Late farewell to Mark Foster
Late farewell to Mark Foster
A few weeks ago I learned of the death of the Australian conductor, pianist and composer Mark Foster, a colleague I greatly valued and with whom I had several very nice joint projects, especially at the Lucerne Opera House.
Unfortunately, I don’t know what exactly happened – he died at the age of 66, far too early. The name Mark Foster probably means little to most of our readers, as he has hardly been active in Germany for many decades, but always wished he was more so. There is a single brief obituary[ https://slippedisc.com/2023/09/death-of-an-australian-conductor-in-france/ ] online, actually just a mention, nothing more. You learn nothing about Mark Foster as a person, nothing about his artistic work.
A death like Mark Foster’s gives me pause. Of course he wasn’t one of the world’s most famous conductors, otherwise we would be reading tributes everywhere. But he was anything but an unsuccessful conductor, always active, conducting operas and composing. At the beginning of his career he assisted Barenboim, among others, was good friends with Peter Eötvös, founded a new music ensemble (in Lyon), performed worldwide with renowned orchestras and most recently conducted the Nice Philharmonic. You can read all of this here .
I remember Mark as an extremely hard-working, almost hyperactive person. Always slightly nervous, chain-smoking, always enthusiastic, highly intelligent, funny, a bit weird. What set him apart was his great collegiality. For example, he selflessly advocated for my music, re-orchestrated my scores so that they could be performed at smaller venues, and recommended them wherever he could. He did this not just for me, but for any kind of music he was passionate about. He didn’t praise himself for this; there was nothing boastful or self-absorbed about him.
He was critical of his own music. Although he was certainly highly talented, I always had the feeling that he threw himself into working for others in order to avoid having to compose himself, because his high demands on art also paralyzed him. He spoke openly about these frustrations and also his longing to be more uninhibited and creative. This could have degenerated into resentment or jealousy, but that was simply not his style. He was far removed from any careerist tactics, and he was not a man of elbows either. Maybe that’s why his career wasn’t spectacular, but it was definitely a successful musical career, he was able to live from his work and support a family.
One of the things that connected us was that we had both studied with Killmayer (whose music he greatly appreciated and which he often performed). Once he was our guest for several days because of a joint work, which was not easy because of his constant need to talk. We were very lucky to have a very large balcony at the time, which he used extensively for smoking; otherwise we would definitely have choked on his cigarette smoke; he smoked at least two to three packs a day.
Even when we didn’t work together, he always kept in touch and called at regular intervals. I always tried to recommend him, but without the power of an agency and my contacts, which were limited to the new music scene, I unfortunately couldn’t do as much for him as he had hoped. Over time, I noticed that his calls changed in tone. There were always confusing moments and strange repetitions. Once he talked to me on the phone for hours and told me about a musical he was working on and that it would be his best work, but he had already told me all of this a few days before. Something seemed wrong.
Since he didn’t use e-mail (his son always did this for him), communication with him became increasingly difficult, and at some point we lost contact until I found out about his death. I have no idea if these were signs of some kind of illness, but it seemed a bit like it.
Why am I telling all this? As I’ve already described, Mark wasn’t someone who particularly hogged the spotlight. But people like Mark Foster are exactly the ones who keep the place running. They do the work in the opera house when the GMD is on tour. They accompany the singers themselves when the accompanists are overloaded. They sit in the canteen until late at night and add bowing marks because the concertmaster is too busy. They never get the most applause, are rarely mentioned in reviews, but are exactly the ones who, unlike, for example, Gergiev, always show up to rehearsals on time and are really prepared, who have perfect craftsmanship without having to flaunt it . This used to be called “old school Kapellmeister”, a term that can now be described as almost antiquarian.
I think we need to talk about people like Mark more often. The business isn’t just run by the stars. Fantastic musicians everywhere are doing their work, often quietly, unnoticed by the public, defying the adverse circumstances without complaining. They are just as important to the scene as the Barenboims and Thielemanns, but in contrast to them, they are hardly noticed.
It is absolutely clear that only a few can stand in the spotlight. There is not enough space for everyone. But I think it’s important that we show those in the „second row“ the same respect as the stars. The music world also needs the Mark Fosters to function. Without them it doesn’t work.
Mark got little reward, little repercussion for what he did. But that’s precisely why you can see that the music itself was a reward for him and that he never drew his energy from self-expression. For this we must give people like him the utmost respect because we can learn from them.
I miss him and am sad that I couldn’t talk to him again. Then I would have told him exactly that.