LONDON — Conductor Neville Marriner, who led the Academy of St Martin in the Fields to become one of the world’s most-recorded classical music groups, has died, the academy said Sunday. He was 92.
Marriner, a violinist in the London Symphony Orchestra, joined with several other musicians in 1959 to form a chamber group, which was intended to perform without a leader. The group’s mouthful of a name, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, was inspired by the church in central London where they performed.
“The name was chosen without much thinking because, when we started, we never thought we would even get off the ground,” Marriner once said. “And then we were stuck with it.”
The academy built its reputation with stylish performances of baroque and classical repertoire: Bach, Handel, Mozart and Haydn. From its beginnings, with 18 players, it grew to a full-size orchestra with an affiliated chorus, and it has made more than 500 recordings.
The group’s soundtrack for Milos Forman’s 1984 Oscar-winning “Amadeus,” composed mainly of Mozart pieces, sold millions, becoming one of the best-selling classical recordings of all time.
“We are greatly saddened by today’s news. Sir Neville’s artistic and recording legacy, not only with the academy but with orchestras and audiences worldwide, is immense,” said Paul Aylieff, academy chairman. “He will be greatly missed by all who knew and worked with him, and the academy will ensure it continues to be an excellent and fitting testament to Sir Neville.”
Born in Lincoln, England, to a musical family, Marriner began playing violin at an early age, and won a place at the Royal College of Music. A key influence on his career was his association with the musicologist Thurston Dart, a seminal figure in the early music revival.
Dart and Marriner, who met when both were convalescing from war-time service, teamed up to play duos and worked in a group called the Jacobean Ensemble.
“When you played with him, whatever you did felt right, authentic,” Marriner said. “There was nothing awkward about his playing and it rubbed off on me.”
Marriner was principal second violin in the London Symphony Orchestra when he was one of the founders of the academy.
“I don’t think I was unhappy, but one of the worst things is if a musician feels underemployed, that he has lost his identity and his contribution is negligible,” Marriner said in a 1979 interview with The Associated Press.
“Certainly, one of the reasons the academy was formed was that we felt we did not have enough influence,” he said. “When we started, the ideal was that everyone’s opinion was equally valid,” Marriner said.
“What happened in practice was that we spent so much time talking about it that sometimes we didn’t do anything.”
Thus, Marriner gravitated into conducting and that became his life’s work.
He became music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra from 1968-77. He then became music director of the Minnesota Orchestra 1979-1986, and directed the Radio Symphony Orchestra in Stuttgart, Germany from 1984-89.
Marriner married Mary Elizabeth Sims in 1955. He had a son and a daughter from his first marriage.