Simon Milliken pictured at a Baroque 2000 publicity photoshoot on Durban’s beachfront
(Image by Val Adamson)
Music lovers in Durban and surrounds have been deeply shocked at news that Simon Milliken, former Principal Double Bassist of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra, met with a violent death on Friday afternoon (31 August 2018).
Milliken retired from the Orchestra last year, but continued to perform on an ad hoc basis with his former colleagues, most recently in concert this past Thursday in the Durban City Hall, during the KZNPO’s current Early Spring Season, performing under the baton of the Hong Kong-born guest conductor, Peri So.
A passionate nature lover, Milliken had taken Mr So on a bird-watching hike in Durban’s Burman Bush Nature Reserve on Friday, when the pair were attacked. The conductor and Milliken fled in opposite directions, Mr So managing to escape unharmed. Tragically, Simon’s body was discovered in the Nature Reserve early this morning (Saturday 1 September). Tributes and expressions of sorrow from friends and colleagues have been pouring in on Facebook for the much-loved musician.
Trumpeter Cathy Peacock, a close friend of Milliken’s, said: “What has happened leaves me beyond words, trying to process this terrible tragedy. Simon was always such a delight to be with, I loved him for his wry wit, for his whole-hearted enjoyment of life, not least his passion for opera, and for his kindly interest in those around him. Working without his benign presence in our midst is going to be very sad for all his friends and colleagues.”
Caroline Smart, theatre personality and owner of the artSmart website, said: “I am really shattered by this devastating news. Simon was a delightful, funny, forward-looking man with a great sense of humour. I have known him since the time he joined what was then the Natal Philharmonic Orchestra, many years ago. He was always courteous and kind. He was also pro-active in ensuring that I had photographs and publicity for the Baroque 2000 concerts. KZNPO concerts will never be the same again without his tall figure and tousled hair in the double bass section. Bless you, Simon – be free in your new celestial home.”
Michel Schneuwly, Founding Director of Baroque 2000, and former Principal Trumpet of the KZNPO, expressed his sorrow at the loss of a longtime friend. “Simon was a founding member of our Baroque 2000 ensemble. Besides assisting in many ways in running this initiative, he never missed taking part a single concert we did. My wife Trui and I shared a special friendship with Simon, and we will miss him very deeply indeed.”
Adrian Bellengere writes: “Simon was the Ringing Master and Chairman of the Durban Guild of Church Bellringers. In actuality, the Durban Guild is pretty much an extended family of which Simon was the older brother - not necessarily in terms of age, but because he was the most experienced bellringer, the one who patiently taught all newcomers this difficult art, who mentored all of us, challenged us, guided us and rang shoulder to shoulder with us. The ringing fraternity in South Africa in general (he was a former Chair of the National Guild) and the Durban bellringers in particular already miss him, and we doubt we will ever recover. Simon learnt to ring at the tower at Fawley in Hampshire, where his father was the Rector. He read music at Exeter University. Besides being the principal double bassist at the KZNPO he played with many other orchestras in Durban and KZN, and was possessed of an incredible and wide ranging knowledge of classical music. Simon also was incredibly knowledgeable about, and had a real passion for, indigenous fauna and flora – was often out hiking and was respected in conservation circles. He contributed photographs to Pooley’s Trees of Eastern South Africa, by Richard Boon. As one of my fellow bellringers wrote – and I cannot do better – he was ‘one of the biggest advocates of music, animals, nature and conservation, as well as bellringing’. To this I might add, that he was possessed of an integrity and moral compass to which some might aspire, but which very few will attain.”
Speaking for myself, I can only second the thoughts and sentiments expressed above. I spent happy hours in Simon’s engaging company, both listening to opera recordings while enjoying his hospitality at his home, and in conversation during the intervals at the many concerts I have attended over the years. Rest in peace, dear kind man.