Obituary: Timothy Mason

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The cellist Timothy Mason was not only a fine performer, but a natural scholar and organiser par excellence.

Born in 1948, the third of the four sons of Stewart Mason, Chief Education Officer for Leicestershire, and founder of the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra, he started to play the cello at seven and at 10 went as a chorister to Pilgrim's School, Winchester. But he was so academically advanced he was sent to Winchester College for lessons, where he eventually completed his education.

His obvious musical talent was encouraged by the college Head of Music, Christopher Cowan; his wife, Jane Cowan, who has taught many gifted young cellists such as Steven Isserliss, gave him cello lessons.

Mason played for some time in the National Youth Orchestra and made many lifelong friendships, but always felt restricted by the confines of sitting in the middle of a large group. His ambitions were in chamber music.

On leaving Winchester he won a scholarship to King's College, Cambridge, where he proved a brilliant student - indeed, one of his professors remarked that there was nothing to teach him as he knew it all already. He was encouraged to stay on for studies in academic music but his main ambition was to play the cello professionally, so he declined. After obtaining his Cambridge degree he worked for a BMus, which enabled him to study a further six months in Paris with Maurice Gendron, one of the great cellist- teachers of the French School.

The BMus also required original compositions, with which the examination panel were so impressed they advised Mason to become a composer. He, however, was still bent on a performing career and from this time he freelanced with a number of orchestras, played as an extra with the LSO and the RPO and also held a position in the BBC Symphony Orchestra for a short while. But he was never in his true element as his great love was chamber music.

In 1973 he formed the group Capricorn, which had a special interest in contemporary music. At the same time he began taking an interest in period performing style. He was, for a time, co-principal cellist of the English Baroque Soloists and a member of the London Fortepiano Trio.

His career came full circle when, in 1986, he founded the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment as their principal cellist. He was their chairman for eight years, and assisted in planning every aspect of their activities. (Sir Simon Rattle credits Mason as having inspired his own interest in the OAE.) He made many recordings with them and the other early music groups he was involved in.

As a man, he was tireless, always pressing on towards the next project and very demanding both of himself and others in order to achieve the perfectionism for which he strove. But he also had a gentle and sensitive side to his character which endeared him to his many friends.

He was diagnosed last summer as having cancer, but it did not prevent him from performing whenever he could and he continued playing until March, when he performed with John Eliot Gardiner's Orchestre Rev-olutionaire et Romantique in Paris.

Timothy Mason was married to the violist Jan Schlapp.

Margaret Campbell

Tim Mason's outstanding quality was his aspiration, writes Mark Elder. I remember how, during our last year at Cambridge, he steadfastly turned down the countless requests for him to play in concerts in order doggedly to work for his degree.

From his father and cello-teacher he learnt breadth of vision - how to see music in as broad a context as possible. Initially, cello-playing didn't come as easily to him as to some, but by determined hard work he became a very fine player.

Making music with him was never straightforward. His passion in the founding of the Age of Enlightenment could be said to have at least partially arisen from his impatience with conductors; but no conductor will forget his warm smile at the pleasure music or friendship could bring. His familiar tall, thin figure - with its trudging, Mason-ic walk - was a vital presence in the country's musical life in the last 25 years. In particular, Capricorn's current residency at York University is a marvellous vindication of his leadership.

Timothy George Stewart Mason, cellist: born 29 April 1948; married Jan Schlapp (one son, one daughter); died 4 April 1997.