John Forster

I know this is many months late. I had it written a while ago but never published it until today as I was clearing up my inbox and reading some old emails…

The person who set me on the path to being a conductor

When I was a student in London, I did not have a formal conducting teacher, and taught myself how to conduct by spending my afternoons at the Royal Festival Hall and watching the rehearsals of the Philharmonia Orchestra with Esa-Pekka Salonen and Vladimir Ashkenazy.

I was slowly emerging as one of the more prominent student conductors in college, and it was a huge deal as I was only in my freshman year and my college did not have a conducting degree of any sort. As I was not able to join the advanced conducting class (seniors only), the only option for me was to shadow the college orchestra as a conducting assistant. I was introduced to John in early 2012, and we soon found ourselves talking about music over several tea sessions around London. Eventually I was given the opportunity to conduct the college repertoire orchestra as an assistant conductor, and impressed with my conducting ability (which at that point of time I did not have any formal training), John invited me to follow him as an assistant conductor. We never had any lessons on conducting techniques (hand/stick) but instead he shared with me his views on music from a more abstract point of view in order to better express myself and communicate with the orchestra. He encouraged me to start studying conducting in 2012, and recommended me to several conservatories in Europe such as the hochschule für musik in Germany, the Royal Conservatory in the Netherlands, Sibelius Academy and of course, the St. Petersburg Conservatory.

It is with great sadness to learn that he passed away from terminal cancer on 14 February 2013. It was pretty devastating for me as I was studying abroad in Russia and only learnt about it a month later as I was supposed to be meeting him in London. John Forster has made such immense impact on my life, without whom I would not have become what I am today.


John joined the RCM in 1968 to study piano with Cyril Smith and violin with Felix Kok. John’s pianistic ability, combined with great musicianship, integrity and sheer love of making music soon led him to establish duo and chamber music partnerships with many of the RCM’s most gifted students. Alongside his piano playing, he also maintained an active profile as an orchestral violinist and developed an interest in conducting, under the guidance of Harvey Phillips, Vernon Handley and Norman del Mar. Two years of Postgraduate study saw the award of the Worshipful Company of Musicians’ Medal, the Sir Adrian Boult Conducting Prize and great acclaim as assistant conductor to Harvey Phillips on the RCM Chamber Orchestra’s European Tour. John was the youngest professor of music ever appointed to the RCM by David Willcocks in 1974, where he taught Piano Accompaniment, coached chamber music and was a staff conductor, subsequently becoming Head of Orchestral Studies and Conducting in 1989. He was the Music Director of the Farnborough Symphony Orchestra, University of London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra, and also appeared with orchestras such as the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the Ulster Orchestra.

His last words in the last email were

“I’m proud of you and I send you my warmest wishes for continued success and happiness! All the very best, John”

Your enthusiasm, humor and brilliant musical vision would be greatly missed.