Inspirational artistic director of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Roderick Brydon, who has died aged 71, was a leading figure in Scottish music-making and a conductor with an international reputation for more than a quarter of a century. As the first artistic director of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO), he laid the foundations for the ensemble that were to stand it in good stead in the decades to come. His association with the Scottish National Orchestra and with Scottish Opera, for whom he conducted more than 20 productions over a period of 25 years, also consolidated his position. But, having been passed over for the conductorship of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in the early 1980s, he began to work more frequently abroad, making an impact particularly in the opera houses of Switzerland and Australia, but still appearing from time to time in his native Scotland until incapacitated by ill health in recent years.
Born in Edinburgh, he was educated at Daniel Stewart's college there, studying thereafter at Edinburgh University and in Vienna and Siena (where his teachers included Sergiu Celibidache). From 1963 to 1969 he was a staff conductor at Sadler's Wells Opera, with which he made his debut in Verdi's Attila (1964). In 1965, he became associate conductor of the Scottish National Orchestra – an ensemble (from 1991 the Royal Scottish National Orchestra) he was to conduct throughout his life – and in the same year he also made his debut with Scottish Opera in Madama Butterfly.
As founder of the SCO in 1975, Brydon inaugurated a vehicle intended to bring small-scale classical music, not least contemporary works, to the whole of Scotland. Touring throughout the country, including the Highlands and Islands, the SCO also has an international profile continued by its later principal conductors, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Ivor Bolton, Joseph Swensen and Robin Ticciati. With Charles Mackerras, who was conductor laureate until his recent death, the ensemble made prizewinning recordings of Mozart symphonies. It was Brydon's vision that set all this in train, and he continued in the post of artistic director until 1983.
His chief posts overseas in subsequent years were as general music director at Lucerne Opera (1984–87), where he conducted such works as Carmen, Don Giovanni, Albert Herring and Fidelio, and musical director at Berne Opera (1988–90), where he tackled A Village Romeo and Juliet, Capriccio, Peter Grimes and Parsifal. In these years he also undertook guest engagements in Hanover, Copenhagen, Karlsruhe, Bordeaux, Geneva and Venice.
A new phase of his career began in 1991 when he made his Australian debut conducting Madama Butterfly for Victoria State Opera, an engagement that led to further work on that continent, including a Lucia di Lammermoor in Sydney in 1996. The highlight of those years was undoubtedly Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in Baz Luhrmann's sensational production, brought from Sydney to the Edinburgh International Festival in 1994. Luhrmann relocated the action to India under the British Raj and filled the stage area with an enormous bandstand. The members of the SCO were dressed as military bandsmen and were conducted by Brydon sporting a military moustache. Not only did he succeed in – appropriately enough – maintaining musical discipline, but he brought commendable refinement also to the more poetic passages of the score.
In fact, Britten was a composer with whom Brydon had long established a rapport. In 1966, he had championed Albert Herring both at home and abroad. In Geneva, he had conducted a highly praised Turn of the Screw in 1981 and a powerful Billy Budd in 1994. A gripping Rape of Lucretia and a fine Death in Venice, brought to Edinburgh from Geneva, were also among his achievements.
The qualities for which Brydon was most highly regarded were the tautness of his rhythm, his unobtrusive musicality and the support he gave his singers. On the concert platform he was valued for his espousal of the work of Scottish composers: he gave the world premiere of Iain Hamilton's Third Symphony at the BBC Proms in 1982.
For the past few years he had lived in Scotland, to be close to friends and family. He is survived by his wife, Pamela, and their son and daughter.
• Roderick Brydon, conductor, born 8 Jan 1939; died 23 June 2010
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