Wednesday 26 November 2008

Richard Hickox (1948 - 2008)

I first saw Richard Hickox conduct in Manchester in the mid 1970's (probably 1974). He was the conductor in the Royal Northern College of Music's production of Aida. I don't recall that any of the production's singers went on to be famous but it was conducted by Hickox who would have been in his late 20's. Looking back on it, it was an incredible achievement for a young conductor. [Having done a little research it turns out that John Rawnsley was, I think, the Amonasro in that production]

He came back into my purview in the 1980's when I came to live in London. Initially I sang with the London Philharmonic Choir and Hickox was known because he conducted the LSO Chorus. He used to conduct large scale choral works with them on Sunday evenings at LSO concerts. My main feelings about his conducting was that he was more than competent but rather uninteresting; the most interesting thing was his repertoire.

Hickox remained on the radar and cropped up periodically. He did one or two very good things at the Spitalfields Festival, especially the 1985 Handel Alcina with Arleen Auger (which was subsequently recorded). Out of this, there were attempts to form an opera company. They subsequently did Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea, again with Auger and Della Jones, but this was not so successful. I also remember an interesting take on Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream.

Hickox's recordings usually came to my attention because of their interesting repertoire, though I must confess that I don't have that many on my shelves. In areas of interest such as RVW, I tended to prefer other conductors. But somewhere along the way he grew into a conductor of stature, giving performances of interest. I am not quite sure when this happened. The Barbican performance of RVW's Pilgrim's Progress was very notable (it was subsequently recorded) but I felt that the performance this summer at Sadler's Wells had far greater stature, no matter what you thought about the relative merits of Gerald Finley and Roderick Williams as Pilgrim. But where I was most impressed was with the sequence of RVW symphonies that Hickox did with the Philharmonia. These were all revelations and I now deeply regret that we could not make the first in the series which included the Sea Symphony.

Some conductors only really develop into interesting personalities in old age; Mackerras is a prime example. I began to feel that this was what was happening to Hickox and that he had the most interesting 20 years of his career ahead of him. I never had any really idea of his age, except to know that he must have been around 5 years older than me (in fact 8). He never seemed to age and even in his 40's looked like the same little boy of 20 years earlier. Unfortunately we'll never know what sort of conductor he would have developed into, but at least we have his astounding catalogue of recordings to listen to.

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