Iona Brown

Violinist and conductor

As a soloist, the violinist Iona Brown appeared with major orchestras under leading conductors worldwide, and had critics running out of superlatives. For many years she also successfully took on the roles of director and conductor on an international level.



Iona Brown, violinist: born Salisbury, Wiltshire 7 January 1941; violinist and conductor, Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields 1974-80; Artistic Director, Norwegian Chamber Orchestra 1981-2001, Conductor Laureate 2001-04; Guest Director, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 1985-89; MBE 1986; Artistic Director, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra 1987-92, Conductor and Music Adviser 1995-97; twice married; died Bowerchalke, Wiltshire 5 June 2004.



As a soloist, the violinist Iona Brown appeared with major orchestras under leading conductors worldwide, and had critics running out of superlatives. For many years she also successfully took on the roles of director and conductor on an international level.

She was born, in 1941, into a family of professional musicians. Her father was a pianist and organist and her mother a violinist in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Her three siblings all played an instrument and followed in the family footsteps: her brother Tim is principal horn in the BBC Symphony Orchestra, her sister Sally is a viola player and her brother Ian a distinguished pianist and chamber musician.

Iona had her first lessons on the violin at six with Nora Atkinson and took some further study with Hugh McGuire. In her early teens she was a member of the National Youth Orchestra and later sought guidance from individual teachers in Rome, Brussels, Vienna and Paris, where she was a student of Henryk Szeryng.

She was a rank-and-file member of the London Philharmonic Orchestra from 1963 to 1966 when she resigned in order to devote herself to her expanding solo career. Her first important engagement and London début was playing the Mendelssohn Concerto at the Proms under Sir Malcolm Sargent. "The whole evening sticks in my mind as extraordinary," she recalled:

Once I got past the first page I was all right. But you can't be prepared for the atmosphere and the rush of hot air as you walk on until you've done it. I nearly passed out from sheer excitement and fright.

From this time onwards she appeared as a soloist and director with various orchestras as a freelance and also made recordings.

One of the orchestras in which she played regularly was the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, which had been directed by Neville Marriner since 1959. In 1974 Marriner approached Brown with an invitation to take over the directorship. She said, "You're crazy!" He replied, "I'm not crazy. You can do it standing on your head!" She not only held that position for many years, but also took on directorships of several other chamber orchestras, including the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra with reduced forces in 1985. She was artistic director of the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra from 1981, and in 1987 she also took on the directorship of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: for many years she directed all three.

Although she spent most of her time with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, she travelled extensively from one to another and had a particular affection for the Norwegian group. It was the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich who initially brought her in contact with them and she found a particular interest in helping them to develop.

She was once asked if being a woman made it harder to direct, and she said that she thought that people would jump on you for the slightest thing, but that the most important thing was that you had to do the job well. She went on to say that there was no question that life would have been easier had she been a man, but retorted: "I wouldn't be a man for anything!" Iona Brown was a very beautiful woman, very feminine, with a charismatic personality. She was also very particular about her appearance on the platform and was well known for her designer wardrobe. On occasions she was known to have her audience gasping after she changed her dress in the interval.

However, when she was in charge of an orchestra she knew exactly where she was going and what she required from her players. Her leadership qualities - which were what Marriner had spotted so many years before - were positive and precise. Because she was so accomplished both technically and musically she was able to command respect from her players. This was quite an achievement in a role that few women have dared to undertake.

Brown made some memorable recordings, which include Vaughan Williams's "The Lark Ascending", Mozart's Haffner Symphony and (as conductor) 19th-Century Guitar Concertos.

As a person Brown was dynamic in every sense of the word and a perfectionist in everything she tackled. She could be very outspoken. But she also had a tender side known only to her family and friends. She possessed a wicked sense of humour.

Her last years were blighted by crippling arthritis. She underwent two hip replacements but struggled with the increasing difficulty of holding her violin. In Tokyo six years ago she played "The Lark Ascending" and had a tremendous response from her audience. It was apparently one of her most inspired performances. But she knew she had been struggling to conceal her pain and her difficulty in controlling her fingering. When she reached her dressing room she decided that enough was enough. She never played in public again.

Margaret Campbell

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border