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Sir Philip Ledger (1937-2012)
20 November 2012
Sir Philip Ledger (r) with Sir David Willcocks (c) and Stephen Cleobury (l)Maggie Heywood
Sir Philip Ledger, who has died at the age of 74, had the unenviable task of ‘following that’ when in 1974 he became director of music at King’s College, Cambridge, in succession to David Willcocks, who had held the post since 1957; when he inevitably began to vary the diet of Willcocks arrangements in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols with a wider palette of works, including some of his own, he became the first director to whom choristers complained, ‘Sir, when are we going to do the real ones?’ King’s was a task to which Philip Ledger was well-suited – after taking a first class degree in music there, he became the youngest cathedral organist in the country at the time of his appointment at Chelmsford in 1961; the East Anglian horizons of the Essex-born musician were widened when in 1965 he was asked to help found a music centre at the recently-established University of East Anglia in Norwich. With Aldeburgh as the epicentre of international music-making in the region, Ledger’s work brought him into the circle of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears: he served as joint artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival and made numerous appearances as conductor and keyboard player – he played Britten’s only solo organ work, the Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Victoria at the composer’s funeral in Aldeburgh Church in 1976. As a recording artist, Philip Ledger partnered ex-King’s tenor Robert Tear in Schubert’s Die Winterreise (ASV) and conducted Janet Baker in Fauré’s Requiem (EMI); his recording of Elgar’s Coronation Ode with Felicity Lott and his own Cambridge University Musical Society chorus, also for EMI, exploited to the full not only the brilliantly resonant acoustics of King’s College Chapel, but the full dynamic range of the digital recording medium.
Ledger set a very high bar for all of the music-making around King’s; he modernised the sound of the Choir and left Cambridge in 1982 to succeed Sir David Lumsden as principal of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, where he set about building a new £16m home for the institution. He was knighted in 1999; a lifelong writer, composer and editor, Sir Philip composed prolifically following his retirement in 2001, publishing his Requiem: A Thanksgiving for Life (2007), and The Risen Christ (2011). A setting of the Christmas story with five original carols, The Holy Child, was due to be premiered on December 16.
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