19 Feb 2018

In memory of Desmond Heath

Desmond Heath, who was a regular member of the English Baroque Soloists and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique passed away peacefully on Thursday 1st February at the age of 90. He had a wonderful career as a violinist working with John Eliot Gardiner and Monteverdi Choir & Orchestras between 1978 and 2003 during important projects, from Rameau Operas Les Boreades and Hippolyte et Arice through to the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage and performances of all the great Mozart operas.

He was a valued member of both orchestras - his commitment and enthusiasm over the 25 years he worked with us was much appreciated. As a result he will be profoundly missed and we would like to extend our deepest sympathies to his family and loved ones at this sad time.

A tribute from John Eliot Gardiner

‘From the moment he first joined playing with the Monteverdi Orchestra sometime during the 1970s, I found Desmond Heath to be the consummate gentleman-musician and a most lovable man. Ultra professional, loyal, and a wonderful colleague, Desmond stood out from his generation of highly skilled orchestral violinists (he had been a regular member of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonia) by his exceptional open-mindedness and big-heartedness.

Together with such long-serving stalwarts as Hildburg Williams, Roy Mowatt and Valerie Botwright, Desmond bravely took the plunge with me when (after much heartache) in 1977 I decided to disband the Monteverdi Orchestra and to form a new period instrument orchestra, the English Baroque Soloists. Forty years on, it is easy to forget the bravery it took for conventionally trained players to leap into such unknown waters, acquire fresh techniques and adopt a completely different mindset when playing Bach, Handel or Mozart. But these were heady challenging times that shook the foundations of the musical world. As with all pioneer endeavours, the rewards and insights were great; but there was also a barrage of mockery to withstand from the refuseniks.

Desmond played with us regularly all through the 1980s and 90s and always seemed to relish the many different projects we undertook. No matter if it was an unknown opera by Rameau - whose highly complex and mannered style took some mastering - or our first Beethoven symphony cycle with the ORR in the 1990s - works which Desmond must have played dozens of times previously and under many legendary conductors, you sensed that he was always willing to give it a go, eager to explore new musical horizons and to meet each new technical and musical challenge head on. In this way I came to value Desmond for his wisdom and integrity, as well as his enthusiasm. In his own quiet, understated and poetic way, I felt he was the heartbeat of both the EBS and the ORR in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He will be sorely missed by all his fellow musicians and friends, and I’m sure they would join me in sending our love and sincere condolences to his close family’