Richard Chester, music administrator

Born: April 19, 1943;

Died: June 28, 2020.

IT was with considerable pride that Richard Chester, the pioneering administrator of the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland welcomed the orchestra’s patron, Prince Edward, to its 100th concert. It was July 1991, and the venue was the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

The prince was presented with a souvenir programme by Chester’s then 11-year-old daughter, Emily. The conductor was the Russian, Sergei Vlasov;, the soloist was Peter Katin, in Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

“The first concert was given in a tent in a park at Falkirk”, Chester recalled in an interview with this newspaper, “but since then we’ve played in most European countries and all of Scandinavia”. The most famous former pupil at that time was the percussionist, Evelyn Glennie. Later, a young violin prodigy, Nicola Benedetti, would become the youngest member of the orchestra.

Richard Chester, who has died of cancer at the age of 77, was widely seen as a visionary within music education in Scotland and beyond, always striving to create more opportunities for young musicians in both classical and jazz. Conductor and cellist Will Conway spoke for many when he said that Chester’s “colossal” contribution at NYoS enhanced the lives of many of young musicians.

Chester was principal flautist at the Scottish National Orchestra (later, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra) and left to become administrator and, latterly, chief executive at NYoS. In his 20 years there he increased the opportunities available to young people and also introduced the Jazz Orchestra and programme. Always keen to ensure that Scotland’s young musicians could receive international recognition and experience, he organised many overseas tours, and was a founder member of the European Federation of National Youth Orchestras and the World Federation of Amateur Orchestras.

Ever mindful of the bigger picture in youth arts, he was also instrumental in encouraging and supporting Christopher Bell to set up the National Youth Choir of Scotland, which went on to transform youth singing in Scotland.

Colin Currie, the solo and chamber percussionist, said: “Richard carried himself with such dignity, but I always found him very approachable. Even when I first auditioned for NYoS at 13, I felt like I was taken very seriously and respected. He treated everyone with the same courtesy and consideration, and that will be one of his hallmarks”.

Andrew Bain, senior lecturer in Jazz at the Birmingham Conservatoire and director of Jazz for the NYoS, said that under Chester’s leadership, NYOS Jazz was supported and nurtured, as he allowed it the creative freedom to expand and excel, year after year.

Nick Žekulin, Chief Executive and Artistic Director, National Youth Orchestras of Scotland, described Chester as “a giant in everything he did – a fiercely intelligent man and a visionary, he had an impact on the lives of so many young people in Scotland. Generations of musicians have spoken of the guidance and generosity they received from him. Richard was someone for whom I had the utmost admiration and respect. He will be sadly missed.”

The RSNO itself tweeted: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and former Principal Flute, Richard Chester. Through his tireless work & dedication as a performer, educator, administrator and patron, Richard’s influence reaches many generations of musicians”.

Richard Waugh Chester was born in Hutton Rudby, Yorkshire in 1943. He had three siblings: David, Margaret and Barbara. and he was educated at The Friends’ School, Great Ayton, and Huddersfield’s College of Technology before studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

He was a member of the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra (1965-1967) before joining the SNO in 1967. As a solo flautist he gave recitals and concerto performances in Europe and South America; he was also a founding member of the Nash Ensemble and Cantilena.

A measure of his passion for the music he loved can be gauged from the wide range of bodies which he served as chairman or director. He was a member of the Scottish Arts Council until 2003, having served on its Music Committee. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and of the Royal Academy of Music, and was a former chairman of St Mary’s Music School, Edinburgh. He received an MBE in 1993 for services to music.

He was married to Sarah Chapman-Mortimer, who had worked as a stage manager for Scottish Opera in 1968 on a production of Cosi-Fan Tutti. They were married in 1970 and initially lived in Gartmore before setting up home in Port of Menteith with their three children, Matthew, Lucy and Emily.

He was a keen cricket fan, and during his career and in retirement he was an enthusiastic traveller. He enjoyed many dinner and lunch clubs with his friends after retirement and held many posts on boards and trusts relating to music and in particular music education. He adjudicated across Scotland until he fell ill.

He is survived by Sarah, their three children and their spouses, and nine grandchildren.The family plans to stage a concert in his memory next summer.