|Walter Wurzburger 1914-1995|
Walter was born in Frankfurt in 1914. A pupil of Mátyás Seiber, he covered the whole musical spectrum, from classical to jazz, as player, composer, conductor and teacher. He was forced to leave Germany in 1933 going to France, Singapore, Australia and finally Britain.
One enduring achievement has been the Kingston Philharmonia, to which we bear witness tonight. Twenty one years ago, in the words of Hilton Tims, Kingston's musical landscape was bleak and spare. Alone and undeterred, Walter was to change this. With often no more than a string quartet and a bagful of woodwind, he gestated and gave birth to the infant that tonight comes into its majority. This he did with rare single-mindedness, energy and, most important to those of us willingly seduced into his project, endless optimism and infectious enthusiasm.
At the time of Walter's retirement from the orchestra in 1991, we entered the complete list of performed works into the computer, pressed the button, and waited. The computer told us that, since we first began in 1974, we had given a total of 79 concerts, including two in Southwark Cathedral. The concert repertoire was well covered, with a total of 168 symphonies, 40 concertos, 8 oratorios and 19 other works by composers ranging from Abel, Albinoni and Arne to Weber, Weil and Wurzburger.
What the computer did not tell us, but this we already knew, was that this enormous achievement resulted from the work of one man, and the affection, love and enthusiasm for that man and his works that he engendered in those who contributed to his project. In a very real sense, this has been and will always be "Walter's orchestra".
At the time of his retirement he was already frail and beset by illness. This did not affect his mind or spirit. He knew how to live, and those of us fortunate to know him were happy to share in that life and sense of life - always content, always open and receptive, always concerned with others' problems and shrugging off his own. He was ready for the latest gossip, to discuss the fads and follies of the day, with a gaiety and lightness of spirit that we realise the more keenly now that we can no longer share in it.
Walter Wurzburger was a born teacher and communicator. I first met him in 1974 when at Kingston Poly, and played in the foundling Kingston Philharmonia. Work took me away, and I later met Walter at a party some years later. He reminded me that I had missed some 250 rehearsals, and it would be a pity to miss any more! He also said - and this was characteristic of the man - "We need you, ... and you need us". The second utterance was certainly true, and I have remained with the orchestra ever since. Later we exchanged family histories and, discovering their similarities, became firm friends.
Walter was not an obvious leader, but he did inspire great affection and loyalty. He was a patient and inspired teacher throughout all his activities. While others' idea of a Viennese evening might be Strauss, Strauss and Strauss, he brought together early Berg, Schoenberg with late Mahler - now that was an illuminating conjunction! Sometimes however his own clarity of vision did not fully accommodate the failings of other mortals. When I suggested that our rehearsals of Hindemith's "Mathis der Mahler" might be enriched by a better understanding of what the music was about, he exclaimed "Explain? Why, it is self-evident!".
In his later years, although he was no longer so active, he continued to read, to compose, to think, and to welcome friends to that magic basement in Worcester Park. After his death, Hannah discovered some notes he had taken, probably from a radio broadcast. He was not a great note-taker, but these few jottings seem to summarise the man and his works:
"No false sentimentality. No compromise. Tough. No playing to the gallery."
Martin Buber wrote: "It is a glorious thing to be old, when we know how to begin again not by being young, but by becoming old in a young way." This typifies Walter - he had the wisdom and authority of one who has lived a long and full life, and the openness and freshness of a child starting out on a journey.