Inspiring clarinettist who played a key role in new music and performance on period instruments

Alan Hacker, who has died aged 73, was a musician of unusually wide-ranging interests and enthusiasms. As a clarinettist he inspired many composers, who often exploited the extended techniques that he had developed. His relationship with Harrison Birtwistle was especially strong and long-lasting, and his playing is commemorated in many works written for the Fires of London by Peter Maxwell Davies.

In the 1960s he was active in reviving the basset clarinet, the instrument with an extended lower range for which Mozart wrote his quintet and concerto. This led Alan to play a crucial part in the revival of interest in historically aware performance of baroque, classical and early romantic music. Increasingly over the years, he combined his playing with an extensive conducting career.

Born in Dorking, Surrey, into a music-loving family, Alan attended Dulwich college, London, before studying at the Royal Academy of Music, where he won a travelling scholarship that enabled him to study in Paris with Louis Cahuzac, and in Vienna with Alfred Boskovsky. One of his teachers at the academy was Reginald Kell, who recommended that Alan, aged 19, become a teacher there. He joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra as second clarinet at the same time.

In 1966 Alan suffered a spinal thrombosis that resulted in permanent paralysis. As a wheelchair user, he was unable to continue at the LPO – he always felt that the orchestra should have been more ready to accommodate a disabled member – and so developed a solo career. I remember hearing the broadcast premiere of Birtwistle's Ring a Dumb Carillon, for soprano (Noelle Barker), clarinet and percussion (Tristan Fry) only a few weeks after Alan became ill. Later I learned that he had come straight from hospital to make this live broadcast. Afterwards, he had insisted that Tristan take him out for a curry.

I met Alan in the early 1960s, but got to know him much more closely when, in 1967, I joined the recently founded Pierrot Players. As a relatively inexperienced violinist, I found him enormously encouraging and helpful, as well as an inspiring and challenging colleague. He played a leading role in the Brighton Festival Ensemble that year – the festival's first – and, shortly afterwards, in Alexander Goehr's Music Theatre Ensemble.

In the early 1970s Alan founded two further groups. The Music Party, devoted to 18th and early 19th-century music, made pioneering original instrument recordings, ranging from Haydn's Notturnos for the King of Naples to Carl Maria von Weber's Grand Duo for clarinet and piano, with Richard Burnett. The other, the Matrix, with the soprano Jane Manning, introduced many important works by Birtwistle and also demonstrated Alan's broad, inclusive approach – its regular line-up included the jazz saxophonist Tony Coe.

By this time, the Pierrot Players, in which Maxwell Davies and Birtwistle were both active, had become the Fires of London, directed by Maxwell Davies. Alan continued to play with them until 1976.

In that year he was appointed to a lectureship at York University, where, with colleagues such as the composers David Blake and Bernard Rands, and the performers Peter Seymour and Graham Treacher, he brought his energy and independent thinking to bear on historic and contemporary performance issues. In York, too, he became involved in the Early Music Festival, forged an alliance with the Fitzwilliam String Quartet, and founded the Classical Orchestra, which he conducted in a repertoire ranging from Haydn to Mendelssohn – many of the performances being "firsts" on original instruments. From the mid-1980s, he established the period instrument orchestra at the Dartington summer school in Devon, bringing his radical thoughts on performing practice to amateur musicians.

Alan continued to perform new music as a clarinettist, but from this time on he began to be in demand as an opera conductor, appearing in Sweden, Spain, Canada, Italy (La Fenice, in Venice), England (Opera North) and several centres in Germany. He forged an especially close connection with Stuttgart Opera, returning to take charge of productions ranging from Monteverdi (Ulisse), through Purcell and Handel to Mozart. His operatic repertoire also included contemporary music: Judith Weir's The Vanishing Bridegroom and Birtwistle's Io Passion, which he directed from the clarinet.

Alan was appointed OBE for services to music in 1988 and gained an honorary doctorate from York in 2004. In recent years, with the assistance of his wife, Margaret, he held workshops at his house in North Yorkshire.

A conversation with Alan always brought new insights, yet he seemed most interested in what you had to say. His many activities were characterised by thoroughness – the set-up of an instrument, physical aspects of musical performance, details of research. His commitment and independence of thought led to music-making that could make some listeners feel uncomfortable – those who preferred always to hear smooth, consoling sounds. But, when appropriate, he produced memorably beautiful sounds on his clarinet.

Alan was married three times: to Anna, with whom he had two daughters, Katie and Sophie; to Karen, with whom he had a son, Alcuin; and to Margaret. They all survive him.

Alan Ray Hacker, clarinettist, teacher and conductor, born 30 September 1938; died 16 April 2012

Alan Hacker on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs

Duncan Druce
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