Simon Bainbridge Obituary

29th July 2021

Features NMC Recordings

Simon Bainbridge (1952-2021)

by Stephen Montague

It is with great sadness and a deep feeling of loss that I mourn, along with many of you, the loss of one of my closest and oldest friends, Simon Bainbridge, 68. Simon was one of the first composers I met when I arrived in the UK in 1974. I went on to meet him properly a couple years later when I was touring Scotland in 1976 and he was the Forman Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. After my concert at the university we went out for a drink and I was instantly struck by his wicked sense of humour, his wonderful mimicry of composers like Gunther Schuller and Hans Werner Henze as well as a deep sack full of funny stories. I heard more and more of his music as time went by and was particularly struck by Music for Mel and Nora and later his excellent Concertante in moto perpetuo which was his brief flirtation with minimalism. In all his works I was repeatedly taken by his wonderful ear for textures and orchestral colour along with some spectacular instrumental writing. 

I watched in admiration as his career blossomed from those early days culminating in several Proms and winning the biggest prize in contemporary music, the 1997 Grawemeyer Award for Ad Ora Incerta. A couple of days after he had won the $150,000 prize the pianist Stephen Kovacevich and I ran into him in Hampstead Village. After congratulating him on the big win Stephen said: “Okay Simon, I guess you’re buying the coffees then!” Simon replied: “Sorry guys, I actually only got half the money this week.”

I introduced Simon to the soprano Lynda Richardson who later became his wife and together had a daughter, Rebecca, who is a successful actress. Simon was the Best Man at my wedding in 1986 and unleashed his talent for imitations to everyone’s delight. I enjoyed Simon’s raucous laugh, his infectious enthusiasm for all kinds of music and his broad catholic tastes. He loved Debussy, opera, classic jazz like Miles Davis but also musicals Carousel, West Side Story and Sweeney Todd. We had a common interest in Country Music and agreed that nothing could quite grab you like Dolly Parton singing Jolene. He was an excellent cook and loved good food, curries, a fine wine, cigars in the good old days, and foreign travel. If he couldn’t live in London he would have lived in New York and it was there he wished to have visited one last time. But no matter where he was, nowhere was better than café anywhere, having a double expresso and talking music with his friends.

Simon’s last four years were agony after three unsuccessful back operations left him disabled and in constant pain. He was amazingly stoic in the extraordinary way he dealt with his deteriorating condition which near the end included Parkinson’s Disease. It seemed too cruel a finale for someone who had given us so much. He was a bright star in the new music galaxy and that light is now sadly extinguished.

Stephen Montague

© Copyright 2021 Stephen Montague

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