To commemorate the 90th birthday of English conductor Neville Marriner on Tuesday, there are no shortage of recordings to choose from. One of the famous tidbits about him is that he is the most recorded conductor in history. He has made more than 300 recordings, by some estimates, of all sorts of music: Baroque, Romantic, contemporary, choral and opera.
Marriner is particularly associated with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, an orchestra that he founded in 1958 and took to the recording studio sometimes on a weekly basis during the 1960s and '70s. "We were very lucky," he said in a 2009 interview with The Age newspaper in Melbourne, Australia. “Almost from the word go, we were allowed to record things. We sometimes made two or three records in a week."
According to one famous story, the Academy recorded the Mozart horn concertos twice in the one week, with different soloists and for different labels. Marriner's most celebrated ASMIF recordings have been largely focused on the core classical repertoire. They include a 2001 release of Brahms and Stravinsky Violin Concertos with soloist Hilary Hahn; a 1980 version of Haydn's Die Schopfung (''The Creation''); and an all-Vaughan Williams album from 1985, to name just three.
But it is Mozart that has been a Marriner calling card, so much so that when filmmaker Milos Forman was directing his 1984 film "Amadeus,” he turned to the ASMIF for its soundtrack (Marriner agreed to participate provided that Mozart's music was unchanged). Here the orchestra plays the Overture to the Marriage of Figaro at Carnegie Hall in 1994:
Marriner has held several other posts, including a directorship of the Minnesota Orchestra from 1979 to 1986. During that orchestra’s recent 16-month lockout, he warned its board against drastic cuts, speaking out in a letter to the Star-Tribune: “This legacy can be swiftly destroyed, a tragedy not only for lovers of great music, but for the cultural soul and significance of the region,” he wrote in the letter co-signed by former music directors Edo De Waart and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski.
Those forceful words aside, Marriner is known these days for his genial, self-deprecating manner. He also remains remarkably active. He'll be conducting several concerts with the ASMIF in London and in Germany this spring. In an e-mail, his wife, Molly Marriner, said that the conductor will be grateful when his birthday is over so he can concentrate on his tennis game.
Below: Watch Marriner conduct the Orquesta de Cadaqués in Mahler's Symphony No. 1 (First Movement):
Beethoven's Violin Concerto (First Movement) in Tokyo with soloist Arabella Steinbacher: