I have been meaning to write this blog for about six years now, but only managed to start five days ago. That is quite a remarkable feat of procrastination by anyone’s standards. But there were some long-imagined blog posts that I am not willing to let slip into oblivion, no matter how overdue they may be. And this is the much-condensed version of the post that I would and should have written upon learning of the death of the much esteemed British tenor, Philip Langridge, in March 2010. His obituary can be read here.
I have been a fan of classical music ever since I first listened to my mother’s old tape recording of Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony (conducted by Colin Davis) when I was too young to even remember. I would arrange my stuffed animals in the rough approximation of an orchestral layout and pretend to conduct them. Go ahead and laugh all you want! And she would take to me classical music concerts at the Barbican Centre (once we discovered how to find it, buried as it is in one of the more labyrinthine parts of London) and the Royal Festival Hall, and I will forever be grateful for this because there is nothing – nothing– that compares to hearing a great symphony or an amazing piece of chamber music played live in front of you by some of the most talented players in the world. My late grandfather was also an enormous fan of music of all kinds – from classical to Scottish country dancing – and he also played an enormous part in my musical development. To this day, I practice playing the piano on his old electric Yamaha Clavinova piano.
After I graduated from university and gained a position at a respectable firm paying a decent salary, I wanted to give something back after all that classical music had done for me. And so after some discussions I decided to become a patron of the London Symphony Orchestra, the ensemble that I would hear most in my childhood, providing a modest amount of financial support to help to keep ticket prices low so that future Samuel Hoopers could attend the finest classical music concerts in the world (bar none) for a low, affordable price. My association with the London Symphony Orchestra has been wonderful and is one of the things in my life of which I am most proud.
Since I have been a Patron of the LSO I have had the great fortune to be able to meet and speak with Sir Colin Davis, the former Principal Conductor and now the President of the LSO, and the first thing that I mentioned to him was that old tape recording of Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony, without which my life might quite literally have taken a very different path. He told me that he remembered recording it, at Abbey Road Studios, just a stones throw from where I used to live at the bottom of West End Lane in West Hampstead, London.
But the single most special, musical moment of my life occurred a full year before I commenced my patronage of the LSO. I had only just moved to London, and for comfort and the knowledge that I would be in familiar surroundings, I booked a ticket to an LSO concert at the Barbican. To be quite honest, I bought the ticket online and did not even look at the programme until I had arrived at the concert hall after rushing across town from the office. It turned out that the programme was a performance of “The Dream of Gerontius” by Edward Elgar.
I took my seat (in the stalls for the first time, since I was now a man of at least some limited means) and sat back, ready to unwind after a hard week in the office. But before the orchestra took the stage a man from the Barbican Centre came out with a microphone and informed us that although this evening’s concert would go ahead, the soloist, Philip Langridge, was recovering from a heavy cold, and that the performance might not be up to its usual standard.
What followed was the single most amazing, breathtaking concert that I have ever been to. Even when recovering from the ‘flu, Philip Langridge brought a passion and intensity and musicality to the part that I have never heard matched, before or subsequently. In both the first half (where he sings the part of the dying Gerontius on his death bed) and the second half (where he plays the part of the soul of Gerontius in purgatory) his voice was clear and articulate and sublime, and I don’t mind admitting that mine were among the many non-dry eyes as the final part, “Softly and gently, dearly-ransomed soul” drew to a close.
Whether I have another five years or fifty years left on this good Earth I will never forget that most special of concerts, and all of the concerts that my mother took me to when I was young, and all of the concerts that it has been my privilege to bring my dearest friends and family, and my darling wife to, at my second home, the Barbican Arts Centre in London.
And though he may have passed away two years ago last week, I will never forget how the voice of Philip Langridge made me feel on that evening in 2007.
Angel: Softly and gently, dearly-ransomed soul,
In my most loving arms I now enfold thee,
And o’er the penal waters, as they roll,
I poise thee, and I lower thee, and hold thee.
And carefully I dip thee in the lake,
And thou, without a sob or a resistance,
Dost through the flood thy rapid passage take,
Sinking deep, deeper, into the dim distance.
Angels to whom the willing task is given,
Shall tend, and nurse, and lull thee, as thou liest;
And Masses on the earth, and prayers in heaven,
Shall aid thee at the Throne of the Most Highest.
Farewell, but not for ever! brother dear,
Be brave and patient on thy bed of sorrow;
Swiftly shall pass thy night of trial here,
And I will come and wake thee on the morrow.