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  • Meirion Harries

DAY FOUR: the best music in Germany

Of course, the best music ever played in Germany was by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields on their regular January tours – repeated, I think, over 20 years. They displayed immense courage on their first tour: performing the B Minor Mass in the unique Academy style to German audiences - but the reviewers approved: "... an important new step made towards a musically true Bach interpretation" (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung).


Molly Marriner, whose organisational brilliance made these tours of Germany such a success, remembers what they were like in the early days: “The first person to believe in the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, and to support it, was the Hanover impresario Hans Ulrich Schmid. He organised the Academy’s first tour in Germany, but he couldn’t accept its name, saying it was “too long for the posters”, so he called the orchestra "The London Strings"! However, just as the tour was getting under way, the Argo set of Handel Concerti Grossi Op.3 was released - and the reception was such that Hans Ulrich gave in, and found room for our name on the posters after all.

Because we were a group of only fourteen or fifteen then, it was quite easy to transport us round - mostly by coach, sometimes by train, but never expensively, for after all the tours gave us freedom and novelty. Nobody complained at sharing rooms or that the fees were low because we were given the most generous hospitality by the organisers in each venue and warmly welcomed by the audiences.

Germany is the most musical nation: this was soon after the war and they were starved of music and extremely appreciative. Though we did have to learn the rules in Germany: it is accepted that you will never arrive at a rehearsal place either before or after the stated time. The great bonus was going to smaller cities and towns, such as Goslar in the Hartz Mountains and Konzertdirektion Schmid organised the tour so that our once-weekly free day always occurred in Goslar. Some of the more serious members of the orchestra went exploring the evening we arrived, but others went shopping - to the grocery stores and the wine shops. The wooden hotel we stayed in had a balcony running round the courtyard, and the players stored their newly acquired salamis, cheese and wine out on the balcony overnight, and the next day indulged in a mammoth feast - which they slept off before the evening concert in Goslar church. One year, Neville waited until it was very dark, then crept along the balcony, bringing back the caches of food and the bottles of wine, which filled our bedroom with a powerful aroma that gave us hectic dreams. Quite early the next morning, we snuck out of the hotel to have our breakfast in a cafe some way off. Once the thefts were discovered, Neville was naturally the prime suspect, and we returned to find our room empty of food - and also all our possessions!


I think a lot of the strong feeling of friendship and family that the Academy still possesses was bred at that time, when the band was small - a time of learning for us all, but also of great reward.”

(Neville and Janet Baker at the B minor Mass recording sessions)

David Attenborough got to know Neville and Molly in these very early days - when Neville and most of the other members of the Academy were still players in the London Symphony Orchestra. When the LSO made its first tour to Japan, David was tasked with to film them. Here he is telling Molly about his first meeting with Neville: https://youtu.be/YfKMvVc440E Onward now to a destination that will produce a sombre post tomorrow. But thinking about the Academy, as I pedal on through the waterlogged landscape of Wannsee toward Potsdam, I shall listen to an amazing recording (Erik Smith was the producer) made by Neville and the Academy of Britten's Curlew River.

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