Ken Wilson 1924-201205 Jun 2012 14:49
New Zealand has lost one of its most outstanding musicians, Kenneth Adrian Wilson composer, arranger and clarinetist.
Ken was born in Auckland, however his family moved temporarily to California USA when he was in his early teens. This influenced his musical development in many ways. Ken was selected to play in the All American Youth Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski and in later years studied at Indiana University where he completed a D.M.E. During one summer Ken was invited to play Eb clarinet with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Music Festival in Chicago. Ken also taught at the State University College of New York at Buffalo, and for some years prepared for publication many arrangements for American concert bands. Around this time he also wrote his own suite for concert band.
As a young clarinetist Ken was a member of the famed RNZAF band, where he played alongside two other outstanding clarinetists, Jack McCaw (Philharmonia Orchestra, London) and the late Frank Gurr of the NZSO. These three musicians formed the core of the clarinet section when the National Orchestra (now NZSO) was formed in 1946. Ken became principal clarinet following Jack McCaw’s move to London.
Although an instrumentalist of the highest calibre, performing alone was not enough for Ken Wilson. In the nineteen fifties he moved to Auckland where he completed a Bachelor of Music degree in composition, studying with the late Dr Ronald Tremain. This led to an outburst of composition, which included some outstanding works, mostly for wind instruments. His wind quintet has been recorded and performed frequently, and his concerto for clarinet and strings and his octet for winds are fine works, which deserve more frequent performances.
While living in Auckland Ken was extremely influential in the development of local wind playing. He formed both a wind quintet and an octet and his technical brilliance and deep musical insights were inspirational to all who played in these groups. Around this time Ken also became principal clarinet in the Symphonia of Auckland (now Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra) and he also toured New Zealand for the Chamber Music Federation, performing with the Benthien String Quartet from Germany, giving many outstanding performances of the Mozart and Brahms quintets for clarinet and strings.
To the end Ken remained a musicians’ musician. His artistic standards were of the highest and his integrity was unquestioned. He had no time for imposters or poseurs. He tended to down-play his own abilities and the many outstanding contributions he made to NZ and Australian music. Ken was known as an inspiring teacher and coach to a number of young musicians. He is very much missed by many.
Ken is survived by his wife Elisabeth, her daughter and family, and his brother Don.