Obituary: Jack Brymer ; Principal Clarinettist in Sir Thomas Beecham's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Bullamore, Tim, The Independent (London, England)
THE CLARINETTIST Jack Brymer was one of the key figures in Sir Thomas Beecham's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra after the Second World War.
He was a young teacher who played the clarinet for pleasure when his former army colleagues suggested Beecham should hear him. Brymer refused to take them seriously. But Beecham meant business. It was 1946 and the maestro had a vacancy to fill in the RPO after the departure of Reginald Kell, his principal clarinettist.
Brymer's first professional notes were at the EMI studios with Beecham in front, the RPO all around and, as he recalled, "an old man in a raincoat leaning over my shoulder to mark the part of his Heldenleben - Richard Strauss in the last year of his life". Brymer remained with the orchestra until 1963, three years after Beecham's departure, by which time he was a household name.
Although he was enticed to the BBC Symphony Orchestra by William Glock, when Pierre Boulez became principal conductor Brymer found the sound no longer to his taste. The cosy, fireside warmth of the mellow tone favoured by Brymer was out; Boulez needed a sound that was avant-garde, harsher, more cutting in its edge.
But the Beecham days were the glory days. Brymer dined out, although not unreasonably so, on Beecham anecdotes for the rest of his life. Writing of the conductor in the Dictionary of National Biography he noted, "Punctuality was not among his most noticeable virtues."
From time to time he stepped in to rescue Beecham in mid- performance, such as the occasion when Beecham - who had a blind spot over Ravel - programmed the composer's Daphnis and Chloe Suite at the Royal Festival Hall in 1956. He conducted from memory, but came to grief after the huge climax in the Danse generale. Brymer, with the help of the horn player Dennis Brain, held the whole thing together until the viola entry that took the orchestra, and Beecham, safely home.
Rarely, if ever, did he forget a name or a colleague, and his musings were always informative, such as about a one-time leader of the RPO:
I wonder what would have been his fate had he been around 30 years later: he was sacked on the spot for smoking and drinking a bottle of beer over the High Altar of Canterbury Cathedral.
Jack Brymer was born in 1915 in South Shields, the son of a builder. His father left an old clarinet lying on the mantelpiece, and Brymer taught himself to play. As a youngster he experienced many types of music - jazz, light music, brass-band concerts, circuses even. He later declared that "there is not a single one of these which has not been of great value to me professionally". His first experience of ensemble playing was "in a tiny darkened room in a tram depot, sitting on a bench with about six other clarinet- blowing members of DLI First Cadet Battalion Military Band". He was also a superb rugby player.
He first grew to admire Leon Goossens at the age of 13 when he heard the oboist play Ravel's Habanera in a BBC recital. "In that special moment I became aware of the sounds of the Spanish night, of warmth and mystery," he recalled. "It was an equal revelation every time thereafter when I heard him perform either on radio or on record." From then on he sought out every opportunity to hear wind players, and to learn from their sound.
Having spent his youth playing in bands, jazz outfits and ad hoc municipal orchestras in the North-East, Brymer moved to London in 1933, studying at Goldsmiths' College (ironically later to become a centre for orchestral studies, but in the 1930s an institution churning out teachers). …