Obituary: Adrian Shepherd MBE, cellist

Born: 1939, in Essex. Died: 24 July, 2013 in Sussex, aged 74
Adrian ShepherdAdrian Shepherd
Adrian Shepherd

Adrian Shepherd was a much admired and exceptional musician whose distinguished connections with Scotland go back many years. From 1961 for 25 years he was principal cellist with Scottish National Orchestra (SNO) and for a similar period was professor of the cello at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

He was co-founder with the violinist Angus Ramsay and the pianist Scott Mitchell of the Cantilena Festival on Islay. This adventurous event has grown rapidly over the past decade and gives music students the chance to play with professionals in front of an audience and playing a varied and demanding programme.

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Angus Ramsay remembered Shepherd with obvious warmth when he spoke to The Scotsman yesterday. “Adrian was a very close colleague and friend. Having founded the Cantilena in 2000 we all worked closely together to bring to Scotland a unique festival.

“Adrian was a larger than life figure who had the ability to harness the positives of everyone with whom he came into contact to produce something extraordinary. This he achieved with the original Cantilena and was instrumental in helping to achieve with the Cantilena Festival on Islay. He will be greatly missed but his inspiration will live on with all of us.”

Adrian Shepherd studied the cello at London’s Guildhall School of Music and was a keen footballer – at one stage he considered becoming a professional player. One of his first jobs was to join the cello desk at the SNO.

Shepherd was a stalwart member of the orchestra throughout the crusading years under Sir Alexander Gibson’s musical directorship and memorably was a soloist in the Brahms Double Concerto in 1977 at Motherwell Civic Centre.

He became much involved with the SNO’s organisation not only playing in the orchestra’s football team but sitting on various administrative committees.

Stephen Shakeshaft was a principal violinist with the SNO and a great admirer of him both as a musician and a colleague. “In the orchestra Adrian and I collaborated closely. When I arrived he took me under his wing – as he did with many other young players. His enthusiasm swept us all along and was a key factor in the success of Cantilena.”

From 1984 Shepherd taught at Cardiff University and moved to Sussex where he became conductor of the Buxted Symphony Orchestra in 2002. Shepherd was also engaged as principal of the BBC Concert Orchestra and co-principal of the Royal Philharmonic.

Although he had moved south his connections with Scotland remained firm. He had co-founded Cantilena in 1970 and the organisation of the festival ensured his presence in the North was very regular.

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The original Cantilena, a bigger group than the present that performs at the festival, comprised colleagues of Shepherd’s at the SNO. Some of those original members have often returned to play on Islay.

Shepherd once explained why the name Cantilena was chosen. “The word Cantilena is Italian and means ‘a singing line’ – which in fact what music is all about.”

In 1975 the group had appeared at the Edinburgh Festival under Shepherd and gave an enthusiastically received series of morning concerts in the Signet Library.

Islay was an adventurous place for a festival and it has been rewarded by good audiences from the start.

The concerts take place in distilleries such as Ardbeg, Bruichladdich and Lagavulin and are given enthusiastic support by the local islanders. It is not surprising, perhaps, that whisky tastings feature prominently during the festival.

Shepherd was a popular figure on Islay and although, because of ill-health, he had not played at the festival since 2010 he returned every year and was closely involved in the programming.

The festival concentrates on chamber music – mostly baroque but also includes Mozart and Chopin – but Shepherd was keen to ensure that its original spirit was remembered. Thus, for example, this year’s programme includes “Young Musicians’ Showcase Concert – an opportunity to hear our young professionals perform individually in concert.”

Shepherd also recorded on the Chandos label with Cantilena featuring baroque and Renaissance songs and music. In 2002 they released two discs of Concerto Grosso by Corelli.

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Jenny Laidlaw, the festival’s administrator, recalls: “Adrian so encouraged the students and was much respected by them. He was a born enthusiast and an outstanding figure in Cantilena and on Islay where the locals much admired his generous spirit. Adrian was the driving force behind the festival.”

Adrian Shepherd was thrice married and is survived by his son and daughter.