Principal flute with the LPO who played with easy vitality
The easy vitality of the flautist Richard Adeney, who has died aged 90, made him a very popular soloist and recitalist. He appeared with several of the chamber orchestras that began to flourish after the second world war, and was a leading light of the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) for two separate periods. The first of these started in 1941: the following year he became principal flute, and he stayed until 1950. Then came freelancing with the London Mozart Players, the Goldsbrough Ensemble (later the English Chamber Orchestra), the Boyd Neel Orchestra and the New London Orchestra. As a chamber musician, Adeney was a founder member of the Melos Ensemble.
The Royal College of Music (RCM) offered him a professorship, but after one afternoon of teaching he decided that it was not for him. His lifelong friend Malcolm Arnold – they met at the RCM, and were colleagues in the LPO, where Arnold was principal trumpet – wrote his Sonatina for him, as well as two concertos, which Adeney recorded with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta in 1972. Adeney was also involved in the first performances of a number of Arnold chamber works, starting with a Grand Fantasia for flute, trumpet and piano in 1938, and including, five years later, the Three Shanties for Wind Quintet.
After a decade of freelancing, Adeney found that he missed the discipline of orchestral playing. In 1961 he returned to the LPO as first flute, and remained there for nine years. This second period was less rigorous than the first, and he was able to take time off to travel and develop his considerable skill as a photographer. He played in the Aldeburgh festival for many years, taking part in Benjamin Britten's Church Parables, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Death in Venice, as well as Britten's television opera Owen Wingrave.
In 1970, due to the constant high level of sound in the orchestra, he began to go deaf. So he left the LPO and returned to playing in "quieter music". After a year, his hearing returned to normal, but on a London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) tour to South America with Claudio Abbado in 1972, he began to lose confidence in his playing. He stopped at the age of 70.
Adeney came from an artistic background. At the time of his birth, his father, the painter Bernard Adeney, was married to the artist Thérèse Lessore; she later married Walter Sickert. His mother, Noël (nee Gilford), was also a talented artist, and their circle of friends included Henry Moore and many of the Bloomsbury group.
His love affair with the flute began at Bryanston school in Dorset when he was 14. He happened to hear a recording of the French flautist Marcel Moyse playing a Mozart concerto. It made him cry uncontrollably, completely unaware of his fellow students. On a later visit to an Essex music camp with his parents, he heard the sound of an orchestra for the first time, and it had the same effect on him.
In his own words, he "managed to avoid being educated" at Bryanston. A battered old flute was found for him at the school and he had lessons with a local bandmaster. From the moment he held the flute in his hands he lived from one orchestral rehearsal to the next. The flute also provided an emotional outlet for his feelings of anxiety, and sometimes misery, about his homosexuality.
At the age of 15, he had some lessons with John Francis, who found him a Rudall Carte wooden flute. He had further lessons with Frank Butterworth, who played in the French style, using vibrato on a silver flute. Adeney gained entry to the RCM at the age of 17, studied with Robert Murchie, first flute with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and managed to avoid everything in the curriculum except flute-playing.
After a year he was advised by his teacher and the director of the RCM to try another profession. Supported by his parents, he went to Gordon Walker of the LSO for a second opinion, and was recommended to continue his studies. His first professional engagement, aged 18, was to play in Bach's St Matthew Passion for Ralph Vaughan Williams in Dorking, Surrey, an overwhelming experience. He made many lifelong friends at the RCM – as well as Arnold, the pianist Maria Donska and the viola player Cecil Aronowitz – and from them he caught a new self-confidence and optimism. A conscientious objector, he did not enlist in the armed forces during the second world war. Instead he joined the Wessex Philharmonic under the young conductor Reginald Goodall, and survived on minimal wages in Bournemouth. Then Arnold got him a trial week with the LPO.
Once he stopped playing in orchestras, other interests and friendships took over. Conscious of his good fortune, Adeney had joined the Samaritans in 1965, and served with them for the next 25 years.
When young he had listed three important ambitions: to be the best flute player in the world, to have as much sex as possible and to understand the meaning of life. Although he admitted to having fully achieved only one of these three, he enjoyed a happy and fulfilling existence. He is survived by a nephew.
• Richard Gilford Adeney, flautist, born 25 January 1920; died 16 December 2010
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