Friday, 12 March 2010

A tribute to Philip Langridge

I have been devastated this week by the death of the great English tenor Philip Langridge. Words have simply failed me for quite a few days, and whatever I attempt now, I know it will never be quite right.

Philip was first and foremost one of the most honest, generous and genuine men I have ever had the good fortune to know. From the beginning, I trusted his judgement (I first met him many years ago at a masterclass); once he gently pointed out something that a fellow singer could do to improve their performance, it seemed retrospectively obvious. He had an unerring nose for the emotional truth of a performance, and would happily stop you even before you'd sung a note if he suspected (always, ALWAYS rightly!) that you were faking the emotion. Singers are a neurotic breed on the whole, and it takes courage to be this honest. Courage, and in Philip's case the solid knowledge of having put his money where his mouth was. I never saw him or heard him in anything less than a totally committed and inspiringly truthful performance. For those who did not have the pleasure of hearing him live, I would recommend listening to his Aschenbach in Britten's Death in Venice - a consummate recording, searingly honest, and one I know he was pleased with.

I have him to thank for so much of my development as an artist. From the first he supported and recognised the potential, always completely positive but leaving me in absolutely no doubt as to what I needed to do to grow and move forwards. He was one of the only people I have ever met in my artistic journey who could deal with an overthinking and overanalytic singer and do so in such a calm and humorous manner that one let the barriers down and allowed the sheer nakedness of honest performance a chance. It took me many years of tears and frustration and banging my head hard against countless walls, but the day that Philip said to me that he was proud of me for having reacted to the music without "singing", without "acting", without pretence, was one of the most uplifting days of my life.

Philip's performances were pure inspiration, always. A couple of years ago he was singing Loge in the Covent Garden production of Wagner's Ring. I'd bought tickets to the whole cycle, wanting to see both him and my other personal inspiration, the glorious Rosalind Plowright, on stage together. Naturally, being a singer, I couldn't afford an actual seat; I was in the gods (the nosebleed section, but of course curiously appropriate for the Ring cycle...). I had some sort of virus and all I really wanted on the first such night was to curl up on the floor and go to sleep. Well, watching Philip whipping around the stage like a man truly forty years younger, without even pausing to snatch an extra breath, made me ashamed of even thinking of sneaking off to sleep. I took heart from his vitality and revelled in the entire performance (OK, I fell asleep on the tube later, but that wasn't at all his fault!).

His Lieder singing was faultless. No, I suppose; not faultless, technically. But inspirational at the deepest level. He taught by example that the most beautiful voice does not necessarily speak to the spirit if it says nothing honestly; that simplicity and honesty speak straight to the human soul; and that a wicked sense of humour can rescue just about anything! (The latter has been my saviour on several occasions; Philip could always be relied upon, even with his ridiculously full schedule, to reply straight away to anguished messages, often making me laugh out loud. His encouragement and genuine pride in what I'd achieved will be sorely missed, but remembered with a glow for as long as I live.)

The temptation is to be horribly angry with the universe. He had so much more to give; as an artist, as a teacher/mentor, and as a man (he was so happily married, and his children meant the world to him). Eventually however I know I shall be immensely grateful for having known such a truly wonderful man.

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful tribute!

    I am sorry I never met such a wonderful man.

    Thank you for writing this so that people like me could know of his spirit and incredible heart.

    Many condolences,

    Rebecca

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