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‘On being a violist with the Lindsays’ – Robin Ireland pays tribute to Peter Cropper

Peter Cropper, first violinist of the Lindsay Quartet, died on May 28th,   just short of the tenth anniversary of the quartet’s final concert, which I remember as if it were yesterday. During the last couple of years, Peter increasingly enjoyed playing the viola, and had recently bought a brand new instrument from Stefano Gibertoni, the Sheffield-based luthier.

I joined the Lindsays in 1985, exactly halfway through their career. One of Peter’s great qualities was an intuition for the long term, which somehow told him that my lack of experience and general unreadiness as a player for life on the international quartet trail was worth putting up with in the short term. It was a baptism of fire, as we performed over one hundred works during my first year, including all the Bartok Quartets. Apart from learning the notes, my first challenge was to be audible!  For the first ten years, I think it probable that I was asked, politely or otherwise, to play nearer the bridge at some point during every single rehearsal. Admittedly, I had some seriously classy instruments to match up to, played to the full. I tended to feel like a Fiat 500 (maybe a Ford Escort….) straining at high revs to keep up with three Rolls Royces in the next lanes.  I never had much extra power in reserve.  (When I heard Lawrence Power in the Leopold String Trio, I thought his situation was the reverse; he purred away effortlessly, and equally effortlessly had reservoirs of extra power when needed).

Peter, as those who heard the Lindsays will know, played like a man possessed, and even in rehearsals was always searching to bring the music fully to life, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. This required great energy on all levels, and the development of the technical means to realize his musical vision, through colours and sheer tonal power. In fact, it was in the pianissimos that the quartet was often at its most magical.

Pete was a commanding musical leader, needless to say. In the early years that I played with the quartet, I so often wanted to be told what to do, and how to do it. In fact, even though this might have made things easier, for the others as well as for me, Pete wanted me to find my own voice, and bring my own qualities to the quartet, rather than slot in to what it already was. It was Bernard, the cellist, in fact, who expressed their sense of what this might be about; he said that the character of the quartet had been Dionysian, and that I had a more Apollonian nature. I think they quite consciously embraced the idea that this might bring a new dimension to the quartet. Pete used to say that a quartet was the greater for having different musical personalities, if the differences could be harnessed to work together, rather than fly off centrifugally and break the whole thing apart. For me, of course, what I discovered within myself and gradually learnt to give voice to, was the wilder, Dionysian side.  I remember Pete’s frustration at times with my tameness in the earlier days   :  “why can’t you get your vibrato going  here?!”  Needless to say, I could never match Pete’s extraordinary intensity of sound and passion, but there I am not alone!

The musical world will never be quite the same without Peter. He was a unique man and musician, something of a rebel to the status quo, and with a huge heart. In the end it was a heart attack that killed him. Something of his spirit will live on in those who worked and studied with him, and in the vision for communicative music making that he gave form to through Music in the Round, which is rooted in Sheffield but which he spread to so many new venues  in England.

Robin Ireland

13 June 2015