Ian Macpherson: accompanist, musical director, orchestrator, arranger and composer.

Born: August 18, 1935;

Died: April 6, 2020.

IAN Macpherson, who has died at the age of 84, was a noted musical director and orchestrator who brought his talents to the stage and the screen and who, in a career filled with many highlights, once – at late notice – accompanied Frank Sinatra at a concert in London.

He worked on many West End musicals, including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Song and Dance, and Promises, Promises, which was written by Neil Simon, with music by Burt Bacharach; Ian met and worked with Bacharach in the pre-production period.

Ian Macpherson was born in Kilmarnock in 1935 and moved to London with his family in 1946 when his father, the tenor Andrew Macpherson, joined the London Opera company.

Having fully absorbed a musical upbringing, piano lessons and the necessary discipline – not least because he provided his father with a ready-made accompanist – Ian went on to train at the Royal Academy of Music. He studied piano and composition, and won the Walter Macfarren prize for best pianist in the Recital Diploma class in 1959, his final year.

While still a student, he graduated from piano/assistant musical director under Anthony Bowles to musical director of a West End musical – Bamber Gascoigne’s ​“diversion with music”, Share My Lettuce.

He went on to conduct many other West End shows, including ​Sandy Wilson’s 1965 hit Divorce Me, Darling!, during which, ironically, he met my actress mother​, ​ Vicky Clayton: both of them were married to other people at the time.

He also conducted Bill Owen and Tony Russell’s The Matchgirls (1966) at London’s Globe Theatre; Two Cities; Promises, Promises; Thomas and the King; I Do! I Do!, Peter Nichols’s Privates on Parade; Annie, and Song and Dance.

He both orchestrated and conducted Kiss Me, Kate and Nichols and Monty Norman’s Poppy (for the Royal Shakespeare Company)​ and​ Pickwick. He also led the orchestra on a production of ​Robert and Elizabeth, in Canada.

His other theatre work as musical arranger and orchestrator included the musicals ​Windy City, Pinocchio, Oh Kay, Metropolis, Rage of the Heart, Scrooge and Sherlock Holmes.

In addition, both in concert and on record, his intuitive and supportive skills as accompanist and musical director were appreciated by singers as diverse as Agnes Bernelle, Anne Rogers, Anne Shelton, the Eurovision winners, Dana and Lulu and many more who beat a path to Ian’s door to bring out the best of a song in rehearsal.

However, for his brother Ross, a singer who predeceased him by 20 years, the proudest moment was when Ian was called upon to deputise for an indisposed pianist to accompany Sinatra in 1990.

Ian also composed and arranged music for film, TV, commercials and library music as well as orchestrating film scores by such composers as Nigel Hess, Jennie Muskett and Alex Heffes. He also composed an original stage work: ​Castaway, based on the story of ​Robinson Crusoe ​ (lyrics by Peter Reeves), staged at the Horseshoe Theatre, Basingtoke, in 1988.

Ian often spoke of the enriching experience assisting Irwin Kostal on orchestrating the Sherman Brothers’ score for ​Chitty ​ ​Chitty Bang Bang ​alongside another budding composer, John Williams. Ian plays the celeste on ​Truly Scrumptious.

Ian had a particular inclination towards brass and woodwind, perhaps influenced by his spell with the Marines during National Service. He wrote extensively (both as orchestrator and composer) for wind band, having scored many of Hess’s concert pieces as well as ​John Dankworth’s Hemming Way. He also orchestrated several pieces for Carl Davis which were performed during the latter’s tenure as Artistic Director and Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

Inspired by his roots and his strong desire to nurture and encourage young players, he wrote ​Scottish Fantasy, which was premiered at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall by the Lothian Region Schools Wind Band in 1995 and is now published (by Samuel King), as is his ​Lauderdale ​ ​Suite​ for Band (published by Valentine Music Group).

Between 2000 and 2010 Ian deployed his wealth of experience to develop and instruct, as he became a tutor for students of orchestration. His students included composer Savourna Stevenson. She says of Ian: “A Scottish Nelson Riddle or Billy May, Ian could orchestrate in any and every style. I remember him joining me at a rehearsal of my Concerto for Pedal Harp with Catrin Finch and the Scottish Ensemble and I introduced him as the man who taught me everything I know about orchestration. The response from the Ensemble’s Jonathan Morton was, ‘Well, he made a bloody good job of it then!’”

He became an associate of the Royal Academy of Music in 2006, which created an elegant bookending to Ian’s career.

In his final decade, however, ill-health hampered his productivity. Admission to hospital with heart failure during the Covid-19 pandemic led to his death.

Ian is survived by Vicky, his partner of 54 years, and her daughter Alex and granddaughters, Anna and Grace, for whom he was an adored step(grand) dad.