Peter Lloyd: Distinguished and gentlemanly
By Robert Bigio
There is no better word to describe
Peter Lloyd than ‘distinguished’:
distinguished as a person,
distinguished as a musician, and
latterly distinguished as a teacher.
Peter has been professor of flute at
the Royal Northern College of
Music since 1993, after a playing
career that included a long spell as
first flute in the London Symphony
Orchestra. Now, at a venerable age,
he devotes himself to teaching, and
it is no exaggeration to say that he
is adored by his students and
colleagues. Indeed, one of his
fellow flute professors at the
RNCM credits Peter with
engendering the positive and
supportive atmosphere that exists
in the college. This is not to say
that lessons with Peter are an easy
ride for anyone. On the contrary;
he demands (and receives) the
highest standards from his students, but he does this without any of the bullying and
unpleasantness that characterised the teaching practice of the past.
Peter Lloyd was born in Dorset into a resolutely non-musical family. His father, who was, as we
used to say, ‘something in the City’, expressed a degree of outrage at Peter’s musical interest:
‘My son a flute player?’ Peter’s first flute teacher at Dauntsey’s School, a private establishment in
Wiltshire, was a Mr. Nightingale, a man whose knowledge of the flute was limited. Peter
describes him as being of the ‘smile and blow’ school of teaching. He may have been unaware of
the niceties of flute playing, but he was an inspirational teacher, and he led Peter to a place at
the Royal College of Music. There, he studied with Edward Walker. He found college
interesting, but says he desperately needed more in the way of technique. He was excused
National Service on the grounds of his asthma (a condition that many years later contributed to
the end of his playing career), and after three years at the RCM joined the National Youth
Orchestra. ‘I didn’t last long,’ he says. ‘I got chucked out straight away because the flute teacher,
Gareth Morris, didn’t think I was good enough. And he was right, too.’ (A couple of decades
later, when Peter was first flute in the LSO and Gareth Morris was still first flute in the
Philharmonia, the two men shared a smile about this incident.)
Peter Lloyd’s first playing job was in the Scottish National Orchestra as second flute. Times have
changed. Nowadays hundreds of players apply for any orchestral job, but in this case there were
just two applicants: Peter and a former army bandsman, whose knowledge of Beethoven, Peter
remembers, was limited. Peter got the job. ‘It was the most incredible thing in my life,’ he
remembers. ‘I sat between two Louis Lot-playing former students of Fernand Caratgé. There I
was sitting with my old wooden flute, listening to the way these people could play—the
technique and the colours and what they wanted to do with the music. I was stunned, and I
decided that I had to save up my money and go to Paris.’ Two and a half years later, he did. The
SNO gave him a year off.
His teacher in Paris, Caratgé, was an exacting man. ‘I spent that year starting from scratch.
These were extraordinary lessons for me. I was desperate to learn technique.’ Caratgé made him
do three hours’ concentrated practice every day (Peter stresses the word ‘concentrated’), but with
one day off a week, and he insisted on perfection. This taught him how not to make mistakes.
‘This was exactly what I needed,’ says Peter. At the end of his time in Paris, Caratgé, who had
come to like his playing, told him, ‘Vous avez la sense de la flûte.’
During his time in Paris he heard many flute players. I asked which one he admired the most.
There was no hesitation: ‘Fernand Dufrène—that great man.’ Caratgé was a great player in his
way, remembers Peter, but of Dufrène he says, ‘I will never forget that sound!’
Peter returned to the SNO for a year before taking his first principal flute job with the BBC
Northern Orchestra in Manchester, which he describes as a small sight-reading orchestra; piles
of music would appear on the stand, the microphones would be turned on and he would play.
This training, he says, stood him in good stead years later as a freelance player in London. By
1958, however, missing the big orchestral works, he returned to the SNO as first flute. In 1960,
when the BBC Northern was increased to a full-sized symphony orchestra, he returned to the
first flute job there and stayed until 1967.
During his time in Manchester, never satisfied with his own playing, Peter took lessons from
Geoffrey Gilbert, and in 1964 took six weeks’ leave from the orchestra to study in Paris with
Jean-Pierre Rampal. He was then thirty-three years old. Surely, I asked him, he was confident
enough about his playing by then? In fact, he was fascinated by Rampal’s articulation, the
cleanest he had heard, and he wanted to know how he did it. Peter remains impressed by
Rampal’s attitude to his playing: ‘I’m still climbing the ladder,’ Rampal told him.
In 1967 the Hallé Orchestra’s principal flute, Douglas Townshend, left for the BBC Welsh
Orchestra, taking with him his wife, Lissa, the piccolo player. At the same time, the second flute
player asked for maternity leave. The Hallé, in some trouble, invited Peter to play first flute. At
the same time, he had been doing extra work in the LSO, which also offered him a job. The LSO
at the time had two principal flute players: William Bennett and James Galway. ‘Jimmy left for
the RPO,’ Peter remembers, ‘and Wibb asked for me to come as the other principal.’ The Hallé
job would have been more secure, and there was a danger that the LSO would only employ
Peter as a freelancer, so he told the LSO that he would consider going to them only if they
offered him the job on a permanent basis. They did, and he moved to London.
After some years playing for the microphones in the BBC Northern, Peter says his sound had
become small and intense, and he was playing with a rather covered embouchure. In the LSO,
mostly playing live concerts, he was in danger of being swamped. As before, he was not afraid
to seek help. ‘I asked Wibb what to do, and Wibb immediately gave me Marcel Moyse’s
telephone number in St. Amour, France. I telephoned him, he asked me to come, and I left the
LSO for six weeks to study with him.’ He found Moyse wonderful, and for his part Moyse liked
Peter and his attitude. Peter remains grateful for the help Moyse gave him.
Peter spent the next two decades at the pinnacle of the music profession in London: first flute in
the LSO, professor at the Guildhall School of Music and member of chamber ensembles such as
the Tuckwell Wind Quintet and the English Taskin Players. One day, however, he had a
conversation with Geoffrey Gilbert, who had taken a teaching position at an American
university. Peter asked him how he was enjoying it. ‘I love it,’ was the response. This got him
thinking, and he decided to leave the LSO and move to Indiana University as professor of flute.
‘I loved it, too,’ he says. ‘It was heaven.’ He had great colleagues—musicians of world class such
as Janos Starker, Menahem Pressler and Franco Gulli—and he found the students delightful to
teach. ‘They were so strong, so intense, so unwilling to waste a cent.’ So why did he leave after
six years? ‘I made a big mistake,’ he admits. ‘I didn’t understand how important sport was to
American universities, because that’s where so much of their money comes from, and they use
marching bands to entertain at sporting events. The directors of the marching bands wanted all
the best players, but I thought those players shouldn’t be wasting their time on such things.’
This was the beginning of a terminal falling-out. He was offered a job at the RNCM in 1993 and
took it. He is still there.
What about the end of his playing career? He had returned to Manchester and had set up a
concert of music by Jindřich Feld and other Czech composers, but before the concert he caught
pneumonia. That, with the asthma that had troubled him throughout his life, made it impossible
for him to play. ‘The air would not work,’ he remembers. ‘Then I said to myself, aren’t you
lucky! You don’t have to worry any more.’ And so he stopped, aged sixty-two.
‘I’m still developing as a teacher,’ Peter says. He loves the RNCM. There are great players there,
and some of his past students are hugely successful in the music business. He says he is pleased
to be able to concentrate on teaching instead of playing as it permits him to think about how
things should be done. ‘Teaching is a totally different craft. I feel I now know what I’m doing.’
Once, he would have to demonstrate to his students. ‘Now I don’t need to do that—I know how
to make them do it.’ He is a perfectionist, and he demands perfection from his students.
Peter Lloyd now lives near Liverpool with his wife, who is one of the leaders of the Liverpool
Phil, and their three sons, aged sixteen, thirteen and nine. He does not deny that he is a lucky
man. ‘I love my life.’
This article first appeared in Flute, the Journal of the British Flute Society, in March 2010.
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