It was with real sadness, that I was informed of Myer’s sudden passing from his sons, Nicholas and Jonathan, as I was entering the foyer of a theatre here in New York just before curtain up on July 5. I wept copious, silent tears throughout the performance that, at the time, seemed to go on interminably. The performance’s final curtain only exacerbated the terrible loss I still feel today.
I first came to know Myer Fredman as a youngish conducting student at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in 1993. At the time, I moved to Sydney having been given a scholarship opportunity to study with the maestro at Opera Australia and, specifically, with the intent of studying the operas of Mozart and Britten. Myer’s expertise in these works was well-known – especially the works of Mozart – through his long association with Glyndebourne, but little did I know at the outset of his passion and finely detailed knowledge of the operatic canon (especially in the works of Verdi and Strauss). It was like heaven!
Myer was a brilliant but uncompromising teacher. His tolerance for lazy musicianship was well-known (if not legendary) and, as a student, I did ‘cop’ it on a few occasions for singing wrong notes and less than perfect rhythm when being required to sing and conduct simultaneously every part in whichever opera was under current study. Lessons were of such length (almost inevitably without a break) that suddenly 3-4 hours had passed unnoticed. I was exhausted, Myer was ebulliant. His energy and enthusiasm for the task unstoppable.
The result: I really learned vast amounts of the standard operatic canon! Interestingly, beyond having access to Myer’s time, nobody knew (or frankly cared) what we were doing in a studio at Opera Australia several days a week. The concept of actively mentoring would-be Australian opera conductors in Australia at the time didn’t exist. But neither Myer nor I cared, as he was already planning to send me overseas to be in contact with my next great mentor – Sir Charles Mackerras.
In one year with Myer, this is the list of works I studied in detail with him:
The Marriage of Figaro, Cosi Fan Tutte, The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, Idomeneo, Falstaff, Rigoletto, Macbeth, Don Carlos, Il Trovatore, La Traviata, Madama Butterfly, La Bohème, Tosca, Intermezzo, Daphne, Der Rosenkavalier, Peter Grimes, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Death in Venice and, of course, Peter Grimes. Surely, that’s impossible I hear you remark? Not with Myer Fredman it’s not! Added to this, I got to assist him at Opera Australia on several of these operas in the same year. Priceless!
Time passed. I did go overseas and worked with Sir Charles Mackerras for nearly five years before then moving on to work opportunities in the USA.
In 2009, I decided to take up a position at the University of Tasmania, Conservatorium of Music. I did so largely on the fact that Myer had relocated to Hobart many years before. Having re-connected (athough we had stayed in irregular contact over the interveaning years) Myer and I plotted the creation of The Tasmanian Discovery Orchestra, an initiative that I had dreamt up, but one that needed the services of a truly great conductor and orchestral teacher to engage the Australian pro-am orchestral sector. I could say a great deal more about this, but I will mention only Myer’s complete 2010 concert performance of Vaughan Williams’ opera Sir John in Love – the first professional performance of the opera in Australia – as the hallmark of his insight and success in this venture.
I only ever received one compliment from Myer – who was averse to all forms of gratuitous insincerety – after a performance I had given of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that he attended in the last years of his life, where he remarked, “Congratulations ‘maestro’, you did it better than I ever did; and I use that term rarely, as you know.” I would point out that he had berated me moments earlier for having taken the 3rd. movement, “You took it too fast, and you know better than that!”
Unhesitatingly, it is the only compliment I’ve ever received that actually means anything to me.
Vale my friend and teacher. You are, and will be, sadly missed.
Myer Fredman (29 January 1932 – 4 July 2014) is survived by his wife, Jeanne, and sons Nicholas and Jonathan.
He studied at Dartington Hall and in London with Peter Gellhorn, Vilém Tauský, Sir Adrian Boult, and was assistant conductor to Otto Klemperer, Vittorio Gui, Sir John Pritchard and Sir Charles Mackerras.
He was conductor at the Glyndebourne Festival 1963–74. He was involved in the creation of Glyndebourne Touring Opera, of which he was musical director for seven years 1968-74. After moving to Australia he became musical director of the State Opera of South Australia 1974–80, and conductor and artistic associate with Opera Australia 1983–98.
Myer Fredman conducted the Australian premieres of Sir Michael Tippett’s opera The Midsummer Marriage (in the presence of the composer), and Benjamin Britten’s opera Death in Venice, at consecutive Adelaide Festivals.
His world-premiere recordings include Arnold Bax‘s 1st and 2nd symphonies and Havergal Brian’s 6th symphony, all with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and Brian’s 16th symphony with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. His other recordings include the music of Britten, Delius, Vaughan Williams, Respighi, and Rubbra.