Obituary: Leonard M. Friedman
Friday 08 July 1994
LEONARD FRIEDMAN, the violinist and founder of the Scottish Baroque Ensemble, was a brilliant performer and one of the great musical eccentrics.
Friedman was born in London of Lithuanian parents. He studied with Max Rostal, teacher of so many of today's leading string players, at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, in London, and played with, and eventually became the leader of, a number of symphony orchestras in London and elsewhere (including a period as co-leader of the Royal Philharmonic under Sir Thomas Beecham) and with the London Chamber Orchestra. He moved to Scotland in 1966 and became leader of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra, a soloist and a well-known figure in the Scottish arts scene during the Sixties, although frequently playing elsewhere. The legends about Friedman were numerous. He had a habit of double- booking himself, so that quite frequently he would play on the same evening in different halls, and if he got his timing wrong the audience simply had to wait.
On one occasion he was leading an orchestra in Edinburgh and, looking at his watch, realised that the last train to London, where he had an important recording date the next morning, would shortly be leaving. He stopped playing, hastily packed up his violin and left the platform under the astonished eyes of conductor, audience and fellow players.
In 1969 I invited Friedman to help me found a new orchestra of Scottish-based musicians to play for the two operas given annually at Ledlanet, in Kinross-shire, and he created the Scottish Baroque Ensemble, later to become the core of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. The SBE also performed four concerts a year at Ledlanet. One of them occurred on Friedman's birthday, which he shared with Beethoven. Audiences were quite accustomed, when Friedman was in charge, to hearing a quite different programme played from the one that had been announced, but in this concert they were given seven concerti for seven different soloists in addition to symphonies and other works.
The concert, although much appreciated, in spite of its inordinate length, and brilliantly played, cost more than double the budget. Friedman's explanation was 'It's my birthday.'
For the last few years he gave master-classes with leading young professionals, at a 'Mendelssohn on Mull' festival at Eastertime. In the last year his violin has been heard in the most recent series of Sherlock Holmes radio plays on BBC. He was always game for a new challenge and full of promotional ideas for musical activities.
In spite of his exasperating inability to bring any order or discipline to his life and career, Friedman was much loved. He was a catalyst and a risk-taker. Music was his very existence and he would sometimes join the rank and file during the second half of a concert where he had been the soloist in the first half, just for the joy of playing. He was able to instil music into others so that even amateurs and mediocre players would feel they were taken over and able to excel themselves when playing with him.
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