Alexander Gibson (conductor)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Sir Alexander Drummond Gibson CBE FRSE FRSAMD Hon RAM FRCM RSA FRSA (11 February 1926 – 14 January 1995) was a Scottish conductor and opera intendant.


Gibson was born in Motherwell in 1926 and was educated at Dalziel High School. He excelled at the piano and organ, and at 18 became the organist at Hillhead Congregational Church, Glasgow while studying music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. In 1943 he matriculated at the University of Glasgow to study Music and English. After his first year, however, the war interrupted his studies and he served with the Royal Signals Band until 1948 when he took up a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London.[1] after which Sir Alexander Gibson studied at the Mozarteum, Salzburg under Igor Markevitch, and under Paul Van Kempen at the Accademia Chigiana, Siena.

He was Assistant Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra 1952-54 and conducted two productions for the amateur Glasgow Grand Opera Society in 1954. At the time of his appointment in 1957 as musical director of Sadler's Wells, he was the youngest ever to have taken that position.

Returning to Glasgow, in 1959 he became the first Scottish principal conductor and artistic director of the Scottish National Orchestra, a post he held until 1984, to date longer than any other conductor. Under his leadership the orchestra built an international reputation through recordings and foreign tours and appeared regularly in the SNO Proms in Glasgow, in Edinburgh International Festival, where he also created the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, and in London at The Proms.

Gibson created and launched Scottish Opera in 1962 and was its music director until 1986. Through his artistic achievements the Theatre Royal, Glasgow was bought from Scottish Television and transformed in 1975 to be the first national opera house in Scotland, and the home theatre of Scottish Opera and of Scottish Ballet, and from 1980 the Scottish Theatre Company. In 1987, Gibson was appointed conductor laureate of Scottish Opera and held this title for the remainder of his life. From 1981 to 1983 he was also principal guest conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra. He was principal conductor of the Guildford Philharmonic. During his career he made guest appearances with all the major British orchestras and extensively throughout Europe, Australia, the Americas, Hong Kong and Japan. [2]


His many awards include two Grand Prix International de l’Academie Charles Cros Awards, the Sibelius Medal in 1978, and honorary doctorates from Aberdeen, Glasgow, Newcastle, Stirling, York and the Open universities.He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1967, was knighted in 1977 and became president of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, where in his memory, the Alexander Gibson School of Opera was opened in 1998. It is the first purpose-built opera school in Great Britain.

Gibson had a particular affinity for Scandinavian music, particularly Jean Sibelius, whose work he recorded several times, and Carl Nielsen. He was awarded Finland's Sibelius Medal in recognition of his distinguished service to the composer's music. He was strongly committed to contemporary music and in 1961 he founded a new music festival in Glasgow originally called Musica Viva, later Musica Nova Festival, Glasgow. Among the many important premieres he conducted there was the first British performance of Gruppen by Karlheinz Stockhausen, in 1961. He was also a constant advocate of new music by Scottish composers. In the opera house he was regarded as a particularly fine interpreter of Mozart and Wagner,conducting the complete Ring des Nibelungen with Scottish Opera in 1971. He was equally at home in the Italian repertoire. In 1969 he conducted a memorable Scottish Opera production of Les Troyens by Berlioz - the first ever complete performance of both parts of the opera in one evening.


Sir Alexander Gibson died in December 1995 from complications following a heart attack. He was 68.


Throughout his career, outlined above, Sir Alexander Gibson`s legacy equal to his international musicianship has been making classical music and opera accessible to all and encouraging artistes to excel. His discography is detailed in the biography of him written by Conrad Wilson, as are the premieres, concert works and operas conducted by him. In the Theatre Royal, Glasgow there is a lofty portrait of him in the orchestra pit perched on a stool, painted by David Donaldson, the Queen`s Limner in Scotland and a bust of him in conducting mode by the sculptor Archie Forrest. Also, a street in his hometown of New Stevenston, Motherwell is named after him, Alexander Gibson Way.


  • New York Times
  • Scottish Opera - the first ten years by Conrad Wilson, 1972 ISBN 0-00-410584-2
  • It's a Curious Story - The Tale of Scottish Opera 1962-1987 by Cordelia Oliver, 1987 ISBN 1-85158-066-2
  • Alex - the Authorised Biography by Conrad Wilson, 1993 ISBN 1-85158-574-5
  • The Theatre Royal : Entertaining a Nation by Graeme Smith, 2008 ISBN 978-0-9559420-0-6
  • Playing for Scotland:History of the Royal Scottish Orchestra. By Conrad Wilson, published in 1993 by Collins

External links[edit]

Cultural offices
Preceded by
James Robertson
Music Director, Sadler's Wells
Succeeded by
Colin Davis
Preceded by
Music Director, Scottish Opera
Succeeded by
John Mauceri