Sir Neville Marriner, outspoken music director of the Minnesota Orchestra from 1979 to 1986, died early Sunday in London. He was 92.
Marriner, who returned to lead the orchestra on several occasions, was scheduled to conduct again in Minneapolis in January.
He was founder of the famous Academy of St. Martin in the Fields chamber orchestra, with which he made hundreds of recordings. The orchestra has sold more than 30 million discs and Marriner is celebrated as the world's most recorded conductor.
Previously a violinist, he began his conducting career as the first music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, from 1969 to 1978, before succeeding Stanislaw Skrowaczewski at the podium of the Minnesota Orchestra in 1979.
"Looking at our roster of conductors, I still consider the Marriner years our golden era," Richard Cisek, orchestra president at the time, said in 2003.
During his seven years in Minneapolis, Marriner was described as charismatic and unafraid to speak his mind. His first season in 1979 was marred by the Minnesota Orchestra's first strike in its 76-year history. He said he never regretted coming to Minnesota, except perhaps for his inability to tackle the unpleasant task of firing subpar musicians.
"I feel very affectionate toward Minneapolis and the Minnesota Orchestra," he said in 2003.
Neither was he a stodgy penguin. One night in a Minneapolis bar, he conducted the Better-Than-Nothing Dirt Band in a jazz set. At a Halloween concert with the orchestra in Columbus, Ohio, he donned a scary mask, intending only that the players would see it. Then he couldn't get it off and had to take his bow with it, as the audience burst into laughter.
"Neville always treated me with great kindness and deference," said Manny Laureano, now principal trumpet for the Minnesota Orchestra, who was hired by Marriner in 1981 when he was 26. "He had his own style of conducting that was easy to follow, and you could tell he was somewhat new to the larger symphonic repertoire."
Socially, Marriner "was just your very charming Brit. ... One of the most amusing things I ever saw him do was grab three cards out of a deck and proceed to do a little three-card monte. He had me howling about how good he was at it. Then again, I guess he wouldn't be the first conductor who was good at sleight-of-hand."
Marriner led the Minnesota Orchestra on tours to Australia, Hong Kong and New York's Carnegie Hall.
His last season in Minnesota featured a British Festival, which included his re-creation of William Walton's score for the 1944 film of Shakespeare's "Henry V," with actor Christopher Plummer doing the narration.
When Marriner returned as guest conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra in 2003 after a 17-year absence, he brought back Walton's music and Plummer.
Marriner was a childhood hero of Minnesota Orchestra co-principal violist Richard Marshall, who was hired by Marriner in 1984.
"It was a big thrill, not only to be in the same room with him ... but to come and play with one of the giants in the recording industry and to come to a great orchestra led by him."
Marriner was a "musicians' conductor," Marshall said. "He wasn't a perfectionist. He would just allow us to play."
Marshall said he and other musicians were looking forward to seeing him on the podium again come January.
"That was going to be a special week. It's a sad day for me."
Marriner was a prodigy from Lincolnshire, England, who received his first violin at age 5. He studied at the Royal College of Music and the Paris Conservatoire. He played violin in the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Martin String Quartet and the London Symphony Orchestra.
He has recorded for a half-dozen labels — including Phillips and EMI with the Minnesota Orchestra — everything from baroque-era to 20th-century British music and opera.
He was conductor of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony from 1986 to 1989 and supervised the Mozart music for the soundtrack of the 1984 film "Amadeus," which became one of the bestselling classical recordings of all time.
He is survived by his wife, Molly, a son and a daughter.