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Alan Hacker

Alan Hacker (1938 – 2012)

Alan Hacker was one of the truly legendary musicians of our time; a remarkable man who, thanks to an indomitable spirit, overcame the obstacles imposed on him through disability. He believed passionately that the joy of music (and music making) should be accessible to all.

He went to school at Dulwich, often skipping games to visit instrument shops in the area. Straight from Dulwich he went to the Royal Academy of Music where he studied with Jack Brymer and Reginald Kell, then later on a travelling scholarship in Paris and Vienna with Cahuzac and Boskovsky amongst others. At the age of 19, on Kell’s recommendation, he became the youngest ever professor at the RAM whilst at the same time being appointed a member of the LPO. In 1966 he suffered a spinal clot that left him permanently paralysed from the chest down.

In the 1960s he founded the Pierrot Players with Harrison Birtwistle; he was also a founder member of The Fires of London alongside Peter Maxwell Davies. Around the same time, Alan founded his own contemporary music ensemble, Matrix, followed soon after by The Music Party, the first group to use original instruments. Alan was a central figure in this exhilarating period of English Contemporary music, giving first performances of works by composers such as Maxwell Davies, Birtwistle and Goehr.

In the late 60s, with the help of Ted Planas, he reconstructed the forgotten basset clarinet and made a new realisation of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto and Quintet to enable the use of the extra bass notes from evidence found in the Winterthur manuscript.

In 1976, after 19 years at the RAM, he was invited by Wilfrid Mellors to become a lecturer at The University of York where he remained for 10 years. Whilst there he founded the York Early Music Festival and the Classical Orchestra with whom he gave first modern performances of Haydn, Mozart & Beethoven on original instruments.

An appearance at the Schwetzingen Festival conducting the revival of a 19c opera by Halstrom launched his new career as a conductor. Many new productions were to follow, particularly on the continent where he was told he “could dine out for the rest of his life on the reviews”. After working with the Orchestre Nationale de Lille their Manager, Michel de Borderies wrote…”how pleased we were to have worked with you, and may I tell you, on behalf of the whole orchestra, how much we have loved your musical and human qualities which are at a level very rarely seen these days”.

Alan gave master classes and performances for nearly 40 years at Dartington International Summer School. During his 70th birthday celebrations, Gavin Henderson, the artistic director wrote…”as an artist he has given us countless experiences to treasure, and as a teacher has encouraged many generations of young musicians to think and behave ‘outside the box’.”

In 2004 he received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of York, he was also honoured by the Preussicher Musikinstrumenten Berlin who made him Patron of their “200 years of Clarinet” celebration and exhibition.

Alan firmly believed that music should be open to all. In 1992 he became the Patron of a York based charity, Accessible Arts & Media, where he went on to spend 20 years nurturing the talents of their many disabled musicians and performers whatever the nature of their disability or the level of their ability.

For many years at our home in Ryedale, Alan and I welcomed professional and amateur musicians who came from all over the world for tuition and to take part in our summer charity concerts.

I remember him of course, as a great musician, but it was his warmth, kindness, patience, encouragement, humour and the love he showed not only to me but to all those he met each day that singled him out as a truly exceptional human being.

Margaret Hacker October 2012

Listen to some of Alan's music.