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  • Print publication year: 2021
  • Online publication date: April 2021

26 - A Life on the Ocean Wave


CONDUCTING THE VERDI Requiem for my seventieth birthday was a sort of last hurrah. I had achieved my biblical three score years and ten. Life-changes were afoot. Within a few days of the Verdi Requiem, on April 1st 2001 to be exact, Christina and I signed the rental agreement on a handsome 1930s house on the outskirts of Aldeburgh in Suffolk. Christina found it while I was working in Britten's archive at the Red House, exploring the composer's shaky friendship with William Walton. Our new home came with almost an acre of garden. Soon afterwards we managed to sell our Oakwood Court flat in Kensington for about nine times what we had paid for it nineteen years earlier, and in July we quit London. Christina and I definitely wanted this move to the country: we had had enough of traffic jams and permanent roadworks in Kensington High Street, not to mention intrusive year-round building work under our noses in Oakwood Court as wealthy foreigners with black Mercedes limousines manned by twenty-four-hour chauffeurs blighted the Edwardian charm of our much-loved apartment block.

Retirement has never for me been an attractive option but in the early years of the new century it became clear that the people running my stretch of television and radio had concluded that I did not fit into their forward strategy. When Radio 3 had to make financial cutbacks it dispensed with my programme, the enlightening Artist in Focus series, and replaced it with a bland classical music disc-jockey programme running from nine to noon. Verdi's Falstaff with Bryn Terfel in 2001 proved to be the last opera relay I was asked to direct for BBC Television. I had shown them how it was done at the turn of the century with my script for Graham Vick's elaborate production and quite sensibly the BBC then brought in staff directors to replace me (among whom Jonathan Haswell was outstanding). To be fair, I should add that the BBC's director general, Mark Thompson, laid on a very handsome luncheon at which to bid me farewell: I was very touched by the gesture.