Tributes to Sheffield chamber musician with ‘inspiration and drive’

An inspirational musician whose passion helped put Sheffield on the classical music map has died aged 69.

Peter Cropper, leader of the world-renowned Lindsay String Quartet and visionary founder of Sheffield’s Music in the Round organisation, suffered a heart attack.

He set up Music in the Round in 1984 to promote chamber music in the city.

Cropper was determined to make the concerts as informal as possible and was famed for introducing pieces to the audience, explaining how the composition worked.

The organisation now hosts three festivals a year, bringing world-class musicians to Sheffield and has helped put it on the international music map.

Cropper remained active in the organisation after The Lindsays retired.

He would have turned 70 in autumn and plans to commemorate his life will be announced in due course.

Cropper was an internationally renowned violinist and The Lindsays were acknowledged as one of the finest quartets in the world.

They were quartet-in-residence at both Sheffield and Manchester universities and were given the Freedom of Sheffield in 2009.

On Classic FM, broadcaster John Suchet – who was sacked as second violin from a school quartet led by Cropper - described him as ‘the driving force behind what I believe is the finest string quartet this country has ever produced’.

And BBC Radio 3’s Petroc Trelawney tweeted the ‘terrible news’ of the death of a ‘great chamber musician’.

Sheffield-based concert pianist and scholar Peter Hill described him as ‘more than a very good musician, a visionary performer. When he played the late Beethoven String Quartets you knew he was worthy of the subject matter’.

And pianist Martin Roscoe dedicated Monday’s lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall in London with Tasmin Little to Cropper. It honoured the musician with whom Roscoe and cellist Moray Welch played the great classical trio repertoire in both concert halls, theatres and any intimate space to which an audience ready to discover chamber music could be drawn.

Violinist Benjamin Nabarro, of Ensemble 360, Music in the Round’s resident players, said Cropper’s spirit would live on through everyone who knew him.

“Peter has inspired me for almost 30 years; I was about nine years old when I went to my first Lindsay quartet concert. His extraordinary way of communicating through music, and his joy and love for it, and of life, has had a profound effect on me, culminating in our performances together of Mozart quintets in Sheffield just two weeks before he died. He has left behind a priceless legacy which we are all now lucky to inherit.”

Angus Smith, Cropper’s successor as Artistic Director of Music in the Round in 2009, added: “It may strike some who had the joy of hearing Peter Cropper play as surprising, but one of my strongest images of him will always be of an impassioned man singing extracts of Beethoven and Haydn string quartets at me.

“We are fortunate that with modern technology we can keep him with us by listening to his extraordinary playing. But I have come to realise, in the several decades that I have been a performing musician, that his intangible gift as a supreme communicator and inspiration to others is truly rare.”

Cropper himself always said that he had no intention of playing music for a living when he was 16 at Uppingham School in Rutland – he had planned to be a barrister. “Then it dawned on me that actually performing music was what I loved doing most. The composers meant so much to me that I wanted to share this passion with other people. The only problem was that I couldn’t play the violin well enough. That’s when I decided I would have to do some serious practice.”

Always a mischief-maker, Cropper said that in the National Youth Orchestra he was always being sent back to the back row of the violins for misbehaving.

That was where he met his future wife, the distinguished violin teacher Nina Martin. They had two children, both professional musicians, and two grandchildren.

The Lindsay String Quartet took their name from Sir David Lindsay, vice-chancellor of Keele University where the Quartet was in residence, performing ‘in the round’ at the Victoria Theatre in Stoke where director Peter Cheeseman became Cropper’s ‘guru’.

They pioneered a series of dramatized stories, commissioned from writers such as Berlie Doherty, Paul Allen and Rony Robinson, played in conjunction with string quartets.

John Cowling, Chair of Music in the Round, said: “It is unbelievably shocking news that a man with such a massive personality and passion for music is no longer with us. Without his inspiration and drive we would not have wonderful chamber music in Sheffield and Music in the Round would not exist. Part of his legacy for us will surely be the richness of the musical experience that we can all enjoy, not only in this region but as Music in Round tours around the country.”