Sad and shocked to hear of Philip’s passing. We met many times over the years and his energy and enthusiasm were exhilarating and inspirational. He was a shining example of everything in music and drama that cannot be taught. He was a truly instinctive performer with a natural intellect (the best sort), extraordinary musicality, and a nose for theatre that straight actors would envy. To say he was a natural stage animal would be to undervalue the preparation and craft that went into everything he did. For Britten he took what Peter Pears had started and took it somewhere else entirely. No one who saw his Peter Grimes or Von Aschenbach in “Death in Venice” will ever forget the experience. I think now of him invoking Socrates to make sense of Aschenbach’s life and unspoken desires: “Does beauty lead to wisdom?” Philip had the answers, he understood the subtext.
I last met him professionally the day before his 70th birthday concert at Wigmore Hall. We were taking stock of his life and career before a small audience. It was like being at home – no attitude, no pretense – just Philip, me, the music, and a few seasoned fans. We talked about a new Birtwistle piece he was performing. He insisted that it was no more demanding than singing Bach (loud characteristic laugh) – the Evangelist in the Matthew Passion was “all over the place”. We all knew what he was saying.
He and I had just days before been blown sideways by Christof Loy’s “Tristan und Isolde” at the Royal Opera. Mutual agreement that this was one of the most accomplished pieces of music drama either of us had ever seen. Philip thought he was a genius – and, coming from him, that was some accolade.
I really can’t believe he’s gone.