Ruth Pearl

Musician enriched NZ scene

Last updated 11:43 30/10/2008
CALM AND COLLECTED: Ruth Pearl attributed her stage composure to having to play lunchtime recitals amid the rattle of teacups and cutlery in World War II factories.

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Musician: b Liverpool, February 14, 1916; m (1) 1946 Stanley Jackson (dec 1961) 1s 2d, (2) 1966 Dobbs Franks; d Melbourne, October 2, 2008.
Violinist Ruth Pearl, who spent nearly two decades in New Zealand, was a stalwart and concertmaster of the popular Alex Lindsay String Orchestra in Wellington in the 1960s.

As a young woman, Pearl was considered one of the most promising musicians in Britain. She grew up there, one of three sisters all given the musical education their mother would have loved to have had. She was trained at the Royal College of Music, where she became concertmaster of the college orchestra for conductors such as Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir Malcolm Sargent and Sir Adrian Boult. She also studied in Budapest.

She was the first woman to be a concertmaster of a professional orchestra in Britain, the Jacques Orchestra, with which she played for the great contralto Kathleen Ferrier in a notable recording of St Matthew Passion. She led the orchestra at Westminster Abbey for Ferrier's first Messiah. She also led her own English String Quartet – a favourite of Vaughan Williams – before coming to New Zealand with her first husband, Stanley Jackson, in 1949.

Before that, in her 20s, she had been one of many musicians sponsored by the Arts Council of Great Britain to play for workers whose lives had been culturally deprived by World War II. Sometimes she played in factories that had been burrowed deep underground to protect their secrecy.

She later attributed her stage composure to having to play lunchtime recitals amid the rattle of teacups and cutlery in those factories. Not every factory worker wanted to hear classical music and she complied with some unexpected requests.

She and Jackson – a musician and artist who made a living as a commercial artist and music teacher – decided to make their home in New Zealand, where she was feted as a concert soloist.

In 1962 she was appointed leader of the new Broadcasting Concert Orchestra, which, among other things, played for the New Zealand opera and ballet companies. It was disbanded two years later. She then led a new professional group, the New Zealand Theatre Ensemble, also intended to accompany opera and ballet.

At the time there was criticism that there were no New Zealand players in the group of 11 musicians, all recruited from Australia and Britain. Her rejoinder was that New Zealand was too small to produce enough highly talented musicians.

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She met her second husband, American-born conductor and concertmaster Dobbs Franks, in 1965 when he was brought to New Zealand to conduct Porgy and Bess, starring Inia Te Wiata, for the New Zealand Opera Company. In 1966 they were both involved in playing for the Lindsay orchestra and the NZBC. The age gap – she was 18 years older – was never an impediment to a love affair that lasted till her death.

In the year of her marriage she was appointed to Victoria University's music department to teach violin as part of a plan to establish schools of instrumental studies similar to those already operating in Auckland and Canterbury universities.

In 1969 the couple moved to Sydney, where Franks was appointed conductor of the Australian Opera, and together they formed the Elizabethan Melbourne Orchestra, now known as Orchestra Victoria. By 1972 they were in New York, where she played at the Metropolitan Opera House. A few years later they returned to New Zealand for three years to form a professional chamber orchestra in Christchurch and then moved back to Australia, which they made their permanent home and where her husband remains professionally active. He recently conducted Verdi's Falstaff in Tokyo and was chosen as a judge in the national singing competition held in the Sydney Opera House.

Ruth Pearl was well into her 80s in 1999 when they were engaged by the Brisbane Festival to conduct and lead Kiss Me Kate with Yvonne Kenny and Sir Thomas Allen. Happy with this final success, she never opened her violin case again. – By Diana Dekker. Sources: Dobbs Franks, Christopher Blake, Dominion Post library.

- The Dominion Post

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