Countless musicians and others who have worked in the classical music industry across South Africa have paid tribute to Dr David Tidboald, the British born conductor who died this week at the age of 92.
Following his first visit to South Africa as the touring accompanist to the ballerina, Beryl Grey, David Tidboald returned to these shores on several occasions, before settling in Cape Town. He went on to become one of the most important figures of this country's classical music landscape, as mentor to generations of young musicians, and as one of our foremost conductors and music directors. In November 1957, Tidboald made his mark for the first time on the Cape Town concert podium, conducting the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra, later renamed the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra. Three years later he was appointed its Orchestral Director which he remained until 1965. He continued conducting in Cape Town between return trips to the UK that year to conduct major orchestras in his home country.
In 1970 with the formation of the former Cape Performing Arts Board (CAPAB), Tidboald became the core founder of its orchestra for opera and ballet performances, recruiting some 45 musicians, some of whom came from the UK, Germany and France. His legacy to the city remains the annual youth music festival, his brainchild, which in two years or so will be celebrating its half century in the Mother City.
Two years after leaving CAPAB in 1981, Tidboald was asked to establish the former Natal Philharmonic Orchestra in Durban. Today's standing of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic as Africa's premier orchestra is a testament to the work of Dr Tidboald, its founder. Bongani Tembe, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the KZN and Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestras, who worked with Dr Tidboald in the 1980’s and 90’s, expressed sadness at the veteran conductor’s passing. “He was still exuberant when he attended our Youth Concerto Festival Concert last September. His legacy will live on through this important event which he founded, and which has taken place annually in Durban since 1985, as well as through our education and community engagement programmes, where we nurture talent whilst instilling a love for music in the younger generation. On behalf of the KZN Philharmonic, I extend my deepest condolences to Dr David Tidboald’s family and friends. Musicians and concert goers alike will remember him with reverence, appreciation and love.”
Born in England in 1926 in the historic naval port of Plymouth, David Tidboald commanded an immense symphonic, opera and ballet repertoire, collaborating with legions of world renowned artists throughout his distinguished career. After his retirement, the celebrated conductor’s legendary gifts as a raconteur found a platform when he set down his candid memoir, People I Made Music With.
In the wake of the great man's passing, social media has been flooded with personal reminiscences of those who engaged with him down the years.
I asked pianist Andrew Warburton, who cut his professional eye teeth under the august aegis of Dr Tidboald, to share some memories: "I first met David in 1987 after freshly graduating, and feel immensely privileged to have worked with him so extensively over the years. He conducted many of my concerto performances, including the Tchaikovsky 2nd, Prokofiev 3rd, and the Samuel Barber, which we had to perform twice daily for ballet performances at the State Theatre in Pretoria and the Nico in Cape Town. I have worked with many conductors, but never have I experienced the solid wall of sound that he achieved from the orchestra, which was almost overwhelming, especially in works of the Romantic era in which he felt most at home.”
“His Salome will long be remembered for this reason, although at the time I was a nervous wreck, being completely wet behind the ears and having to negotiate the treacherous celeste part whilst being scowled at! I also played for stage rehearsals of at least 20 operas and ballets that he conducted, and his acerbic wit was a constant feature of these rehearsals.”
“I remember two of his remarks vividly: the first was during rehearsals for Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, in Barbarina's aria in Act 4. This character is meant to walk forlornly across the stage looking for a pin which she has lost, but on this occasion she dashed about as if on speed, which was entirely inappropriate to her slow, F minor music. David turned to me and said 'You know, I've never thought of Barbarina as being the village idiot before.' And another time during rehearsals for Fidelio the set was literally collapsing when he shouted at the stage manager from the pit, ‘Have you got a bit of chewing gum or something?’”
“His respect for the art of music was deep and always evident, as was his desire to nurture talented young musicians and singers, instilling wisdom which will not be forgotten. He was a force of nature, and will be sorely missed.”