Elaine Padmore: 'Musicians loved Ted. He was a strong man with clear ideas'

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The Independent Online

Ted Downes had a formidable love and knowledge of opera – particularly Russian opera – and his pebbly glasses made him look like Shostakovich, who was one of Ted's great heroes. He was a huge Verdi man and was instrumental in creating the Verdi festival in London's Covent Garden in the 1990s. I remember when he and David McVicar came for the 2001 production of Rigoletto. I had to introduce them to each other and wondered how they would get on. But Ted was marvellous with younger people and very interested in their ideas, and this senior conductor and rising director got on fantastically well. The revival of this production of Rigoletto in 2005 was one of the last things Ted was able to conduct.

Musicians loved him. He was a strong man with clear ideas which he described crisply, so everyone knew exactly what he wanted. He had an extraordinary connection with the Royal Opera, dating back many years, and had such knowledge of the company.

On his 85th birthday, one month ago, the choir and orchestra decided to send him a birthday greeting. His infirmity meant he would not be able to visit Covent Garden any more and there had been no event to mark his going. They recorded "Happy Birthday to Ted", conducted by Tony Pappano. Ted sent a lovely letter saying how touched he was to receive such a kind message.

He was a great believer in helping the careers of the music staff and giving them the opportunities to develop into conductors, so many great people flourished under his leadership. He was a truly democratic and inclusive person with generous views; a wonderful human being.

He was a scholar as well as a conductor and was able to bring some of the lesser pieces back into circulation. Everything he did was well put together and thought through. Though he was most closely associated with Prokofiev and Verdi, he conducted a lot of contemporary works and was always interested in new things.

Ted was clear-minded and in control. He was a courageous man, coping for many years with atrocious eyesight. Eventually he could only conduct from memory because he was unable to read the score or see people on stage. It was extremely difficult but he kept going like this for several years.

Ted and Joan were a devoted couple and incredibly mutually supportive. In the end, Ted was heavily dependent on Joan for his visits to Covent Garden. They were always so loving and extremely tender towards each other.

Elaine Padmore is director of opera at the Royal Opera House