Hugh Maguire: Violinist who led the BBC Symphony Orchestra

He famously reduced the conductor Josef Krips to tears during rehearsals with the LSO

Kenneth Shenton
Friday 02 August 2013 18:29
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Hugh Maguire was a most accomplished and respected violinist with an outstanding reputation as a soloist, orchestral leader, chamber musician and teacher. Combining a rare musical insight with remarkable resilience, he remained at the forefront of British musical life for more than half a century.

He was educated at Belverdale College in his native Dublin, his prodigious musical talents taking him first to the city’s Municipal School of Music; four years at the Royal Academy of Music brought wider fame. Having starred in many college concerts, he made his Wigmore Hall debut in 1947. Subsequently spending time in Paris, there he further refined his technique in the company of George Enesco.

As a performer, revelling in the unique opportunities afforded by the instrument, his colourful and virtuosic playing combined precision with unalloyed panache. His seemingly effortless delivery, unerring accuracy, warm tone and sensitive interpretations endeared him to audiences worldwide. Likewise, his sense of humour, generous spirit and impeccable timing won him the high regard of colleagues.

Rising quickly through the ranks of the major London orchestras, in 1952 he was appointed Leader of the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra, soon to become the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Four years later, moving to the London Symphony Orchestra, in 1962 he succeeded Paul Beard as Leader of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. At the same time he was also a regular visitor to the Abbey Road studios, his artistic palette there embracing everything from the film scores of John Barry to recording sessions with the Beatles.

As an orchestral leader, Maguire could be cool towards conductors. He famously reduced Josef Krips to tears with the London Symphony Orchestra; the conductor was coaxed back to the podium only after Maguire agreed to pray with him in his dressing room. A similarly combative relationship with Sir Malcolm Sargent saw him walk out of a BBC studio during tense rehearsals for a performance of Gustav Holst’s Choral Symphony.

Notable among many career highlights was a memorable performance of the Brahms Double Concerto in the company of Carlo Maria Giulini, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and the cellist, Jacqueline du Pré. Soon becoming a great family friend, du Pré eventually took up residence at Maguire’s north London home. Regularly joined by the pianist Fou Ts’ong, they would relax by performing countless hours of chamber music.

Another musician to benefit from the Maguire family’s generous hospitality was the violinist, Iona Brown. As his star pupil she joined him, Cecil Aronowitz and Terence Weil in forming the Cremona Quartet. Like Maguire before her, she too would enjoy great success with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.

When he left the BBC in 1967, Maguire’s outlook found a particularly happy and expressive outlet as Leader of the Allegri Quartet. Amid concerts often illuminated by his Bloom-like spoken programme notes, the ensemble increasingly championed many newly minted creations, including quartets by Alexander Goehr, Elizabeth Maconchy, Robert Sherlaw Johnson – and Malcolm Arnold, whose opus 118, affectionately dedicated to Maguire, formed the centrepiece of the 1976 Aldeburgh Festival.

He departed the Allegri later that year , his expertise then helping to revive the fortunes of the Melos and Leonardo Ensembles. Maguire also enjoyed a richly productive artistic partnership with the pianist, Joyce Rathbone, while during the 1980s he led the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Once famously taking the baton mid-concert when Basil Cameron collapsed, Maguire was seen all too rarely as a conductor with professional orchestras. However, with student performers he proved highly efficient, leading them with humour and inexhaustible enthusiasm. Artistic Director of the Irish Youth Orchestra, String Coach of the European Community Youth Orchestra, he also tutored the strings of the National Youth Orchestras of Great Britain.

As a teacher Maguire was meticulous, exacting and demanding, never more so than during his 26 years as Professor of Violin at the Royal Academy of Music. Both there and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama he helped mould the creative personalities of many of this country’s most eminent practitioners. Between 1978 and 2002 he was Director of Strings at the Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies.

Andrew Hugh Michael Maguire, violinist and conductor: born Dublin 2 August 1926; married 1953 Suzanne Lewis (divorced 1987; three daughters, two sons), 1988 Tricia Catchpole (died 2013); died Peasenhall, Suffolk 14 June 2013.

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