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A Personal View of Music and the Musical World Over Sixty Years
A Personal View of Music and the Musical World Over Sixty Years
was published in May 2009
212 pages 216 x 138mm 13 black & white illustrations
Dame Janet Baker: ‘One of the truly great privileges is to spend one’s working life among charismatic, interesting and gifted people. It has clearly been the experience of Robert Ponsonby during his many years of artistic administration and he writes about it with obvious delight...How refreshing...to read [his] collection of portraits which steer such a well-judged course between the light and darker sides of the human condition and give us a balanced picture of his subjects. He has a delightful turn of phrase and describes aspects of character which I found immediately recognizable and true. It is all done with wit, perception, kindness, honesty, affection and humour, leaving this reader wanting more.’
Bryce Morrison in The Gramophone, September 2009: 'This delightful book by one of music's most admired administrators is perfectly summarised by Dame Janet Baker...in her characteristically warm-hearted introduction... Throughout [the book] there is an often moving wish to share a lifetime of involvement and dedication to the arts; to celebrate true greatness and to disparage many more recent attititudes and events. Ponsonby takes a sharp sword to the ever-threatening forces of philistinism...There is a superb chapter on Boulez's approach to the whole nature of conducting...[His]warmth and candour shine through at every point...'
Kenneth Walton in The Scotsman: 'Robert Ponsonby's newly published memoirs, Musical Heroes, are not so much a self-promotional nostalgia trip as a generous testament to the many classical music celebrities he has encountered over half a century as one of the UK's leading arts supremos.
<>At the core of this book are generous personal reflections on family friend Sir Adrian Boult, the irascible Sir William Walton, such legendary performers and composers as Jacqueline du Pré (photographed informally in his Glasgow flat with Daniel Barenboim and former SNO leader Sam Bor playing piano trios), Yehudi Menuhin, John Ogden, Pierre Boulez, Michael Tippett and many more.'
Andrew Clark in FT critics' 'hottest holiday reading' on 3rd July 2009: 'Ponsonby’s essays sum up a golden era of music-making. He gives us fly-on-the-wall portraits of the great musicians he knew in the course of a postwar career that took him from directing the Edinburgh Festival
to the BBC Proms.'
Michael Church in Classical Music, July 2009 (four stars): '...His obituary of Kent Opera – killed by the Arts Council because it didn’t fit its popularising plans – is a fitting homage to that groundbreaking institution, and his article for the Times on running the Proms is a more cogent apologia than we have ever had from his successors...along the way we get a lovely gallery of
portraits, from Walton to Henze and Berio, sweet Sidonie Goossens and mysterious Clara Haskil to
magisterial William Glock, and a most accurately drawn John Drummond. The coda is a long
interview with Pierre Boulez about conducting: this alone is a commendation for the book.'
Caroline Gray (London), five-star review on Amazon.co.uk: 'This is a delightful book. It's perfect to dip into to find out more about the musical giants of the twentieth century, and all described through first-hand experience. The interview with Pierre Boulez is a treat.
<> Witty, entertaining and beautifully written, the book makes perfect holiday and/or bedside reading, and is ideal as a birthday or Christmas present for a musical friend.'
David Gutman in International Record Review, November 2009: '...Ponsonby's mixture of informed enthusiasm and polite scepticism is a refreshing change from the commercially driven posturing so often passing for cultural commentary these days. His prose is lucid...The book concludes with [this] rallying cry: "Music, and of course I mean 'classical music', because it is both the most mysterious, the most moving and the most difficult of the arts, is without doubt the greatest of them, and musicians therefore have a specially honourable responsibility. They are, by and large, an extraordinarily nice lot, intelligent, interesting, companionable, and I am unshakeably on their side. They have my profound respect, my wholehearted good wishes -- and my affection." Does it matter that he is preaching to the converted?...Readers of this magazine will be with him all the way.'
Robert Ponsonby has been at the centre of the music world in Britain for some sixty years, and Musical Heroes is a distillation of his experiences, achievements and friendships in that world. With its deft touch and its empathy, it is both captivating and inspiring, and it is often full of humour. It paints portraits in many formats of the fifty or so figures he admired most, including conductors, composers, performers and administrators: Boult, Beecham, Giulini, Pritchard, Kubelík, Boulez, Walton, Tippett, Berio, Ligeti, Menuhin, Sena Jurinac, Rostropovich, Jacqueline du Pré, John Ogdon, William Glock, John Drummond, Thomas Armstrong and Robert Mayer are some whom he celebrates.
<>In his retrospect he takes a not always complimentary look at the record of Arts Council England, the British Council and certain aspects of the BBC. But he is encouraged by the teaching profession’s overdue recognition that children are immeasurably enriched by regular ensemble singing and playing. Musical Heroes will have a wide appeal not only among established lovers of classical music but also among people who have recently discovered it for themselves.
Robert Ponsonby was Organ Scholar of Trinity College, Oxford, from 1948 to 1950, and President of the University Opera Club. Engaged by Glyndebourne in 1951, he organized the Festival of Sussex, a county-wide celebration, under the umbrella of the Festival of Britain. At the same time, he worked as assistant to the Director of the Edinburgh Festival, Ian Hunter, whom he succeeded in 1956. Resigning after the 1960 festival, he eventually gained a job with the Independent Television Authority. He returned to music in 1964, being appointed to administer the Scottish National Orchestra. His eight years in Glasgow were professionally happy and apparently successful, for he was head-hunted by the BBC, who in 1972 appointed him Controller, Music, in succession to William Glock. This post he held until 1985. He directed the Canterbury Festival in 1987 and 1988; and since 1985 he has filled advisory roles with the Purcell School, the Young Concert Artists Trust, the Council for Music in Hospitals and Wingate Scholarship. Currently, he is on the committee of the Michael Tippett Musical Foundation. He holds the JanáÄćek Medal from the Czech Government, is an Hon RAM and was made a CBE in 1983.
Carlo Maria Giulini
Norman del Mar
Jacqueline du Pré
Ursula Vaughan Williams
Moving South: Walton, Henze and Boulez
Hungary Diary: Music for a Lime-green Cat
Planning the 1986 Proms
A Mysterious Business
Pierre Boulez in Conversation