The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra has paid tribute to one of its most successful leaders Felix Kok, who has died aged 86.
The father-of-three was Leader of the CBSO for 23 years and was on the selection committee that shortlisted Simon Rattle before the players voted him as conductor.
He played a central part in transforming the CBSO into a top-class orchestra and was a regular face after he retired at the annual Benevolent Fund Concert, attending for the last time last autumn.
Beresford King-Smith, now archivist at the CBSO but previously concert manager, said: “Felix was a very good influence on the orchestra and was extremely experienced.
‘‘He worked with many great conductors after the war in London. It is extremely sad to see him gone. During his time here, he was supportive and a sensitive person.”
The CBSO is currently on tour in Europe but Mr King-Smith added that he hoped it would play a concert in memory of Mr Kok.
“As yet there are no plans, but it would be nice if that were to happen. He was with the orchestra for 23 years and saw three different conductors throughout his time here. His experience helped the CBSO especially because 60 per cent were string players and he happened to be a very good violinist.”
Mr Kok led his players through thick and thin, whether at cold February performances in Leeds Town Hall or on a rare tour behind the Iron Curtain in 1968.
As well as being involved in decision-making during rehearsals and responsible for playing solo passages, an orchestral leader acts as mediator between players and conductor; he was said to be outstanding at all these.
Mr Kok was born in Brakpan, a mining town near Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1924. A local teacher spotted young Felix’s musical potential and urged the family to consider lessons in London.
Felix came to Britain in 1938 with his mother and brothers. He was educated at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School before entering the Royal Academy of Music on a scholarship to study with Rowsby Woof, the great pre-war string teacher.
He played in concerts for the troops during the war and was soon earning a living playing second fiddle to Harry Blech, founder of the London Mozart Players, in the Blech Quartet.
He worked regularly with Walter Legge’s Philharmonia under conductors such as Klemperer, Herbert von Karajan and Wilhelm Furtwängler, and was appointed leader of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in 1959. It was six years later that Mr Kok moved to the CBSO, which at the time was under the baton of Hugo Rignold.
In 1978 relations between the CBSO’s management and musicians broke down completely. Louis Frémaux, musical director since 1969, stormed out of the cantankerous orchestra, followed closely by the general manager.
But order was soon restored when Simon Rattle stepped in and, over the coming years, his charismatic influence transformed the orchestra, although not without the support of his loyal lieutenant, Mr Kok.
He formally retired from orchestral playing in 1988.
Stephen Maddock CBSO chief executive added: “Felix was part of the CBSO family for more than two decades. When he took on the leader role, his experience was unrivalled and his commitment, unfailing.
‘‘He led the Orchestra through an significant period of change that was to result in the appointment of Rattle and a new era of world-class music making for the CBSO.
“As we look towards our 90th Anniversary, Felix’s legacy – as the longest serving Leader of the Orchestra – will live on in an Orchestra whose passion and determination has led them to be the best at what they do.”
Mr Kok, who died on August 11, married the pianist Ann Steel in 1955; she accompanied him, both personally and professionally, until her death in 1998.
Thereafter he was helped by the Musicians Benevolent Fund and a legion of friends. He is survived by three sons, one of whom is conductor Nicholas Kok. A daughter predeceased him.