Conductor with a love for the best of classical British
DONALD STANLEY looks at the life of world-renowned conductor Richard Hickox
THE orchestral conductor, Richard Hickox, was born and educated in Buckinghamshire.
Despite being highly regarded in this country he died amidst professional criticism on the other side of the world.
Born in Stokenchurch of a musical family, Richard was encouraged by his mother, who was a piano teacher, and clergyman father. By the age of seven he was accompanying church services.
Educated at High Wycombe’s Royal Grammar School and the Royal Academy of Music, he became an organ scholar at Queens’ College, Cambridge.
Richard went on to found music festivals, the first being that at Wooburn where his father had become Vicar.
He became a director of choirs and conductor of orchestras in addition to founding, at the age of 23, the Richard Hickox Singers and Richard Hickox Orchestra whose growth, including performing at the BBC Proms, led to them being renamed the City of London Sinfonia and City of London Sinfonia Chorus. Aged 24 he was appointed Master of Music at St Margaret’s, Westminster, the church of the Houses of Parliament.
Richard specialised in British music of the last hundred years, his interpretations leading him to make over 300 recording amongst which were several awardwinners including a Grammy for his version of Benjamin Britten’s ‘Peter Grimes’.
His repertoire included over 100 first performances of works by such composers as Peter Maxwell Davies. It has been suggested that it was this pre-eminence in a narrow field that denied him top-rank status. Nonetheless, he was appointed a CBE.
He was principal guest conductor of the Netherlands Radio Sinfonia Orchestra and for five years Musical Director of the Spoleto Festival in Italy as well as holding conducting posts in the USA, France and Germany.
In 2005 he was appointed Music Director of Opera Australia.
Throughout his career Richard had been known for his sense of humour, lack of pretension, and popularity with those with whom he worked.
Although he conducted the Australian premieres of several productions, including an award winning one, he fell foul of disaffected musicians and was criticised as lacking the experience necessary to perform the works of operatic composers who were not English.
However, his Board backed him and he was still Musical Director when, in 2008, he collapsed and died whilst recording Holst’s ‘First Choral Symphony’, the work of a British composer, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. He was aged 60.