TRIBUTE TO Tony Harrison (1957 - 2012)


The Ysaÿe Sonatas are about friendship as much as anything else. A touching aspect of his opus 27 is his drawing close the qualities in other violinists that he loved.


And it was a great friend who first got me really interested in Ysaÿe the composer. Tony Harrison was starting to gain a reputation as a producer with an approach that went far beyond industry standard techniques when I started to get to know him. He kept on urging me to investigate the man and his music more thoroughly. This recording of the Sonatas then, made so many years later, has got the emblem of our friendship running right through it.


For a while we lost touch in the way that life moves but I was so thrilled that after many years we did finally make a recording together in 2009 with the Walton and Barber concertos. But that was as far as the partnership went as far as tangible results went; shortly after those sessions Tony was diagnosed with a very aggressive lung cancer which after a short reprieve killed him two years later.


The recording of Ysaÿe's extraordinary short work for divided upper strings – violins and violas only – was made only in two takes as I remember, but way back in 1995.  It was a sort of “let’s do the Ysaÿe if we have time” thing after recording Stephen Frost’s oboe concerto across two days, with a freelance band of fine London string players and Tony conducting. With time running out we just had time to do two takes of Exil. I was in the concertmaster’s chair. I felt at the time that Tony had indeed made a great case for the piece but did not expect anything to come of it. It wasn’t given any real attention until he was under sentence of death when he edited it. I well remember him playing me the finished version from his sick bed after many hours of energy sapping work. I was amazed. He was both very proud and rather frustrated – as so little material was there to work with – but he was determined to bring the thing to a finished state. Finishing Exil had become almost an obsession over the last few months allowed him in this life. Those of us lucky enough to be influenced by his ideas and magical abilities can at least listen to this and remember him. Those who never met him will, I hope, hear something of the inspirational presence he was. — Thomas Bowes



I remember the Exil recording sessions as if they were yesterday. In fact it was July 24, 1995. The sessions, however, were not really for Exil – which was to be an add-on, if there were time – but for my Oboe Concerto. This was a big deal for both of us. We were funding it ourselves, with no promise of a label taking it. Nobody knew who we were, Tony Harrison as a conductor and me as a composer, so this was our attempt to move forward into those worlds. The project was enormously stressful, so much so that I completely lost my voice on the first day of recording – not ideal for my first foray into producing. But then I think I was grateful for one so wet behind the ears to have an excuse to be unable to intervene. It was entirely typical of Tony to put his trust in someone so inexperienced as me.


He had done the same a few years earlier when he introduced me to the world of classical music editing, something I was barely aware existed at all. He gave me editing projects that I had no right at that stage to be working on, but he guided me, enthused me, and on more than one occasion saved me from myself. He taught me not just the technical side of editing, but the musical one. Indeed, I quickly learned from him that the musical aspect of editing was, in the end, the only aspect. He showed me that if you go about it in the right way, you can create something that does not feel like a recording but instead much more like a concert, except even better. You really could have the best of both worlds. But the key to all of this, actually, was not so much in the editing but in the producing. In other words you had to generate the right kind of material in order to edit it with this mindset. I have written elsewhere about this approach – all I need to say here is that it all came from my friend and mentor, Tony Harrison.


The Oboe Concerto sessions were difficult. There was not enough time (is there ever?!) and the music was harder than it sounded. Nevertheless somehow we finished with half an hour to go; perhaps we had simply had enough, I think everyone was tired and would have happily called it a day. How lucky I think we are now that we didn't. There was just time to play Exil twice, so, despite our collective lack of energy, that is what we did. Because the piece is for upper strings only, we decided that the orchestra would stand. Even before a note was played, there was a sense that something different was about to happen. Sitting in the control room with my lost voice, like a lost child, I heard the opening few bars and knew immediately that something special was happening. I remember the goosebumps, a feeling of connection, and of elevation.


I know now that in this beginning there was also the sense of an end. From time to time Tony conducted again – there was a remarkable concert he gave with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra – but a career in the notoriously difficult world of conducting was not to be. My composing, too, changed direction and finally morphed into film-making. But we continued to work together in the recording industry, fighting ever-diminishing budgets and schedules, thus making it ever harder to work in the way we wanted.


Sometimes, in the studio, or in the edit suite, there are moments where I doubt my methods, lose confidence, and question my abilities and motives. So I ask Tony what he would do. Of course, he is not there to answer. But then that is the best gift a friend can give you – to be able to answer that question yourself. — Stephen Frost








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