The Kenneth Loveland Gift

The distinguished Welsh music critic, Kenneth Loveland, lends his name to an annual prize awarded in his memory. Ahead of the latest winner recital, Nigel Jarrett recalls working with a man admired by his celebrated peers.

Kenneth LovelandKen Loveland would be amused to learn that a memorial to him had been erected in a place where he had felt very much at home – the concert hall. ‘Amused’, because as a music critic he was in thrall to musicians and music-making and therefore knew his place in the scheme of things. That is not to say he was mere fawning devotee: he would readily pan anything he thought second-rate or pretentious and believed he was performing an important function in so doing. Anyway, there is a memorial to him at St David’s Hall, Cardiff, unveiled after his death in 1998. It might just as well have been placed in the foyer of the capital’s New Theatre, where, as a transplanted Englishman, he had reviewed Welsh National Opera from its fledgling post-war years on and had alerted hitherto inward-looking London critics to the Principality’s music scene, of which WNO was prescient. He was then editor and music critic of the South Wales Argus at Newport and was soon asked by Frank Howes of The Times to write, as a far-flung contributor, about musical events in Wales. It was a job he performed so well that The Times also sent him on foreign assignments, which he additionally wrote about in his own paper, surely to the bewildered pleasure of its readers.

That memorial, a bronze bas-relief by the sculptor Luke Shepherd, would also have raised a Loveland smile because it is part-rebuttal of Sibelius’s dictum that ‘no-one ever erected a statue to a critic’. Sibelius might have been thinking of something lapidary and full-frontal but a cast-metal image based on Ken’s favourite debonair photograph of himself is achievement enough. It is certainly an indication that the kind of music critic he represented – a cigar-puffing male writing copiously and authoritatively overnight for the next day’s public prints – is a creature of the past. Everyone’s a critic now, able to make her or his often risible judgements of music in acres of rambling prose to be harvested instantaneously by readers worldwide. That said, Loveland, fondly referred to by his Argus colleagues as ‘KL’, would have embraced the digital age and its easy access to readers, its limitless space, but he would have abused neither. Forbiddingly self-confident, he would nonetheless have admitted that newspapers in the old days did not offer a plurality of views but a dangerously exclusive one, in which the critic pronounced and readers, if they were so inclined and then lucky, responded by published letter. There were no other means of getting a discussion going. This could land the readership with critics whose views and writing style were laughable; but Loveland was not of their ilk, taking his role seriously, always acting professionally and never believing he was above the things he wrote about.

I became Loveland’s assistant in the late 1970s and took over from him when he finished at the Argus – he had long ceased to be editor and was then freelancing – in the late 1980s. I did not have to pass a test to join him but I did have to prove that I was willing to spend all my spare hours listening to music, particularly music I did not like. He warned me against believing that ‘the academies’, by which he meant formal musical training, had anything to do with the enjoyment and understanding of music, and the communication of these in the columns of a daily newspaper. (He was told by one member of the London Symphony Orchestra that orchestral musicians ‘detested’ contemporary music even though they could play it blindfolded.) Within a year I could read a complex orchestral score at sight, though I remain to this day a non-performing pianist. Ken’s idol, whom he knew, was Neville Cardus, music critic of The Manchester Guardian (they shared a passion for cricket), who himself had been assistant on that newspaper to Ernest Newman. Cardus, the son of a prostitute, left school in his early teens to become an office dogsbody at The Guardian, working his way up as a ferociously self-educated journalist. Michael Kennedy, a dear friend and colleague of Loveland and former northern editor and music critic of The Daily Telegraph, was another autodidact who went on to write celebrated biographies of Elgar and Vaughan Williams and monographs on Mahler, Richard Strauss and others. Although there have been highly-trained musicians among the critical fraternity, few have communicated the enthusiasm and natural insight of a Cardus or a Kennedy.

Loveland reminded me that newspaper music criticism – he was careful to circumscribe the activity – was a branch of journalism, not of musicology. He was so right and he required no further justification. His unshakeable belief in his abilities was probably a result of war service. He had chased the German army across mainland Europe, dodging shells and bullets, and been mentioned in dispatches, so that the pretence to greatness of an inferior musician or the pomposity of some jumped-up master of choristers were fit to be derided and dismissed. He won awards for services to music, not least an honorary MMus from the University of Wales. Once, he exploded into the sub-editors’ room at the Argus to announce that some foreign government had awarded him a medal for services to the arts. He’d written the story himself. ‘Don’t you already have a gong?’ a down-table sub asked. ‘Yes’, Ken replied. ‘But that was just for killing enemy soldiers.’ It was a Loveland ordering of priorities, not a callous remark. His favourite composers were Mozart, Debussy and Elgar, with Dvořák running them close. He enjoyed and was always interested in the latest contemporary sounds – Sir Peter Maxwell (‘Max’) Davies was a friend – but he had his favourites, based on music’s intrinsic worth and significance. ‘It’s all subjective,’ he told me. Music wasn’t superior just because it was new – and  music history wasn’t linear in terms of quality; it was stellar, some stars shining more brightly than others, and would be ever thus.

The new millennium had begun when it was decided by Loveland’s widow, Anne, and some of his closest friends and colleagues to commemorate his name in a charity designed to help young musicians at the start of their careers with cash prizes. This was hugely appropriate, as Loveland had been renowned for identifying great musicians when they were unknown and starting out. ‘Nurture by notice’ was how someone described the process of  talent-spotting and encouragement. Musicians caught your ear and you wrote them up at every opportunity. Loveland’s great ‘find’ was Gwyneth Jones, then a Pontypool works secretary and eisteddfodau singing competitor. Dame Gwyneth, as she now is, told me that without the Loveland publicity and promotion her career path might have been more arduous. This was when the proverbial power of the Press actually meant something. So the Kenneth Loveland Gift was set up and celebrated its first decade last year. Following auditions, a winner is chosen annually. In recent years, others have also been rewarded, including junior musicians. The latest overall winner is a 23-year-old British pianist, Hannah Watson, who will be helped to continue her studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Ronan O’Hora and Martin Roscoe. At the time of her audition she had been studying at the Guildhall for just one year after graduating with a ‘first’ in French and Spanish at Cambridge. The date of  the recital has still to be decided. A tenth anniversary concert for the Gift was held at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff, last year, when the Gift’s 2012 winner, pianist Mishka Rushdie Momen, played Chopin. Her delayed winner’s recital will take place at St David’s Hall, Cardiff, on February 11 as a lunchtime concert. She’ll be playing music by Schubert, Janáček and Chopin.

Kenneth Loveland, of course, knew personally all the young and older leading metropolitan critics of his day, including, besides Kennedy, Rodney Milnes, Alan Blyth, Peter Heyworth, William Mann, John Warrack, Stephen Walsh, Stanley Sadie, Julian Rushton and Barry Millington, and was once part of what Bill Mann described to me as ‘a golden era’ of regional Press music correspondents. Walsh, now a professor at Cardiff University and a celebrated biographer of Stravinsky, is one of the Gift’s trustees, along with Michael Pollock, formerly of the Welsh National Opera music staff. Kennedy is the Gift’s president and Sir Simon Rattle its patron (Loveland was programme annotator for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra when Rattle was its wunderkind helmsman). Anne Loveland remains the Gift’s indefatigable motivator. As well as his critical peers and those musicians whose careers he had furthered, Ken counted famous performers among his friends and had interviewed many of them and others on radio. He was abroad when the death of the British pianist Sir Clifford Curzon was communicated to him at table in 1982, only days before he had dined with him back home. Sir Geraint Evans always referred to me by association as ‘Ken Loveland’s man’ and I once phoned Ken at his apartment in Cwmbran to be told that he and Anne were entertaining the violinist Henryk Szeryng. It amused and amazed me one Saturday evening to arrive at the New Theatre for a performance by WNO and find Ken literally encircled by the London critics like some oracle in mid-flow.

Anne Loveland is very much in charge of the Gift. ‘If the standard of excellence required by the judges is not apparent at the auditions then the award is withheld,’ she said. ‘This has never happened, for the standard of applications we receive is extremely high. We reached the point a while back when we thought it could get no higher but it does.

‘The reputation of the “Gift” has spread far and wide; professors frequently advise their students to apply – or not, as the case may be. The conservatoires often write to show their appreciation of the help we give their talented postgraduate students to continue their studies, and the Junior Gift is appreciated even more as we help young students without sufficient finance for their first year to take up their allotted place in a senior conservatoire.

‘Although we are not helping young musicians in the same manner as Ken did I am certain that the trustees would get his wholehearted support and blessing.’

Among the decade’s winners have been soprano Camilla Roberts, now singing Andromache in Tippett’s King Priam for English Touring Opera; baritone David Soar, who returns to WNO this year in both  Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron and Verdi’s Nabucco; cellist Livbov Ulybysheva, who has developed as a concerto soloist much in demand in Britain, Northern Ireland and Russia and is a member of the Razumovsky Ensemble; clarinettist Fraser Langton, who has made his débuts at the Wigmore Hall and St John’s Smith Square; oboist Ilid Jones, who has a busy career as a freelance oboist with orchestras and is about to re-launch the Thorne Trio; and violinist Cerys Jones, who continues as a member of the Heath Quartet. The latest winners of the Junior Gift of £500 are five students entering their first year at a senior college – one from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama to study at Trinity College, London. (The conservatoires nominate a student in dire need of funding; the application does not come from the students.)

‘The 10th anniversary concert gave us all a chance to see how the recipients of the Gift had developed,’ said Mrs Loveland. ‘The Trustees owe them a great deal of gratitude for giving their time to perform that evening, and for travelling great distances to be there – one had flown from Moscow, one from Belfast and another from Glasgow. It was noted by a couple of people that the judges were grinning throughout the evening, obviously still very happy with their decisions over the years!
‘Our judges spend many hours reading applications, and then listening to CDs from applicants before deciding on the finalists. Then there’s a very long day of auditioning at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Last year they had to audition ten. The standard of application was so high that they were unable to bring the number down to eight, which is the normal figure. Fortunately the final decision is unanimous.’

To my knowledge, neither Cardus nor Loveland commented on the rather obvious similarities between cricket and music, the twenty-over game being a snappy scherzo to the symphonic exegesis of a five-day test match. My favourite Loveland story is about cricket, though I never got it from him. He once captained the Argus cricket eleven and was involved in a match with a team who’d adopted cheating as a watchword and had overwhelmed the Argus with ill-gotten runs. For the return match on some far-flung rural wicket, the weather was perfect as Loveland led his team off the coach. All was ready for the off – whites gotten into and bats flashing in readiness – when he marched alone to the centre square. He made a  detailed examination before pronouncing the playing area dangerous or defective (it was fine) and led his team into the changing room and back on to the bus, which made its way home. You messed with KL at your peril, as I often, though not personally, discovered. That particular fixture was erased from the book. Ken always talked about musical losses and gains, the triumph of a piece, for example, being worth its foregoing self-lacerations or longueurs. I don’t know what the rest of the Argus team made of that afternoon. Perhaps, rather embarrassingly, they learned a valuable lesson. My favourite Loveland music story definitely is personal and concerns the pre-punk fiddler Nigel Kennedy. Ken and I were both at a concert by the then BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra at County Hall, Cwmbran. Kennedy, at that time relatively unknown, was soloist in the more popular of the Mendelssohn concertos. After the concert, Ken, as was his wont, took me ‘backstage’ to meet the young man, asking him how anyone so callow in years could negotiate a piece of music so mature and emotion-drenched as the Elgar concerto, which he’d played somewhere recently to huge critical acclaim. Kennedy, picking up his bow and in that Cockney accent he was cultivating, said (and I paraphrase), ‘You just scrape vis fing across the strings and vis noise comes owt, like.’ Endearing creature, as Ken himself might have said. And probably did.