We recently heard the very sad news that Terry Barfoot passed away from cancer on 12th August 2020. Read his obituary here.
Terry Barfoot was a well-known figure in the musical life of southern England, who wrote widely about music and opera, and was Publications Consultant to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. He lectured, for example, at the British Library, the Austrian Cultural Forum, Opera Holland Park, the Royal Opera House, the Three Choirs Festival and at Oxford University, where in summer 2018 he gave a series of lectures on Beethoven. His latest book, A History of Music written for Omnibus Press, was published in October 2014.
Terry wrote for Classical Music, Opera Now, BBC Music Magazine and Musicweb International, and for seven years was editor of the Classical Music Repertoire Guide. His book Opera: A History was published by The Bodley Head, and he contributed to The International Dictionary of Opera and The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. With his own company, Arts in Residence, he promoted musical events at agreeable locations throughout Britain and in Europe, and recently led visits to Prague, Leipzig, Vienna, Amsterdam, Budapest and Berlin. In 2017 he presented a series of pre-concert talks at the Sibelius Festival in Lahti, Finland.
Simon O’Hea is in conversation with Terry.
Who or what were the main influences on your decision to pursue a career in music?
My grandfather was the earliest influence on me: I used to take him to concerts, as he was nearly blind, and he introduced me to the works of César Franck and Brahms, especially his 2nd symphony. I was also drawn to Tchaikovsky’s 5th. The latter was my ‘entry’ piece – I had played all LPs of the Beach Boys and the Byrds, and I found the Tchaikovsky among my parents’ records. I gave it a try and after a couple of hearings I was hooked.
I came to music through an unconventional route: I’d studied history at university, and did not take up an instrument. In fact I got into music through teaching: I worked in Portsmouth schools for a few years, and one of my colleagues ran an evening class which he asked me to cover for him. I enjoyed doing that and decided I’d like to keep it going. Then in due course I moved to South Downs College, but not initially to do Music. After I’d been there for a few months I found myself being asked to take over all the music-related A-levels. This was because Damien Cranmer, the Head of Music at the time, went off to work on the new edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Not so long after that the Hampshire Specialist Music course was relocated to South Downs and I found myself at the heart of a thriving musical establishment, and I worked there for more than 25 years.
Who or what are the most important influences on your musical life?
Peter Craddock, who had founded the Havant Symphony Orchestra in 1962 and kept it running for fifty years, gave me my first opportunities as a writer on music and was a great encouragement and inspiration to me. I still write the orchestra’s programme notes to this day, and I remain grateful that Peter believed in me when I was so young and inexperienced. Many years later Peter also taught at South Downs College, was a great influence on me. Over the years South Downs was bursting with talent including the likes of Brian Eastop, Mrs Elizabeth Lewis, Peter Rhodes, Ian Schofield and Paula Barnes. An inspiring environment in which to work.
Christopher Headington, the composer, pianist and music writer, also inspired me to write about music. He was my teacher on a course I took at Oxford University, and he wrote one of the finest violin concertos of the postwar era, which has been recorded by Xei Wei with the London Philharmonic and Jane Glover. I wrote the insert notes, one of 70 or 80 that I have done over the years. Thanks to Christopher’s influence I started teaching at Oxford as a part-time tutor and I worked there for more than thirty years.
I have been the publications consultant and commissioning editor for the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra for more than 20 years, which has brought me into contact with many brilliant people. In fact I would go so far as to say that working with the BSO has been the achievement of which I feel most proud, despite all my other writing including several books. They are a great international orchestra who by a quirk of history happen to be based in Bournemouth. There is no question that the BSO is the most important aspect of the musical life of our region. Which other musical organisation from the south and west can boast performances in Carnegie Hall New York, the Berlin Philharmonie, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and the Vienna Musikverein?
What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?
I love sharing my insights to music lovers. Sometimes the repertoire can be quite challenging, which is entirely the way it should be. And there’s a lot to learn about. It was Rachmaninov who said ‘Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music’. How true that is; there is always more to discover.
Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?
My top three are Bach, Bruckner and Verdi (especially his later works such as Simon Boccanegra and Don Carlos) for sheer originality and the ability to take the listener to another place. I also like to introduce my favourite less-well-known composers to my students and friends, figures such as Arthur Honegger. For example, his Symphonie Liturgique (no. 3) is one of the great symphonies of the 20th century.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Two particularly memorable performances remain in my mind over the years, both by Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at Portsmouth Guildhall. They are of Shostakovich’s Eleventh Symphony conducted by George Hurst, standing in for an indisposed Paavo Berglund, and Berlioz’s greatest work, the epic The Trojans, which was conducted by Roger Norrington. The latter was a real occasion, and the greatest day of my musical life. It was part of the Portsmouth Music Festival in 1986 and Brittany Ferries sponsored it, to celebrate their new ferry route to Portsmouth. As the chairman of the Music Panel of Southern Arts, with the music officer Graeme Kay I had conceived the idea and we actually managed to pull it off. Moreover we also succeeded in getting it broadcast live on Radio 3.
What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?
Music is thoroughly rewarding, though in the education sector the opportunities are more restricted than in other subjects like English and History, for example. However, if anyone is able to pursue a musical career the rewards can be enormous in terms of satisfaction, though not necessarily so in the financial sense. There is an element of risk too, since Music is not well valued in our society.
How would you define success as a musician?
I define success as being when people I’ve lectured to actually want to go out and hear a work that I’ve enthused about, and the same is true if people want to come back to my projects and courses because they found them stimulating enough to do so.
What is your most treasured possession?
My 4,000 CDs, which for example include as many as 35 recordings of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, which I think represents the record in terms of indulgence. For many years I have been a reviewer for BBC Music Magazine and more recently Musicweb International, so I haven’t necessarily had to pay for them all. I regret that I have never kept a note of each time I have played a particular disc – I am sure there are plenty I have yet to play for the first time, but there is always tomorrow.