Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lina Lalandi

For several decades Lina Lalandi was a force in music. When I first came across her in the fifties she was a harpsichordist. She had a mass of black hair, very handsome, elegant, a ball of fire even if her playing wasn't very good. At that time she would take the little recital room in the Festival Hall building. She also demonstrated for Hugh Gough. By a quirk of fate, the two best makers of harpsichord makers lived in the same London street, Pont, and their names were Tom Goff and Hugh Gough. Both were upper-classsuper amateurs; I remember that Hugh could not pronounce his r's "Play the Wameau Pwelude" he would say to Lina.

In 1963 she organised her first Oxford Bach Festival, choosing that town because she had recruited the Professor of Music there, Sir Jack Westrup. Lina had big ideas: her first festival president was Albert Schweitzer; when he died Igor Stravinsky took over;  and when he died Leonard Bernstein replaced him.

William Glock once said that his aim was to programmemusic that people might like 'next year'. With Lina it was music they might like 'next decade'. She put Olivier Messiaen on at Oxford before he became famous and the takings were £27. She gradually moved her festival to London and elsewhere, putting on music by Varèse, Berio and her countrymen Skalkottas and Xenakis. She put on Wameau operas (with something like authentic costumes and dances). She got Stravinsky to conduct his Symphony of Psalms.

But the box office receipts rarely made ends meet. Her long suffering banker husband, Ralph Emery could not persuadeher to cut her cloth etc. Events thinned and finally stopped altogether. But no doubt she thought it was all worthwhile.

The trouble with Lina was that she had always got money and artists to pay and play by persuasion; but she didn't just persuade, she badgered, she nagged; a phone call from Lina could last a whole morning. She was relentless.

Banks, sponsors, supporters gradually gave up. She had been made OBE in 1975. I tried to get her a higher honour, for her to be made an honorary member of the Royal Philharmonic Society. No good, everybody remembered the nagging and bullying phone calls.

It was sad because her intentions were of the best; her taste was impeccable, and her achievements considerable and important.

Lina died June 8 this year, aged 91. 

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