The Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London
Saturday, November 19, 2016
We gathered to remember Sir Neville Marriner. It was a grand turn out of family and friends, colleagues and associates, and those of us chuffed to be invited, in the Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, its eponymous if hyphen-less Academy arriving in readiness to play some string music, the fifteen members tuning to John Constable’s harpsichord, church-bells pealing 11 o’clock on this Spring-like Autumn morning.
This proved to be an ideal celebration of Sir Neville’s life and achievements. It was music first, a piece taking us back to 1958 and the Academy’s Baroque beginnings, the first movement of Handel’s A-major Concerto Grosso (Opus 6/11) in a dancing rendition and with sweet solos from leader Tomo Keller. Then the Revd Dr Sam Wells offered a Welcome and Prayer, quoting from John Donne, and he would later lead further Prayers and a Blessing.
Of the fifteen items on the Order of Service, two were Hymns – ‘Who Would True Valour See’ & ‘All People That On Earth Do Dwell’ – sung lustily by the congregation to Jeremy Cole’s accompaniment on the Church’s excellent organ. There were also two Poems. Eleanor Bron read with style her own ‘A Node to Sir Neville’, and Richard Suart (a Gilbert & Sullivan veteran) was equally adept with Richard Stilgoe’s ‘The Ancient Marriner’ and its amusing rhyming couplets.
In addition to the Handel, we also had the respective first movements of Mozart’s D-major Divertimento (K136), vivacious, Rossini’s String Sonata No.1 in G (two fiddles, cello, double bass), urbane, Mendelssohn’s Octet, shapely and searching, and Elgar’s Serenade, expressive, beguiling and with a touch of twilight.
There was an Address from The Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury, and formerly a Reverend at St Martin-in-the-Fields. He mixed wit and eloquence. So too Sir David Attenborough who gave a Tribute and spoke in characteristic tones about when he and Neville first met – in 1963 on a plane going to Japan. The London Symphony Orchestra was to tour there (with a triumvirate of conductors, Dorati, Monteux and Solti) and there was a last-minute decision to make a documentary about the visit. Attenborough, wearing his BBC hat, was handed the task. On board the aircraft he walked through it introducing himself to players. He found Neville (then leader of the LSO’s second violins) as part of a Poker foursome and a “close and valued friendship” was set in motion.
Sir Neville remained active to the end. On arriving home from Padua, he had gone to bed at the customary time, into a sleep that he would not awake from (he died during the morning of the Second of October): had he done so the new day would have found him travelling to Vienna.
And so we left the Church at our pleasure, unhurriedly, the exit music being Elgar’s expansive In the South, no doubt relayed in Sir Neville’s own, splendid, recording of it (first-released on Collins Classics) with the now symphony-orchestra-sized Academy of St Martin in the Fields. It completed a fond farewell to an affable English gentleman who had an easy and infectious sense of humour, a musician of international standing (and one of the most-recorded) and a lover of practical jokes. He was also a devotee of cricket, so it is appropriate to close by saying that Neville Marriner’s ninety-two years constitute a good innings.