John Amis at a Critics' Circle luncheon, April 2010
|Born||John Preston Amis
17 June 1922
|Died||1 August 2013(aged 91)|
John Preston Amis (17 June 1922 – 1 August 2013) was a British broadcaster, classical music critic, music administrator, and writer. He was a frequent contributor for The Guardian and to BBC radio and television music programming.
Born in Dulwich, London to a banking family, Amis a cousin of the novelist Kingsley Amis, Amis was educated at Dulwich College, where he began a lifelong friendship with his contemporary, Donald Swann. A serious bout of mastoiditis as a child left him deaf in his left ear. He began his career working in a bank for five and a half weeks before leaving to earn a living in music. Amis had a number of roles, including gramophone record salesman, and orchestra manager (at one point turning pages for Dame Myra Hess during the wartime concerts at the National Gallery.), before becoming a music critic, initially with The Scotsman in 1946. He was for several years manager for Sir Thomas Beecham, and also worked for the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 1948, William Glock invited Amis to run a summer school for musicians at Bryanston School, Dorset. The summer school moved to Dartington in 1953. Amis remained administrative director until 1981, during which time he brought to the school a long line of international musicians, amongst them Paul Hindemith, Igor Stravinsky, and Sir Michael Tippett.
Amis' short career as a tenor began with a minor role in the 1967 recording of Bernard Herrmann's cantata Moby-Dick. He made his operatic debut in 1990 as the Emperor in Turandot. Amis had started singing in earnest after 1959: in that year he attended Frederick Husler's singing class at Dartington 'just for fun', and was told not only that he had the makings of a Heldentenor, but that he ought to go to Germany to study.
From the 1950s onwards, Amis became a regular contributor to BBC Radio's music output, and worked on BBC Television from 1961, producing and presenting documentaries, and introducing the BBC2 magazine programme Music Now. As a broadcaster, he is probably best known for his appearances as a team member, from 1974 to 1994, on the BBC Radio 4 panel show, My Music, replacing David Franklin. It was on this show that he disclosed an unexpected talent as a skilled siffleur. His own radio show on Radio 3 interviewed musicians and contemporary witnesses such as Sir Isaiah Berlin. For many years he wrote a column on music in The Tablet, England's best-known Catholic magazine.
His friends in the music industry included Noel Mewton-Wood and Felix Aprahamian, for whom he wrote a tribute following Aprahamian's death in January 2005. He was also closely associated with Gerard Hoffnung and organized many of Hoffnung's concerts until the latter's death in 1959; he performed a comic duet from The Barber of Darmstadt with Owen Brannigan at the 1961 Hoffnung Festival.
Amis wrote a number of books, on his own Amiscellany imprint, with titles including My Music in London: 1945-2000. Amis spent much of his time giving talks and one-man shows, after dinner speeches and concert works. Amis was a patron of the Music Libraries Trust and the Tait Memorial Trust, and a vice-president of the Putney Music society.
In 1949, Amis married the violinist Olive Zorian. The marriage was dissolved in 1955 and Zorian died in 1965. He is survived by his partner for his last six years, Isla Baring OAM, Chairman of the Tait Memorial Trust of which he was a Patron. He once said that she gave him his "Indian summer". His funeral was held on 20 August 2013 at the Musicians' Church, St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in London.
- Celebration of Dame Myra Hess from the National Gallery (London)|National Gallery. Accessed 20 December 2006.
- Dennis Barker (2013-08-02). "John Amis obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-01-13.
- John Amis biography on easy-speak.com. Accessed 20 December 2006.
- 'The Biter Bit', Radio Times, 6 May 1960, p. 5.
- List of Isaiah Berlin interviews from Oxford University. Accessed 20 December 2006.
- Amis' obituary for Felix Aprahamian, The Guardian. Accessed 20 December 2006.
- Amiscellany details on amolibros.com. Accessed 20 December 2006.
- Speaker's Agency page on Amis at the Wayback Machine (archived 19 August 2001), dated 21 January 2001, accessed via Internet Archive 20 December 2006.
- Music Libraries Trust list of patrons. Accessed 20 December 2006.
- Tait Memorial Trust. Accessed 7 September 2010.
- Putney Music society. Accessed 20 December 2006.
- Olive Zorian Biography. Accessed 7 September 2010.
- "Tait Memorial Trust". Tait Memorial Trust. 2013-08-09. Retrieved 2013-08-13.
- 2 August 2013 (2013-08-02). "John Amis". Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-08-13.