Sam Bor: Violinist and founder member of the BBC Symphony who later led the Scottish National Orchestra for 14 years

Click to follow
The Independent Online

When Adrian Boult held auditions for the BBC's new Symphony Orchestra in 1930, he appointed one very young musician to the first violins. Sam Bor was 18. He came from a family of musicians (his parents were Abraham and Rosie Bor), had studied at the Birmingham School of Music and had been playing in public since his early teens.

During his 10 pre-war years with the BBCSO, Bor played for Arturo Toscanini, Felix Weingartner, Richard Strauss, Thomas Beecham and, of course, Boult, among other great names. However, in 1940, after the outbreak of the Second World War, he was called up and served in Europe with the Royal Artillery. It was a period of his life that he never cared to talk about. In 1945 he rejoined the BBCSO as sub-leader and for two years (1947-48) he also led the London Chamber Orchestra.

But Bor found post-war Britain depressing and, in 1949, he welcomed an offer to become leader and assistant conductor of the South Australian Symphony Orchestra, based in Adelaide. Then, in 1958, Alexander Gibson invited him to lead the Scottish National Orchestra and there followed 14 years (eight of which, as manager of the orchestra, I shared) of ideal collaboration.

Gibson was rebuilding and enlarging the orchestra, bringing in younger players, and Bor's experience and wisdom were invaluable. He was the ideal mediator between a young orchestra and such alarming figures as the conductors Jascha Horenstein and Paul Kletzki. Gibson himself accompanied Bor in, among other concertos, Bruch's First, the Busoni and the Walton.

In the Sixties, regular soloists with the SNO included Janet Baker and Jacqueline du Pré, both of whom joined the orchestra on its 1967 European tour, which opened in Vienna's Musikverein. Earlier that year, Bor had played chamber music with du Pré and Daniel Barenboim in my Glasgow flat. He also led the SNO for Scottish Opera's memorable productions of The Trojans and Così fan Tutte (both with Janet Baker). But when, in 1971, Gibson embarked upon the Ring, Bor asked to be excused on understandable grounds: Wagner's anti-Semitism would make his willing participation impossible.

After leaving the SNO in 1973, Bor joined the staff of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and became the musical director and conductor of the Strathclyde Schools Symphony Orchestra. During all his Glasgow years he had the devoted support of his second wife, Dorothie Sawtell, a beautiful Australian redhead who fully earned her place near the front of the SNO's first violins.

After their return to Adelaide in 1976, Bor continued to teach and to play chamber music (often with Lance Dossor, a fine pianist who during the Second World War had appeared at Myra Hess's lunchtime concerts in the National Gallery). Dorothie's unexpected death in 2006 hit him hard. But he was tough and his three offspring from his first marriage, to Rosemary Kerrick, kept a caring eye on him.

Bor's entry in Who's Who in Scotland lists "watching intelligent television" as one of his recreations, "reading" another. He was indeed well-read, a cultivated man with a keen sense of humour, generally urbane, and sometimes, I remember, enjoyably bawdy. He was good company, a spell-binding raconteur of orchestral incidents and accidents; and an exceptionally gifted musician.



Sam Bor, violinist: born London 10 September 1912; married firstly Rosemary Kerrick (three children; marriage dissolved), secondly Dorothie Sawtell (died 2006); died Adelaide, South Australia 17 November 2008.

Comments