GERRY MATTOCK - A TRIBUTE
Gerry Mattock died on Christmas Eve 2020. He was 92, and his encouragement, support, and friendship had become a mainstay in my life.
In 1997 I received a phone call out of the blue from a Dr Gerry Mattock, asking me to write a piece for his 70th birthday celebrations. It was to be for cello and piano, and I asked who the cellist would be. He answered without hesitation, ‘Well, I’d rather like Steven Isserlis.’ (Gerry later told me he hadn’t expected the question, so it was an instinctive response.) It was typical of Gerry that he secured the great cellist for the premiere, with renowned pianist Ian Brown, and went on to form a friendship with Steven, later commissioning me, at Steven’s instigation, to make an arrangement of Debussy for cello and orchestra (a co-commission with several friends in memory of their friend Bernard Faulkner), as well as two solo encore pieces: Song of the Birds and The Wise Maid – the latter being Gerry’s idea, and based on an Irish tune that Gerry sent me on a cassette.
This was the beginning of a life-changing friendship.
Steven Isserlis writes of Gerry’s “ability to see where he could be helpful to someone he liked, and his shrugging off of any obstacles that might seem to lie in his way. Gerry saw a niche where he could be of use - supporting composers, who receive so little help these days (in the absence of aristocratic patrons!); and he filled that niche with humour, practicality and a down-to-earth generosity of spirit that influenced and uplifted those around him.”
cred. Lee Faulkner
Gerry was a distinguished electro-chemist, whose research made a major contribution to preventing water pollution, both in Britain and overseas. He was the author of several seminal books, which are still widely cited in new writing.
His partner, lawyer Beryl Calver-Jones, shared his passion for music, and together they became more and more intrigued by the world of contemporary classical music, listening to Radio 3 in their respective houses (they never married, or lived together), and then phoning each other to discuss their thoughts.
At weekends, Gerry would join Beryl in her idyllic cottage in a secluded valley in the Forest of Dean, and this was where I first met them in person, in 1997. He had asked me to come and spend a weekend with them to experience the cottage and its surrounds, so that this could inspire the new piece. A little cautious about visiting these strangers, I took with me my three children, and my mother! By the end of the weekend it was as if we had always known them. From then on, the children considered Gerry and Beryl their bonus grandparents; and after my mother died, I discovered copious letters to her from them both, often offering advice and support through difficult times.
After this first commission, entitled ‘Bridging the Day’, Beryl came on board, and they began a mission to support composers. Gerry’s talent for scientific research and entrepreneurship, and Beryl’s clear-thinking practicality, provided the foundation for their concrete support for music. As well as myself, they befriended and commissioned several prominent composers; including Piers Hellawell, Giles Swayne and Stuart Hancock. The ensembles, orchestras and soloists involved included the Hallé, Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Florestan Trio, St Paul Chamber Orchestra, Carducci Quartet, James Crabb, Steven Isserlis, Ian Brown, Robert Irvine, Fali Pavri, The Kings Singers, Da Vinci Trio, Psappha, BBC Singers, Kit and the Widow, Bath Camerata, Craig Ogden, Gregor Zubicky, Red Note, Nash Ensemble – an astonishing list.
They supported Lake District Summer Music, Cheltenham, Painswick, Tetbury, and Bath Festivals, and the commissions were premiered by conductors including Martyn Brabbins, Oliver Knussen. Ola Rudner and Nigel Perrin.
Actors Crawford Logan, Samuel West and Jonathan Best (well-known as a singer) also collaborated in various works, and writers Phil Hind and David Pownall were commissioned to write text for The Sins and Lost and Found in the Forest of Dean, respectively.
In non-classical music, he commissioned folk singer Stephanie Irvine and supported indie band Urvanovic in an album to be released in 2021: ‘Let’s not be here’.
Piers Hellawell writes: “Gerry loved our work, so he wanted more of it. “There’s nothing else in it for us!” he would say. He was a big-hearted, direct man with huge drive – for whom every problem had a solution, if you pushed hard enough. In pushing, he made things clearer, simpler. Gerry and Beryl’s composers were lucky indeed to encounter such patrons in these times.”
Through their support of the Cheltenham Festival, Gerry and Beryl became friends with conductor Martyn Brabbins, who remembers his first invitation to the cottage, with his wife Karen. He received “a remarkably detailed thesis on how to get to Beryl’s place. The instructions included a map, several photos of various landmarks, and very detailed written instructions! Testament to the care Gerry took over everything! …It struck me this morning that Gerry would probably have made a good spy! Highly intelligent, strategic and with a rare eye and ear for detail...”
In 2001 Gerry and Beryl funded my then husband, cellist Robert Irvine, in a Beamish CD on the BIS label (Bridging the Day) which went on to win several awards. A further recording included music by Giles Swayne. After Beryl died in 2015, Gerry continued on his mission, and as our children grew, he watched and encouraged as their musical lives developed, offering support and mentorship.
A commission from Gerry always came with his ideas and suggestions, which I (usually!) enjoyed putting into practice. ‘It’s got to be cheerful – in C major’ was one challenge. Another was his idea to create a modern version of Langland’s Seven Deadly Sins from Piers Plowman. He commissioned writer Phil Hind, a mutual friend, to make a new translation of the text, and Phil added some more sins to the list. Of all the music I wrote for Gerry, I think this was his favourite, and he sponsored a revival of it, with actor Crawford Logan and Red Note, at the Cheltenham Festival – in memory of Beryl, and to celebrate my 60th birthday.
It seems appropriate that Gerry’s first commission was ‘Bridging the Day’, and his last was ‘Night Songs’, for viola and piano, which he commissioned a year ago, after I returned to viola playing. Sadly, the premiere, which was to have been on January 10th at Brighton Friends’ Meeting House, with pianist Nancy Cooley, is cancelled. Gerry expressly requested that I should dedicate it to my husband Peter Thomson – we married at the Meeting House in 2019; and we decided that Peter would choose poems on which to base the music, and read these at the concert. The last time I stayed at Gerry’s house in the Cotswolds, not long before he died, he suggested the famous ‘Tread Softly’ poem by Yeats, and this I incorporated into the music, to be read by Peter.
What Gerry achieved, with Beryl, was, in Piers Hellawell’s words: “immense, and unsung, because they did it for the best of motives.”
Gerry was warm, funny, stubborn, perceptive, generous, infuriating and lovable. I will miss him more than I can express.
Gerry Mattock: Born 31.7.1928, Died 24.12.2020
Sally Beamish Jan 2021