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Home Who's who Bishops The Right Reverend Nicholas Holtam. Sermons, articles, and speeches Address at a Celebration of the Life of Sir Neville Marriner, 19 November 2016

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Address at a Celebration of the Life of Sir Neville Marriner, 19 November 2016

by glynch — last modified 20 Nov, 2016 10:16 PM

Bishop Nicholas gave the address at a celebration of the life of the conductor Sir Neville Marriner, held at St Martin in the Fields, London, on 19 November 2016

St Martin-in-the-Fields, according to Dick Sheppard who became the Vicar in November 1914, “Is the greatest church in the greatest Square in the greatest city in the world”. People come here for all sorts of reasons. Yes, for worship and the love of the Lord Jesus but also for community (where better?), for the care of the least, the last and the lost, and for music. When I was the Vicar most Sundays a visitor would ask, “Is Sir Neville here today?” 

St Martin’s has an outstanding record of innovation:  London’s first free lending library; a school for girls as well as boys over 300 years ago; St Martin’s school of Art; and in the Twentieth Century opening the church to troops in the First World War that was the beginning of London’s oldest day centre for homeless people, the first broadcast service anywhere in the world, and the founding of Amnesty International, Shelter and the launch of the Big Issue. And in 1958 the founding of The Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields. Austen Williams was the Vicar at the time. When he died in 2001 Daphne his widow said, “Austen never thought he did very much. He just said ‘Yes’ whenever he could.” 

That was an important instinct. When I became Vicar in 1995 the two questions which I thought needed answering for the future of St Martin’s were whether the BBC and The Academy would come back? The Academy hadn’t played here for 7 or 8 years. On this occasion it was Neville who said ‘Yes’. He also said, “When are you going to decorate the church? It looks dreadful.” 

Decorating the church was a bigger project than any of us then realised. If the church looked dreadful the burial vaults under the courtyard were worse. By John Nash, state of the art care for the dead in 1828 but condemned as unfit for the dead by 1848, and used by the living throughout the Twentieth Century – the Social Care Unit, Chinese People’s Day Centre, Parish Hall, Music Rehearsal Room and lots of room for storage. They were damp, airless and asked little from the people who used them, which was also their strength in providing room for all sorts of people. 

The Renewal of St Martin-in-the-Fields took 13 years from beginning to end and Neville and Molly were brilliant friends and supporters. Molly introduced all sorts of people who helped us in Hong Kong and the US as well as in London. We launched the American Friends of St Martin’s after an Academy concert at the Lincoln Centre in New York and had a wonderful evening in Minneapolis were Neville and Molly have so many friends and where the church also had its strongest US support. There were some wonderful musical events. Andrew Marriner played at a reception in the Crypt. The Academy in various forms played and sang in church. Bob Tear offered a master class. A very small changing room is named after him. He was thrilled: ‘I have never had a room named after me before”, he said. “I have been metamorphosed.”  Neville insisted on good rehearsals so the music rehearsal room is named after him. Nowadays, Sir Neville is here at St Martin’s every day. 

I asked Molly about that wonderful piece by Mendelssohn we have just heard. “If anyone was upbeat it was Neville”, she said. “It is one of the most beautiful pieces ever written. Mendelssohn was only in his teens. It was usually played by two quartets and sometimes it would feel like a competition between the two leaders. The BBC asked The Academy to perform it at a Prom. Neville was first violin. After that Neville gave it to Iona (Brown) as he said she was a better player.” 

There we have the character: an appreciation of the brilliance of youth, the willingness to do things different by playing it properly as an octet, to a very high standard, recognising his own gifts and the gifts of others. 

Neville’s father was a chapel organist in Lincoln and put on Oratorio in which from the age of nine Neville played. Perhaps that is why he understood music in the life of this church as well as anyone has ever done?  He and The Academy have added greatly to St Martin’s. What is St Martin’s known for?  Worship, feeding people, broadcasting, being open to the world and, of course, music. Neville and The Academy are part of that great St Martin’s tradition and they took the church’s name around the world. He was as at home in the great concert halls of the world as when touring in the not so great towns of the Mid-West, Germany or at the Beaminster Music Festival a few miles from home on the western edge of the Diocese of Salisbury. 

As Rob Key, for many years Salisbury’s MP and a Tenor in The Academy Chorus, said yesterday, “Neville’s genius added joy and awe to our soul’s journey”. 

The book of Psalms ends with the Psalm 150, often sung in cathedrals and musical churches at the end of an act of worship. It is just right at the end of Neville’s life as we give thanks for and celebrate Neville who was a life force and who, thank God, was conducting to the end.

Praise God in his holiness: praise him in the firmament of his power.
Praise him in his noble acts:  praise him according to his excellent greatness.
Praise him in the sound of the trumpet: praise him upon the lute and harp.
Praise him in the cymbals and dances: praise him upon the strings and pipe.
Praise him upon the well tuned cymbals: praise him upon the loud cymbals     
Let everything that hath breath: praise the Lord. Amen. Amen. Amen.

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