Robert Maycock: Classical music critic for 'The Independent'


The music critic and sometime Music Editor of The Independent, Robert Maycock, who has died in a car accident, was among the most principled and independent-minded writers on classical and contemporary music of his generation. As a regular contributor to this newspaper since its inception, he wrote perceptively on music of many kinds. He also worked tirelessly to promote an unusually wide range of music and a reconsideration of the path that he considered new music should take.

Robert Maycock was born in London on 21 February 1948. Though a capable pianist, he chose to read Historyand Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University. Back in London, he worked for Nature magazine. It was answering an advertisement in the New Statesman for an editorial assistant onMusic and Musicians magazine that led him into music journalism; he didn't get the job – the opera critic Tom Sutcliffe, then Chief Editor, and not to be confused with the Independent writer of the same name, told me – but he was subsequently offered reviewing work for the magazine.

He spent 1974-75 in Leeds, studying for a Masters degree in music at the university there and writing occasional music reviews for The Daily Telegraph.

Returning south, Robert became Reviews Editor of a new magazine, Classical Music Weekly, founded by Trevor Richardson in 1976. One year on, when the magazine was acquired by Rhinegold Publishing, of which Robert himself became a shareholder, he became the Chief Editor, overseeing its expanding reputation, following a move to fortnightly publication, to become the British classical music profession's "parish magazine".

Leaving Classical Music in the summer of 1986, Robert became one of the first arts reviewers for The Independent, though it was typical of his otherworldliness that this career move seems to have occurred more by coincidence than by artful planning. This paper's first Music Editor, Fiona Maddocks, says that, in contrast to the other critics, Robert was "game for anything. He tackled the outlandish with glee, the mainstream with knowledge and assurance." When she had to cover a Beach Boys reunion concert at Wembley, she reports, Robert shepherded her to Wembley "and proved a chivalrous companion with an insider knowledge of the entire history of 'Good Vibrations'".

When Maddocks left in 1991 to become Chief Editor of the new BBC Music Magazine, Robert replaced her for two years; following reorganisation of the paper's arts coverage, he returned to regular criticism. In the meantime, he also found himself part of the BBC magazine's large CD-reviewing team.

By this time, Robert had met the composer Priti Paintal, as a result of reviewing her opera Survival Song for the Royal Opera House's Garden Venture project in 1989. Paintal's increasing desire to reflect both her Asian roots and Western popular forms in her compositions had a profound influence on him. Robert soon began to pursue what they referred to as "cross-cultural" concerns; not only in journalism but also in his emerging roles as a programmer, musical activist and provocateur.

Arts organisations both national and local – Maycock and Paintal soon moved to Kent – now benefited from Robert's knowledge and wisdom. Chairmanship of the Society for the Promotion of New Music was followed by participation with Paintal in the "Main Music Agenda" pressure group, designed to lobby the Arts Council for a redistribution of public funding to a wider spectrum of non-Western and more grassroots music-making organisations in an increasingly multi-cultural society.

Throughout his life, Robert retained his professional involvement inWestern classical music: from helping to organise concerts in his own local area to editing the BBC Proms Guidein 2010. But he was most closely devoted to his work for Paintal's group,Shiva Nova, and to seeking out, presenting and campaigning on behalf of the eclectic global musics that had caused him to embrace change relatively late in his career.

Recently, he had been working with Priti on the upcoming "WOW – Women of the World Festival", a London and Kent-based celebration of women's creative work. He also delightedly embraced a close family life with Priti and their two still-young children.

Robert cheerfully championed everything and everyone he cared about,including Philip Glass, on whom he wrote a brilliantly idiosyncratic book, published in 2002. Reading him was, as you found when you met him, like having a dialogue with someone endlessly curious about music, delighted by his latest discoveries and ever eager to share them with others. His encyclopaedic knowledge, but even more his passion for music, nurtured and shared completely free of self-regard, will be greatly missed, by his friends and professional colleagues as well as by his many readers.

Keith Potter

Robert Maycock, music journalist: born London 21 February 1948; partner since 1990 to Priti Paintal; died High Halden, near Ashford, Kent 25 January 2012.

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