saw no kindness in saying that something was wonderful when patently it wasn’t. He asked me, "How can people hope to improve if we don’t speak as we find?" Like his charity, his honesty began at home: in 1992, having received a critical accolade for a performance by his own orchestra, he exhorted, ". . . we can - and must – do better yet!" Adrian prized his candour, on one occasion commenting ruefully, "We have one thing at least in common - no concern about our 'reputations'." I am certain that, now he’s gone, he’ll be sorely missed even by "Grumble-guts of Golcar".

On the concert platform, quite apart from matters musical, he was always willing to consider matters microphonic. Not everyone is even tolerant of these technological intrusions, but it was typical of the Smith psyche that he sought to maximise the benefits of every aspect of the "business". Adrian received many accolades for his conducting, but I don't think he actually was a conductor. His stick technique, for one thing, would have had his Christian-namesake, Dr Boult, sobbing into his soup. No – plenty of people can conduct, but few can get the results that Adrian did.

Notwithstanding the close parallels with Barbirolli drawn by John Quinn, I think Adrian’s achievements on the podium derived almost exclusively from a functional quality he shared with Leonard Bernstein, and that is the ability to inspire, which corresponds closely to Maggie Cotton’s succinct "Adrian the Enabler". Whether by instruction, teasing, cajoling, begging, or yelling - the method matters not – there was something deep within him that was beyond price. Neither did it matter whether he knew what this "something" was, only that he made full use of it.

Yet, for all his achievements, Adrian’s most treasurable asset was his character. In the programme booklet for his SPO Farewell Concert the potted biography, which showed every sign of being penned by Adrian himself, said this:

"Among his interests outside music he lists religion (he is a Roman Catholic), politics (firmly Conservative), literature (Anthony Trollope is his favourite novelist), writing and editing, medieval church architecture and photography . . . He abhors the tabloid press, most forms of popular culture and all forms of political correctness, not to mention the media's obsession with 'celebrities'. Unapologetically English, he does not regard soccer as the defining characteristic of his nation's identity."

His dislikes are especially revealing – basically he disdained things that were all surface and no substance. For Political Correctness, which compounded this sin with the far worse one of warping the English language to fit its ends, he had reserved a special place in hell. To anyone privileged to hear him hold forth on PC, it was an education.

Like most visionaries, though, he tended to be single-minded, which spelt danger for those who had to deal with the consequent practicalities. He would regard with innocent amazement the tearing out of hair in frustration. The crux was that Adrian was, in the truest sense of the word, an amateur, the intensity of whose love of whatever he was doing drew people to him, and made them tear their hair with glad hearts - even if they didn’t think so at the time.

Like so many others, I was such a small part of his life, but he played such a large part in mine. Like so many others, the thought that is uppermost in my mind is, "What am I going to do without him?"

An Improbable Venue - Adrian and the SPO



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