Pianist and teacher

Born July 22, 1924;

Died December 10, 2015

HESTER Dickson, who has died aged 91, was the most stalwart of Scottish musicians, an indomitable pianist, accompanist, and pillar of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in its Glasgow heyday under that name and more recently when it changed its identity to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Everybody who cared about classical music in Scotland seemed to know her, or know of her, as a pianist and as a personality. Born into a prosperous Edinburgh musical family - her father, Dr Douglas Dickson, was in fact an established lawyer but was famed for his musicality and for his musical friendships and contacts.

As a player himself, he presided over the Mendelssohnian concerts of chamber music featuring Hester and Joan, Hester’s renowned cellist sister, given regularly before audiences at home, reputedly before a convivial Sunday lunch.

Douglas Dickson was closely involved with the Nelson Hall Concerts, held frequently in Edinburgh’s public libraries in Fountainbridge, Newington and McDonald Road (admission free, vagrants not excluded) where Joan and Hester played Beethoven sonatas, Wight Henderson championed Schubert, and lieder singers of the calibre of Joan Alexander joined in, building up their reputations in the process.

Along with Edinburgh’s distinguished professor of music Sir Donald Tovey, and his successor Sidney Newman, Douglas Dickson became part of the city’s musical infrastructure, from which his daughters benefited. Sir Adrian Boult, conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London, was Hester’s godfather. Hester herself studied music at Edinburgh University before going to the Royal Academy of Music in London as a piano pupil of Harold Craxton.

But Scotland, both professionally and domestically, was to remain her environment as player and expert accompanist. The names “Joan and Hester Dickson” were long inseparable on recital programmes as a symbol of quality and it was while continuing her life in Scotland that Hester established herself as a teacher at the RSAMD in Glasgow.

A constant commuter on the early morning train, she was famously one of the first arrivals each day for breakfast in the academy’s cafeteria. In the evening she was often still there, right up to the time of her official retirement at the age of 90, a familiar and benevolent figure attentively listening to performances from her seat at the back of the academy’s Stevenson Hall.

During her 60-year career, she had had hundreds of devoted pupils and given hundreds of performances, appearing regularly with Joan at Tertia Liebenthal’s Wednesday lunchtime concerts at Edinburgh’s National Gallery - it was at the 699th of these events, in which Joan was appearing as cellist, that Tertia dropped dead, after proudly announcing that the 700th programme would be given by Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten.

Hester Dickson was married twice, first to Laurence Poole, a lawyer and fellow student from her Edinburgh University days, with whom she had a son, Adrian.

But her husband died young and in 1959 she married Canon George Martineau, a widower with several children. By him she had another son, Malcolm, who grew up to be a piano accompanist of exceptional talent and international acclaim, one of the finest in Britain, as his appearances at the Edinburgh Festival and elsewhere have confirmed.

But by 1969, George was also dead and Hester’s life as a minister’s wife returned to being exclusively musical.

No longer residing in a manse, she found a new Edinburgh home in Bellevue Terrace which, with two large grand pianos in its drawing-room, soon became a hive of music-making, teeming with visiting performers, pupils and friends, just like the old days when her father was alive.

In her final year she moved into Cluny Lodge, a retirement home where Malcolm came and played for her.

The day after her death, Jeffrey Sharkey, principal of the RCS, told his staff that Hester considered the conservatoire to be her family - ultimately confessing to friends that she only came these days for the gossip. “It’s not a bad word,” she added. “It comes from gospel, so it’s biblically sanctioned.”

Professor Sharkey praised her flair for sharing family anecdotes about Robert Schumann or Sir Donald Tovey as if they were “off-the-cuff remarks, nothing special.”

After one of her last performances she said to the conservatoire’s archivist that she saw him counting the bum notes - “but I don’t play notes,” she confided, “I play music.”

She is survived by her brother, two sons, a grand-daughter, two great grandsons, and a substantial step-family, as well as the staff and students of the RCS.