Mark Fitz-Gerald (Conductor)
Mark Robert Fitz-Gerald (born in Bromley, Kent 5th September 1954) is a British conductor. His father, Terence Robert (Bob) Fitz-Gerald (direct descendent of the Duke of Leinster, Ireland) became a fully qualified dental surgeon who opened a practice in Bromley which consisted of 3 surgeries. He married Pauline, née Porth, in 1948. Her father, Charles, was of German (Rhineland-Pfalz) origin, whose family name Port was anglicised when they moved to Britain in the 1880s. Mark has one brother, Scott, born in 1963. Musical relatives include Arthur Leavins, whom Mark knew well, and Paul Beard, both orchestral violin leaders. The extended family summer holidays (often in tents or camping vans) were ambitious, visiting many areas where they were sometimes the first tourists – not only most of Europe, but also Russia (and other areas behind the Iron Curtain), USA and Canada. This gave Mark great confidence to return to these countries later in his career. It also gave him some basic knowledge of several languages; in particular the Cyrillic alphabet which would be of great use later on.
As a young child Mark already took a keen interest in music, constantly listening to classics on 78 records, light music on the radio and later hymn-singing at school assemblies. Whilst at Dulwich College Preparatory School the Head of Music, Roy Thackray’s close-up demonstration of several orchestral instruments gave Mark a determination to take up music as soon as he was admitted to Dulwich College (1965 – 1973). Alan Morgan (Director of Music) encouraged Mark to join the school choir for the two annual concerts, one at the Royal Festival Hall and the other at the Fairfield Halls. Mark also attended school orchestra rehearsals and was asked to play bass drum, moving later to glockenspiel and xylophone. He took up piano lessons with Martin Ball. Once Mark’s sight-reading had reached an acceptable level, he was given extra time to explore much of the orchestral repertoire in piano duet form, including little known works such as the complete symphonies of Joachim Raff and Albéric Magnard. He soon took up bassoon with Wendy Robinson plus double bass with Christopher Field and later viola with David Price. His contemporaries at the school included Andrew Watkinson, violin, and Anthony Pople who died in 2003. Anthony Pople had prolific knowledge of 20th century music, in particular Alban Berg, who was to become one of Mark’s favourite composers. During this period, pursuing a conducting career became his main priority. For his last concert at the school, Mark was asked to play the Mozart bassoon concerto at the RFH in June 1973. A private LP was made of this performance. To prepare for this Mark had a very successful meeting with Archie Camden at his home in Cricklewood for guidance and permission to use Archie’s own cadenzas, which was given, contributing to a very successful performance.
During his time at Dulwich and after, as well as his parents, several other relatives gave him great support. Both his paternal grandparents took him regularly to the LPO Eastbourne concerts as well as the Royal Opera House. Auntie Pamela took him every Christmas to the Nutcracker ballet at the RFH. Auntie Olive took him both to English National Opera and the Royal Opera House. Uncle Anthony Merryn (this was his pen name, real name Anthony Bull) was the son of a well-known Victorian music hall banjo soloist. Uncle Anthony was a regular opera critic for ‘the Stage’ magazine and took Mark to many opera premieres at the Royal Opera House, always in the best stall seats. During his school years, Mark won several local talent prizes and joined several local music groups, in particular Bromley Symphony Orchestra, led by Stanley Castle (LSO) and conducted by John Couling (BBC SO – principal viola) whose baton, rehearsal and interpretative styles were very rewarding to learn from. Also during this period, Old Alleynian Dr William Reed (born 1910, Director of Music at Westminster Theatre and also responsible for creating a volume of the world’s national anthems and updating it through 10 volumes) came to judge several house music competitions. Dr Reed had regular musical Sunday events at his theatre which Mark attended regularly. Through their friendship, Will widened Mark’s knowledge of orchestral repertoire through his enormous personal library of scores and recordings which were handed over to Mark bit by bit until Will’s death in 2002. For conducting experiences he was encouraged to visit Mrs Dorothy Crump’s Oaks Farm Orchestra and her enormous library of orchestral music at regular sight-reading sessions on Sunday afternoons. She was proud that it had taken place for over 60 years and that they had never given a concert. It was there that Mark first met Jonathan Del Mar … a rewarding friendship which still continues. Mark was a member of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra from 1973 to 1977 conducted by Peter Fletcher and the Wind Ensemble conducted by Alan Cave, where his double bassoon playing first started. This period was a joyful and steep learning curve, surrounded by a high standard of playing, musicians destined for major careers, many of whom became Mark’s lifelong friends. The orchestra had extensive French and German tours covering a broad repertoire. It reached a peak in Mark’s final RFH concert with them when playing first bassoon in Shostakovich’s 12th Symphony. Mark’s lifelong admiration for the composer’s works started here. Peter Fletcher took over as Director of Music of the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra. Mark was invited to become woodwind coach for their courses.