2006-11-08 06:46:10 UTC
June 23, 1928 - October 26, 2006
Musician and schoolmaster who cast Tony Blair as a monk
Michael Lester-Cribb excelled in many careers, notably as a
schoolmaster at Fettes College for four decades, where he taught
classics, maths and music, becoming a reforming housemaster and an
inspirational music director with an international reputation.
His musical accomplishments as chorus master, conductor, pianist and
organist were appreciated, particularly at the Edinburgh Festival, by
figures as diverse as Benjamin Britten, Lord Harewood and Herbert von
Karajan, if not so much by Sir Georg Solti. Lester-Cribb's virtuosic
accompaniment, at one rehearsal of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, led
Solti to exclaim: "This is not a piano concerto!"
He also examined world-wide and was a prolific composer. The Usher Hall
in Edinburgh was the scene of many of his triumphs from the time in
1955 that Eugene Ormandy and the Berlin Philharmonic found they had no
pianist for Stravinsky's Petrushka until Michael Lester-Cribb saved
In the autumn of 1964, with Arthur Oldham, he assembled and trained the
Edinburgh Festival Chorus for the performance at the next year's
festival of Mahler's Eighth Symphony, a project that many thought too
ambitious but which proved a landmark success. His links with the
Edinburgh Festival Chorus lasted for 40 years, and only last month the
chorus presented him with a DVD of what proved to be his final chamber
In 1968 he played the organ in the famous performance of Britten's
War Requiem, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini and the composer, in
which the three soloists for whom Britten had specifically written the
work performed it together for the only time, apart from the celebrated
His repertoire as a pianist stretched from Mozart's B Minor Adagio to
the fiendishly difficult Third Piano Concerto of Bartók. He was much
in demand for recitals, and accompanied celebrated musicians such as
Leon Goossens when they visited Fettes.
Michael Lester-Cribb was born in Wiltshire in 1928 and studied piano
and composition at the Royal College of Music. In 1949 he was appointed
to the staff at Fettes College, one of a group of talented younger
masters over the next few years whose priorities were things of the
spirit, rather than the old philistinism.
His musical appreciation classes were inspirational, particularly his
analysis of Holst's The Planets, which enthused successive
generations. He was a practical musician, composing on the spot, after
seeing one rehearsal, the songs for Iago to sing in Othello. He was
much amused when one parent told him the subsequent production was his
most enjoyable theatrical experience since White Horse Inn on Ice.
He cast the future prime minister Tony Blair as the little Monk in his
own production of Jean Anouilh's Becket and recently wrote to
Prospect magazine that, although for "understandable political
reasons", Blair now emphasises that he ran a pop group at Fettes, he
in fact was "a member of the chapel choir . . . showed every sign of
enjoying singing music from Palestrina to Stravinsky".
Aware that the composer Sir Michael Tippett had earlier suffered
hardship at Fettes College at the end of the Great War, he was
committed throughout his career to make amends, and as a housemaster
ended fagging and corporal punishment, "a circle of viciousness" as
he called it. He paved the way for co-education at Fettes by building
up musical links with St George's School for Girls.
His civilising effect on all those with whom he came into contact was
profound, yet many in the different compartments of his life had little
idea of his accomplishment in others, such was his modesty. His last
composition, a piece for strings, Sine Nomine, will receive its
premiere on November 26.
He is survived by his wife and daughter.
Michael Lester-Cribb, pianist, chorus master, composer and schoolmaster
was born on June 23, 1928. He died on October 26, 2006, aged 78.