Kerry Camden: Outstanding bassoonist of his generation celebrated for his colourful and virtuoso style

Kenneth Shenton
Tuesday 25 May 2010 00:00
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The bassoonist Kerry Camden was one of the most distinguished musicians of his generation.

Amid a long and varied career he enriched the world of music in a wide variety of ways. He was an orchestral player, chamber musician, solo performer, teacher, administrator, adjudicator, lecturer, conductor, editor and undoubted enthusiast, the breadth of his intellect making him an inspirational guide for many generations of aspiring musicians.

Born into one of London's most celebrated musical dynasties, Kerrison Hamilton Camden was the eldest son of the bassoonist Archie Camden and his wife, the cellist, pianist and composer Jan Kerrison. While his outer names derive from his parents, his middle name pays homage to his distinguished godfather, the celebrated conductor, Sir Hamilton Harty. His father, this country's first national professional player of the German bassoon and a pioneering member of the Hallé and BBC Symphony Orchestras, enjoyed a uniquely long and distinguished career spanning almost 65 years.

Following a somewhat nomadic childhood due to the uncertainties of the Second World War, Camden was educated at Highgate School. He won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, his studies initially curtailed by National Service spent in the Irish Guards. On his return, he undoubtedly benefited from the stern but benevolent tutelage of the college's most august Professor of Bassoon, his father.

Amid extensive orchestral, concerto and recital work, it was chamber music that first brought him to the fore. With his younger brother Anthony he successfully revived The Camden Trio, while within the framework of The Camden Quintet, the brothers' authoritative advocacy, particularly of modern French chamber music, added further lustre to an already burgeoning reputation. As a performer he revelled in the unique opportunities afforded by the instrument, his colourful and virtuosic playing rarely failing to make an impact. Over the years 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.

On leaving college in 1957, he served for two years as Principal Bassoon in the BBC Concert Orchestra. Later, amid a rewarding freelance career, he enjoyed long and productive associations with the London Mozart Players and the Bath Festival Orchestra under the baton of his close friend Yehudi Menuhin. In Europe he worked with such luminaries as Pablo Casals, Leonard Bernstein, Paul Tortelier and Igor Stravinsky. He was a regular visitor to the Abbey Road Studios, his artistic palette embracing everything there from the film scores of John Barry to nocturnal recording sessions with the Rolling Stones.

As a teacher Camden was meticulous, exacting and demanding, never more so than during his 37 years as Professor of Bassoon at the Royal College of Music. He also coached youth orchestras, adjudicated at music festivals and led a diverse range of master classes, seminars, workshops and summer schools. Later, inhabiting a much more international landscape, he visited Canada, coached the Oman Symphony Orchestra, lectured at the Academy of Performing Arts in Hong Kong and, as an assiduous administrator, acted as Course Director for multifarious musical activities regularly taking place in and around the stunning scenery of the Austrian Tyrol.

He was seen all too rarely as a conductor with professional orchestras, but with amateur performers he proved highly efficient, leading them with humour and inexhaustible enthusiasm. In addition to working regularly with the Brookfield Ensemble and Whiteacre Winds, he also found an expressive outlet as Conductor of the Letchworth Sinfonia where, over 25 years, he developed and maintained a consistent, committed and loyal ensemble.

Finding a lack of well-edited repertoire suitable for his ensembles, in typical style he began to fill the gaps himself. Initially amid smaller groupings – trios, quartets and quintets – his talents focused on performers of more moderate ability. Later, working on a more expansive canvas, his output encompassed more demanding repertoire, major works transcribed for wind ensemble by the likes of Saint-Saëns, Strauss and Wagner.

In 1992, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Music; regularly participating in educational programmes for the BBC, for many years he acted as a consultant to the instrument makers and music publishers Boosey and Hawkes. Like his father he proved a most engaging and entertaining raconteur. Never happier than relaxing in his garden, this devoted family man also adored all things sporting, convinced that for his beloved Tottenham Hotspur the glory days were once again just around the corner.

Kerrison Hamilton Camden, bassoonist, conductor and teacher: born London 7 June 1936; married 1962 Diana Jones (one son, one daughter); died Chipperfield, Hertfordshire 10 March 2010.

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