Maxwell Davies points baton at peers

HE HAS conducted some of the world's greatest orchestras for more than 50 years. But now, at the age of 76, the Master of the Queen's Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, has decided to hang up his baton - but not without a swipe at some of his modern colleagues, who he accuses of being more interested in the money than the art.

• Retreat: Peter Maxwell Davies on Sanday in the Orkney Islands where he has made his home. In his acerbic farewell to conducting, he nevertheless called Sir Simon Rattle, below, a 'real master'. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

Orkney-based Sir Peter, who stands to lose up to 100,000 a year following his decision, says too many modern conductors are just churning out "production line performances".

Maxwell Davies, also a prolific composer, declines to name those he feels are guilty but says: "I only started conducting because too many conductors couldn't conduct my work because they said it was too difficult. I think they were just being lazy and limited.

"I had furious rows with some of them - some of them are very well known. They wanted to keep their world safe, but music is not safe and nor should it be.

"Today too many conductors are just churning out production line performances. They are doing far too many concerts. Maybe it is to do with the money.

"But too many don't think about what they are doing and it takes the edge off, the sharpness that should be in every performance. Many need to cut back - and less would be more."

But although he refuses to single out those he targets for criticism, two contemporaries he excludes from that list are British conductor Sir Simon Rattle and the French conductor and composer Pierre Boulez. He described them as "real masters" of their art.

English-born Maxwell Davies has pursued a successful global career after basing himself in Orkney 40 years ago. In 1977, he co-founded the St Magnus Music Festival on the islands which is still going strong today.

Despite being Master of the Queen's Music and one of the greatest living composers in the world, he is not used to ostentatious living and has always preferred the simple life on the island of Sanday, where he lives with his partner Colin Parkinson.

"I have never been interested in money - so I won't miss the money I earned from conducting. Anyway for many years I didn't know I was even earning that kind of money. Things were hidden from me," he said.

The decision to rest his baton at the end of the year was made because he wants to concentrate his last years purely on composing.

One of his next major jobs will be to compose his ninth symphony, which is he is dedicating to the Queen for her Diamond Jubilee. He admitted that he had no shortage of invitations to conduct and the fees were usually "many thousands" each time.

He last conducted the Royal Flemish Philharmonic and Camerata Salzburg in December.

Maxwell Davies' decision to retire from conducting has been made easier by an improvement in his finances. He has had his money problems in the past, but last year, he ended a long and bitter feud with his long-serving, former manager over a 500,000 "black hole" in his finances.

He received a substantial, undisclosed sum, in a settlement from Michael Arnold and his wife, Judy. Arnold was also jailed for 18 months for false accounting.

Never a stranger to controversy, Maxwell Davies has always been ready to make a moral point. He refused to wear a poppy or attend any Remembrance Day parades because he feels the occasion has been "hijacked" to support the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ironically, he composed one of the central pieces for 2009's national commemoration of the war dead, symbolically marking the death of Harry Patch, the last British survivor of the First World War trenches.

"I cannot support unjustified bloodshed, and politicians have spun the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq into Remembrance Day as a way of justifying them alongside the legitimate previous wars," he said.

"Ultimately I blame Blair and Bush for the blatant and totally futile aggression which has left so many dead, injured and homeless."

But Maxwell Davies does not always dance to his own tune. He admits that the Queen has managed to convert him - one of the country's best known republicans - to the cause of the monarchy.

"I used to be a republican, but after working closely inside the monarchy and the system for the last few years, I am changing my mind. In fact, I have changed it," he admitted. "I would say I am no longer a republican.

"I have come to realise that there is a lot to be said for the monarchy. It represents continuity, tradition and stability."