Don't just do as you're told, visiting maestro Neville Marriner says

Conductor Sir Neville Marriner says musical success is all about freedom of thought - and there's no shortage of that in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 November, 2014, 6:30am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 November, 2014, 11:02am

Freedom of thought breeds success when it comes to making music - and it is not lacking in Hong Kong, popular conductor Neville Marriner says.

The English violinist founded the Academy of St Martin in the Fields chamber orchestra in 1958.

Marriner and 12 other string players formed the ensemble out of "frustration of being told, not asked", the 90-year-old, who has a knighthood, said. Before that, he played violin with the Philharmonia Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra under conductors including Arturo Toscanini and Wilhelm Furtwangler.

He has since led the Academy of St Martin in the Fields to become the most recorded group in classical music, including a selection of Mozart on the soundtrack to Oscar-winning film Amadeus. He stepped down as chairman in 1992 and is now its life president.

"The virtue of the Academy was that everyone could have an opinion and say, 'Try this', 'Don't like that', during rehearsals at my home in the early years," Marriner said, ahead of the season-opening concert of the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong that he will conduct tonight at the Sha Tin Town Hall. "It still works today, as I work with the Academy half a dozen times a year. The same feeling is there and all members feel as if they are contributing all the time."

Tonight will be his first performance with a Hong Kong orchestra, and he said local musicians were not shy about giving their opinions. "There are some angular moments when they don't agree among themselves stylistically at the rehearsals. But to me that's very healthy. They don't just sit there and do as they're told. I like the freedom of thought they have. That I enjoy very much," Marriner laughed.

The conductor first visited the city in 1964 with the London Symphony Orchestra. And he was part of the show when the Academy gave the last performance by a British orchestra in the city when it was still a colony, just weeks before the 1997 handover.

"I love the place and I love the atmosphere here. My daughter worked at the ICAC in Hong Kong for three years and she is jealous that I am here," he said, referring to the graft-busting Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Marriner also noted that he saw some "shades of English character" to the city on previous trips. "But now it's a completely Chinese atmosphere. I suppose it's much livelier and noisier. Still, it's an extremely extraordinary place to work and to live."

He is accompanied by his wife and his son Andrew Marriner, principal clarinettist of the London Symphony Orchestra, who will join his father on stage for the Asian premiere of Howard Blake's Clarinet Concerto.

Marriner said he was aware of the Occupy protests but wasn't worried about visiting the city.

"It's fabulous that these young people can do it. Politically speaking we don't get involved with any of what they do. Except that you always have a feeling that in a movement which is generated by the younger people, it's got to have some virtue or something there," he said. "I just hope there will be a happy solution."

As for his own future, he has a concert plan up to 2020. He put his longevity down to his parents and wife. "I chose my parents very carefully as they also lived to quite a good age … [and] my wife controls my diet very well. She doesn't want a very fat husband."