An interlude that is music to Anthony Bolton's ears

He's said to have outperformed Warren Buffett, but life isn't all about investing for this fund manager - his free time is spent writing music

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 February, 2013, 2:08pm

Stay away from emotional fund managers. That's the advice Anthony Bolton has been quoted as giving over the years. And as he sits in the conference room of Fidelity Investments' office here, wearing a dark navy pinstripe suit and a gold ring bearing his family crest - a hand holding a dagger - he looks every bit the cool, calm fund manager.

Bolton moved to Hong Kong in 2010 to manage Fidelity's China Special Situations Fund.

The 62-year-old is known for his investing prowess - as London-based manager of Fidelity UK's Special Situations Fund from 1979 to 2007, he's said to have outperformed the likes of Warren Buffett. Investors who put £1,000 (HK$11,800) into the fund in 1979 would have ended up with £147,000 in 2007.

Bolton puts his success down to being unemotional and a contrarian investor. In interviews with the financial press, he is often described as unflappable. But put him in an opera house or classical concert hall and he checks that part of him at the door with his coat.

"[Music] gets right to the inside of you, does something to the chemical nature of us that moves us - sometimes to tears," he said last week.

"Why should sound going to my mind cause this emotional effect? But it does."

Recently Bolton saw a performance of George Benjamin's Written on Skin, an opera set in medieval times where the lord of the manor employs an illustrator to write a story about his family. A classic tragedy, the illustrator falls in love with the wife, compelling the lord to kill him.

"He makes his wife eat the illustrator's heart, but instead of being horrified, she says: 'This is the most wonderful thing I've ever eaten. I will never be able to forget that taste.' It was the opposite effect of what the lord was going for, " said Bolton. "I think it'll be one of the great works."

Bolton is a composer himself. Investments take up most of his time, but over the years he's dabbled in writing music. Starting with hymns when he was a boy, and later Christmas carols, a choral anthem performed at St Paul's cathedral in London, an anthology of music set to Chinese poetry and an orchestral piece.

Having scaled back his duties at Fidelity in 2007 he spent a few years training the next generation of fund managers - and more time composing.

The latest in his portfolio of compositions is a suite of orchestral music on the seven wonders of the ancient world, inspired by Gustav Holst's The Planets.

The piece was written under the tutelage of British composer Julian Anderson. The two met in London through a mutual friend a few years ago, and Bolton takes lessons with the 45-year-old composer each time he goes back to London.

Anderson, whose work is exclusively published by Faber Music, a company started by composer Benjamin Britten. Anderson is a professor of composition at Harvard University.

"I have them all written here," said Bolton patting his jacket pockets and producing a little black book with yellowed pages. "The Colossus of Rhodes, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, The Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Lighthouse of Alexandria … I can't wait to get to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. That's going to be good."

The first movement, which Bolton wrote in 2008, is named after the Colossus of Rhodes, a statue of the Greek titan Helios erected to celebrate Rhodes' victory over the ruler of Cyprus around 290 years BC.

"It starts off evoking a Mediterranean evening, and halfway through moves to a march theme where horns bring in a military side, bringing up images of ships and navies coming in and out of the harbour. The climax is supposed to capture that amazement, as you view this incredible statue," said Bolton.

The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra will be playing Bolton's composition Colossus of Rhodes at their "Spring Together" fundraising concert on Sunday March 3. It will also feature the works of other classical and orchestral music enthusiasts in the city.

It will be the first time Colossus of Rhodes will be played in public, and it's possible the investment manager's reputation as unflappable might be tested. He has tweaked the composition a few times since the last time he and Anderson heard it in a private session. "The trouble with music is you never know when it's finished," he said with a shrug. But he is clear on one thing - music is a world apart from his financial career. "I don't think there's a connection between investment and composing … In life you've got to have contrasts, a place to relax and get away from the work day. I tell my managers … investment is going to take up a lot of time, but you've got to have something else in life."


Anthony Bolton

Age 62

Education Degree in Engineering and Business Studies from the University of Cambridge

1979-2007: Investment fund manager for Fidelity. Bolton managed the Fidelity Special Situations Fund.
2006: Published first book, Investing with Anthony Bolton.
2007: Retired from fund management and took on a mentoring role for newer investment managers.
2009: Published second book, Investing Against the Tide: Lessons from a Life Running Money.
*2010-present: Moved to Hong Kong to manage Fidelity China Special Situations Fund. He is president of investments of Fidelity International.

[*Correction: An earlier version, as printed in Monday's newspaper, said Bolton moved to Hong Kong in 2009. He moved to the city in 2010.]