Sunday, November 24, 2013

Roger Best

Roger Best was an English violinist, violist, and teacher born (in Liverpool) on September 28, 1936.  I think he is only the sixth violist I have posts on – the others are Alessandro Rolla, Paul Hindemith, Emanuel Vardi, William Primrose, and Walter Trampler.  Every one of them began on violin and later switched to the viola.  Of course, there are many concert violinists who also play viola, even as soloists, but never relinquish violin for viola – Pinchas Zukerman, Maxim Vengerov, Nigel Kennedy, and Wolfgang Mozart are among them.  Best also played other instruments, as did Stephane Grappelli and a few other violinists, but mostly to make a living while he was a student.  He began his violin studies with his father but soon began to study with a professional teacher.  At age 11, he won a scholarship to the Liverpool Institute.  He later won a scholarship to study at the Royal Manchester College of Music – his teacher was Paul Cropper - earning a living touring all over England with various orchestras as well.  Later on, none other than John Barbirolli invited Best to play in the Halle Orchestra, based in Manchester, England.  After two years there, Best joined the Northern Sinfonia as Principal violist.  The orchestra was based in Newcastle, about 300 miles north of London.  Although he sporadically concertized as a soloist, he eventually (by 1972) gravitated toward orchestral playing, performing as a chamber player and studio musician.  He ended up playing in dozens of recordings, though anonymously, as most orchestral players do.  Beginning in 1977, Best was also the violist of the Alberni Quartet but only for a time.  The Alberni has had at least four different violists.  Best was the third in the series.  Among others, Richard Bennett and Malcolm Arnold wrote viola concertos for Best - Best premiered the Arnold concerto in September, 1971 and recorded it later on.  The Bennett concerto he actually premiered in New York in 1973.  Best later taught at the Royal College of Music, the Royal Academy of Music, and the Royal Scottish Academy.  He played an Antonio Mariani viola constructed in 1645, give or take.  The instrument had previously been played by Lionel Tertis.  Best died on October 8, 2013, at age 77.  There is a quote in his obituary which I like: “He also played croquet at national championships level – a game that suited his temperament well, combining as it does courtesy with a killer instinct.” 

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