Remembering Tony Fell

Tony Fell 1931-2011 (RPS Chairman 1997-2005)
Tony Fell 1931-2011
(RPS Chairman 1997-2005)

In the middle of 1998 I was on maternity leave – I had two very small children: there was NO WAY I was looking for a full time job. Chatting one day to Tony about the intrigues of Robert Kraft and Stravinsky (good gossip), I found myself enquiring idly how on earth he’d got himself involved with the Royal Philharmonic Society – an organisation which, I felt at that time, seemed rather tired.

Tony didn’t waste time. Within 15 minutes his ebullient enthusiasm had convinced me both that the RPS was at heart a radical, progressive organisation with a real potential to make its mark on classical music, and also, somehow, that I would be doing him an extraordinary favour by coming for an interview for the post of Administrator. To my astonishment I found myself agreeing – (albeit rather weakly).

What appealed to me about his approach was his absolute ability to cut through red tape: to know what was important and to see how to make it happen. It was a breath of fresh air for me and for the dusty RPS which he quickly licked in to shape and moved firmly into the 21st century.

We soon established a modus operandi – Tony was my constant sounding board and my ideas were greeted with huge positivity and energy; or alternatively, kindly but firm dissuasion: he was a gentle mentor. I on the other hand learned to respond to random, rapid and unexpected questions from the unfathomability of Microsoft to the best place to buy muslin for culinary purposes.

He believed in the new and the young; and he believed that the RPS could (and should) help and inspire them both. He was endlessly open, curious, excited and appreciative. He was generous and kind (but never wanted to be noticed being so.) He was pragmatic and fearless. If Tony had not thought of selling the RPS archive to the British Library (which both made that valuable resource available to scholars worldwide and bailed the RPS out of a deep financial hole) there simply would not be an RPS now. I for one think that, thanks to Tony, we might have been missed.

The presentation of RPS Honorary Member to Tony last year was an apt and joyful occasion though he himself seemed mildly perplexed by the fuss! From Carl Maria von Weber in 1826 onward, all Honorary Members, whatever their musical role, have in common that they have made a difference to music. Tony made an enormous difference: to music, to the RPS, to me, and to more people in the music world than he can have possibly imagined.

Rosemary Johnson

Beethoven’s Grand Day Out

Smile for the camera! Beethoven and Sandi
Smile for the camera! Beethoven and Sandi

Beethoven is being dusted down in preparation for a rare public appearance this weekend at the Southbank Centre’s Death Festival. When Sandi Toksvig offers up some light-hearted musings on mortality in her Memorial Lecture at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, she will share the stage with an impressive nineteenth-century bust of the composer. Beethoven’s excursion from his home at the Royal Philharmonic Society has already caused consternation. Not only does his colossal weight make transportation troublesome, the size of his bottom has provoked heated debate as we attempt to establish whether or not he’ll fit on the plinth. It’s a good thing he doesn’t seem to be an over-sensitive chap; this kind of talk can really knock a guy’s confidence.

The bust, sculpted by Professor J. Schaller, was given to the RPS in 1871, in recognition of its ‘spontaneous acts of esteem and generosity’ to Beethoven towards the end of his life. Considering that Beethoven wrote his Ninth Symphony for the Society for a fee of £50, it seems to have been a mutually beneficial relationship. He was exhibited at every Society concert and once stood proudly at the entrance of the RPS offices. (Tragically, Ludwig has since been relegated to the store cupboard by overly cautious safety officials who were concerned he could topple over. We wouldn’t want RPS young composers crushed by the weight of Beethoven, it’s true.) His schedule is filling up for 2013 as the RPS bicentenary celebrations promise more special guest appearances around the country. Come and say hello, there’s a warm heart behind the stone cold countenance.

Helen Pearce