Influential orchestral trombonist with a smooth, flowing style
Arthur Wilson, who has died aged 83, will be remembered as the truly inspirational trombonist of his generation. He was a principal with the Philharmonia Orchestra and the English Chamber Orchestra, a founder member of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, co-principal at the Royal Opera House and taught at the Royal College of Music, in London. He played under the greatest conductors of the 20th century, including Herbert von Karajan, Otto Klemperer, Arturo Toscanini, Wilhelm Furtwängler and Carlo Maria Giulini. Many leading professional players looked to him as a teacher and mentor.
He was born in Battersea, south London, the second of five children. His father and grandfather were both trombonists. Arthur was evacuated in the second world war, but soon returned to London. He left school at 15 and found work in a munitions factory. A year later his father lent him his first instrument, but Arthur received no formal tuition and the trombone soon had to be returned. Showing a determination that was to mould his life, Arthur simply went around London junkshops to find enough pieces to make an instrument.
In June 1944, after a V1 rocket hit the guards' chapel on Birdcage Walk, near Buckingham Palace, resulting in the deaths of several bandsmen, Arthur joined the Coldstream Guards as a replacement player. The band schedule allowed players time to attend the Royal College of Music as exhibitioners where, with brass players in short supply, bandsmen would often play in the college orchestra in return for a weekly lesson. One of his fellow students, Evan Watkin, became a great influence and showed a style of playing that was distinct from the prevalent Tommy Dorsey style. But when Arthur played at variety shows in Poplar, east London, audiences wanted him to blow louder and threw orange peel and apple cores at him.
Briefly, in 1950, he joined the London Symphony Orchestra and, in 1951, arrived at the Philharmonia Orchestra, which had been formed by Walter Legge, then a mover and shaker at EMI. With a guaranteed 300 recording sessions each year, the orchestra grew to be a household name. In 1964, Arthur became heavily involved in trying to secure the orchestra's future after Legge proposed its disbandment. He helped it become a flourishing co-operative, renamed the New Philharmonia. It travelled the world and was the first British orchestra to tour South America. Arthur recalled that a poster printed the name of one of the three conductors incorrectly as "Pope Stanley" instead of "Stanley Pope" and, as a result, "being Catholic countries, the concerts were packed".
The London orchestras of the 60s played with identifiable characteristics and players had individual sounds. Arthur's playing was highly recognisable, with its smooth, flowing line and extremes of dynamic. He aimed to achieve a unity of style with perfect blend, balance and intonation. He also stood out because he was arguably the first player to reintroduce the alto trombone to the UK. Works written for alto trombone, such as Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, had been habitually played using tenor trombone. Arthur did more than anyone to re-establish the alto trombone in modern British orchestras. He played it for countless recordings, such as Riccardo Muti's Philharmonia recording of Robert Schumann's symphonies.
The orchestra reverted to the Philharmonia name in 1976, and Arthur remained with it for another two years. Meanwhile, in 1967 Arthur became professor of trombone at the Royal College of Music. He held the post until he retired aged 72. By that time, his teaching had become legendary. The National Youth Orchestra engaged Arthur to coach them and he was asked to coach the entire brass of the Gothenburg Opera orchestra in Sweden.
Arthur's approach to playing and life touched everyone. He loved jazz and had a lifelong passion for cricket – a day at Lord's with a friend, a bottle of wine and a picnic was his idea of heaven. He was a man of integrity and honesty who would always offer help and support.
On a concert tour to Barcelona in 1976, Arthur met Fiona Grant; their true and secure relationship led to marriage in 1991. She survives him, along with his brothers, Brian and Stuart.
• Arthur John Wilson, trombonist, born 21 June 1927; died 10 July 2010
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