Scottish Opera's Music Director, Richard Armstrong, to Step Down
Thursday, December 02, 2004
The Scotsman [Edinburgh]
By Tim Cornwell
Sir Richard Armstrong yesterday signalled his unease with the new regime at Scottish Opera by announcing that he is stepping down after 12 years as music director.
Richard Armstrong (photo: Scottish Opera) His controversial departure follows months of speculation about his future following a radical restructuring plan which has brought major job losses. It came on the day the new chairman, William Taylor, started work at the beleagured opera company. Mr. Taylor said yesterday that only "cynics" would read anything into the timing.
Sir Richard's current two-year contract with the opera ends in July 2005, shortly after it ceases all productions for a year in an effort to pay its debts. He told colleagues in a letter that he will stay on for two years as an "adviser" and guest conductor.
Mr. Taylor said the fact that Sir Richard was not simply walking away sent a reassuring signal. "Richard produced a world-class product," he said. "The worst of all worlds for us would be for him to say 'I didn't want my contract renewed, and didn't want to continue with the company'. That would have sent a signal that we were in bad shape."
But the composer James MacMillan, one of the biggest musical names to come out of Scotland, yesterday said Sir Richard's departure was "sad but inevitable". He said he hoped there was a "new impetus", but Sir Richard had been put in an intolerable situation.
"He's been a great thing for Scottish Opera," he added.
MacMillan revealed yesterday that he has taken the post of Patron of the Friends of Scottish Opera to campaign for the company's future. "I have just attended their first meeting and I would urge them to be defiant and courageous and fight back and put the company where it belongs, which is right in the forefront of artistic excellence. It exists on a shoestring."
Sir Richard, 61, took the opera to some of its greatest artistic triumphs, and was knighted for his services to music last year. He is remembered for conducting the Ring cycle at the Edinburgh International Festival, for the premier of MacMillan's first opera, Ines de Castro, and performances of Verdi's Macbeth and Beethoven's Fidelio .
James Waters, associate director of the Edinburgh International Festival, compared his tenure with that of the opera's legendary founder, Sir Alexander Gibson.
Sir Richard brought a rigour to the training of the orchestra and chorus that guaranteed performances were "well prepared and beautifully executed". "He established a very high level at which the company operates, a quality benchmark that will stay. That's his legacy."
It mirrored his achievements at the Welsh National Opera, where he was music director for 13 years. Prior to that he worked at the Royal Opera House.
But his tenure in Scotland also saw Scottish Opera lurch from one financial crisis to the next, and he became a lightning rod for some critics.
Lorne Boswell of the actors' union Equity ó which represents the opera's chorus and has called in the past for the top management including Sir Richard to resign ó said: "I think it was inevitable. It's part of the process of rebuilding the company."
In a "Dear Colleague" letter released by the opera yesterday, Sir Richard thanked company staff for their support.
But Sir Richard had become an increasingly public critic of the deal reached in June. Under heavy pressure from the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Arts Council to meet multi-million debts and keep spending within a £7.5 million annual grant, the company's board agreed sweeping redundancies and a year-long pause in full-scale operas.
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