Memories of Max

Some of our players share their thoughts and memories of our Composer Laureate, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who passed away on 14 March 2016.MAXWELL DAVIES 80th Bday Prom 2014

Steve King, SCO Viola

There are still a few of us in the SCO who were around during the golden age of the Strathclyde Concertos and the other pieces of Max’s that we performed together in Scotland and throughout the world. There are stories there that could fill a book! To this day, he carries forward the flag of true musical individualism – may this carry on for many a year!

As Max passed the magic 80, we looked in wonder at how much more this amazing creative musician would pass on to us in the future. His opus was already huge, with a wide rainbow of diversity in genre and style. I had been on the receiving end of Max's beat for 31 years. I've also been on the receiving end of Max's generosity for 31 years and have had the perfect view of Max, the creative, performing and personal musician, from a very practical angle as a viola player with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.MAXWELL DAVIES 80th Bday Prom 2014

Max is a manifestation of a multi centuries line of mainstream composers in western music that takes us from plainchant of over 1000 years ago, through Perotin, Monteverdi, Bach, Beethoven, Wagner, Schoenberg, Britten. And the spectrum of his influence on others is all around us – the Scottish composer Sir James Macmillan as a fine example, even my path has been driven by his influence. My association with Max as a composer and also his driving influence behind the unique St. Magnus Festival has given me a foundation and inspiration to manifest my own career vision.

However, as a friend it is with great fondness and warmth that I look back on this gentle, kind, thoughtful man and see how important he was in inspiring me to be the person I am now. Always with a twinkle in his eye, and a sense of humour that never ceased to bring a smile to others around him. He was there with a carefully chosen few words during a life’s crisis – words never forgotten that gave me comfort and confidence. He was there for my wedding to my loved wife Anne and joined in the fun and antics, his gift, a specially composed anthem, the theme close to both our hearts, ‘good red wine’!

Cheers Max, you will always remain in my heart. 

Composer and conductor Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
Lorna McLaren, SCO Violin

Max was a joy to know. Always smiling, his warmth and generous spirit was palpable and infected those around him.  He cared about mankind and the human spirit, and this was reflected in his compositions, whether he was writing for the concert hall or friends. He gave us a fantastic musical legacy, not only as a composer, but also as one of the co-founders of the St Magnus Festival in Orkney. As a member of the SCO, it was a privilege to be part of this. 

Alison Green, SCO Bassoon 

So many memories of Max. I was lucky enough to take part in two of the Hoy composers' courses in the 90's. One with Alasdair Nicholson and another with Steve Martland. Max was of course on hand with pearls of wisdom about composition techniques to share with the young composers. We used to huddle into the cold church on Hoy to play through the music produced by the composers then we'd all go next door to the youth hostel to eat together.

It was through this course that I met the Rendalls = Jack, Dorothy (An Orkney Wedding depicts their wedding) and their daughter Lucy (Lullabye for Lucy). We used to see Max striding energetically past their house where we were staying to reach his cottage up the hill.

I remember playing Max's cello concerto with Will Conway as soloist in St Magnus Cathedral MAXWELL-DAVIES, Peter - tartanin Kirkall. It was so atmospheric and it felt like exactly the right place to be playing that concerto.

I remember going to the Ojai Festival in California and playing the newly composed Ojai Festival Overture. I remember talking to Max about the Strathclyde Concertos and asking if he'd thought of composing a concerto for the 2nd players. A twinkle came into his eye and a while after that he composed Strathclyde 9 for the 'Cinderella' instruments as he called them, including me on contra bassoon. 

We did a lovely concert for Max in the BBC Proms in 2014 for his 80th birthday and presented him with his SCO tartan waistcoat. He was so delighted and looked so smart.

Adrian Bornet, SCO Double Bass

Max's generosity of spirit and warm smiling welcome are aspects of his character many know. In relation to the interpretation of his music he could also be most generous. We were rehearsing Orkney Wedding for a coming tour, and really indulging ourselves in the developing drunken scene, whooping and all, when in walked Max. It was obvious he was enjoying these excesses but we were concerned at perhaps overdoing things a bit. His generous response was that the music is as a child having left the family home to be out in the world fending for itself.

We worked with him as conductor over many years, with one or two in the orchestra suggesting very politely ways in which he might improve his style. It could be very amusing, and he was ever a ready learner. But nerves on the podium would sometimes clear his mind of things we might require. The following day would see strenuous efforts to repair things. A time signature of 15/16 could be challenging, but when we performed his works with so-called 'good' conductors the ebb and flow of his music, so influenced by sea and landscape, were never as fluid nor convincing. 

He was reluctant to explain his music in pictorial terms. But there were two occasions I remember well, when we were struggling to find meaning in the dense notation. What exactly was happening, we wanted to know, to help us in the interpretation? Well, he was looking out of his Rackwick cottage window on Hoy, and witnessed a huge shoal of herring thrashing the surface of the water off the bay. Immediately he set to to realise this in notational form, and we had the clue to create a sound world. Another occasion presented us with equally complex ideas. Again the question. He was working in this same cottage during a storm, and for a moment there was a deathly silence. Suddenly a bolt of lightning shot through the room, his hair stood an end and all his recorded material was wiped. The noise was intense; then again the silence before evidence of the storm again intruded. This episode was the inspiration for our questioning.

Through these and many another moment over many years I will always have the fondest of memories.

Maxwell Davies collage