William Webb

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William Webb, conductor, teacher and musical administrator

Born: 16 October, 1947, in Cardiff Died: 10 February, 2004, in Eastbourne, aged 56

BILL Webb was well known in Scottish musical circles as a founder and first administrator of the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland. In the late Seventies, along with Professor Donald Pack, Colin MacLean, Helen Davidson and other enthusiasts, he steered into existence an orchestra which, 25 years after its inception, is widely recognised as one of the jewels in Scotland’s musical crown.

William Grierson Webb was born in Cardiff and educated at Rugby School. As a schoolboy, he played bassoon in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, before going to Merton College, Oxford, where he read modern languages and became a chorister in the chapel choir. In 1970, he entered the Mozarteum in Salzburg, where he studied conducting, piano, bassoon and composition.

His first musical job, from 1973 to 1976, was as conductor and repetiteur at the Trier Opera House, in Germany, where he gained much experience conducting opera and ballet as well as coaching singers in various operatic roles. His work as a repetiteur was cut short due to problems with his hands which made piano-playing difficult. His move to Scotland came in 1976 when he was appointed personal assistant to David Richardson, then general administrator of the Scottish National Orchestra.

At the SNO (as it then was), Bill took on many artistic responsibilities, including all the orchestra’s extensive educational work. He also became well known at this time as the conductor of many local orchestras and choirs.

However, it was as the first administrator of the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, from 1979 to 1987, that Bill’s immense talents were seen at their best. He became largely responsible for the orchestra’s artistic and financial planning and for the engagement of conductors, soloists and staff for all the orchestra’s courses. It was Bill who masterminded the first foreign tours, culminating in the highly successful Viking Tour of 1982, which saw the orchestra in Orkney, the Faroes, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with the soloist Nigel Kennedy performing the Tchaikovsky violin concerto and a then unknown 16-year-old, Evelyn Glennie, playing in the percussion section. My work The Gokstad Ship was commissioned for this tour; it was one of many works commissioned from British composers during Bill’s incumbency.

In 1987, he moved south to take up the post of assistant director at the London College of Music (LCM), succeeding John McCabe as director in 1991. He held this post until 1996 when he decided to become a freelance conductor and teacher. When Bill became director, the LCM was facing a crisis - it was on the verge of becoming insolvent if it didn’t collaborate with another institution. Again, Bill’s flair for finding the right solution resulted in the LCM becoming part of Thames Valley University, thus securing its future and its transformation into the London College of Music and Media.

Bill was also festival music director for the Aberdeen International Youth Festival from 1989 to 1991 and an associate artistic director of the Rehearsal Orchestra from 1992 to 1998, conducting orchestral training courses at the Edinburgh International Festival and elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Bill Webb was a man of positive musical character, with a charming and ebullient personality which infected all who came into contact with him. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of music - if Bill was present, one never needed a musical dictionary. He also possessed a rare generosity of spirit which will be remembered by all who knew him.

In 1984, he married Jean Shannon, whom he had met while she was general administrator of the Scottish Baroque Ensemble. He is survived by Jean and by his two sons, Stuart and Laurence.

JOHN McLEOD