Max – recorded reminiscences
As Judith Weir so rightly said in her touching tribute to Max yesterday on BBC Radio 3, when a composer passes, they leave the legacy of their work, through which they ‘live on’. As we sadly mourn the passing of Max – surely one of our most distinctive voices – that is even more so, given the legacy which exists through recordings of his work. During the late '80s and throughout the 1990s I was privileged to work closely with Max during my time running the independent label Collins Classics. We had an exclusive contract with Max and over that decade we released an astonishing 20+ albums of his work, most featuring him as conductor. Under the inspired leadership of Trevor Green and Brian Pidgeon, Max had at that time a very close relationship with the BBC Philharmonic and this fruitful partnership saw numerous new commissions, landmark performances, and recordings of some of his most remarkable orchestral and theatrical works. I have countless happy memories of hours spent in the old BBC Studios in Manchester with Max’s long time close friend and musical ally, the indefatigable Veronica Slater, in the producer’s chair (cigarette permanently in hand) as Max joyously (if, as he’d be the first to admit, perhaps not most expertly in terms of baton technique) led the wonderful musicians and friends of that superb ‘band’ from the conductor’s rostrum. The resulting music making was nothing short of inspiring and it was such a privilege to be party to composer and musicians working so closely together, with mutual trust and musical respect. Alongside this we also captured the series of wonderful Strathclyde Concertos, written for principals of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra with whom Max also enjoyed a deep and long lasting friendship, and musical collaboration. We subsequently also worked with both the Philharmonia and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and even with the CBC in Vancouver to record a vast array of the works being created over that time. Following the demise of Collins Classics in 1999, many of these recordings have been re-released over recent years by Naxos, alongside their commissioned 10 Quartets, and I would urge listeners to discover this remarkable catalogue all over again.
My recording path crossed with Max again when I joined NMC in 2003. On the then ‘wish list’ was a desire to release the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s landmark 1996 recording of Max’s epic opera Taverner. It took us a few years, but thanks to the enormous willingness of our friends at the BBC and the numerous artists involved, we managed to balance the budget, clear the rights, and issued the recording in 2009. International Record Review hailed it as being ‘a twentieth-century operatic masterpiece’ and we, and Max, were thrilled to finally make it available internationally.
Max was always so encouraging of aspiring artists and composers so when we devised our Debut Discs series for emerging composers in 2012 I approached him to be the series ambassador. He responded with his usual flair and enthusiasm and was a very vocal champion, and generous supporter, of the endeavour. We’re about to record our twelfth project under the series, and hope to be able to extend it, and I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to this most inspiring, and influential, of musicians. He will be sadly missed, and most fondly remembered.
Anne Rushton, Executive Director, NMC Recordings 15 March 2016
Obituaries from his agent and publisher: