Andrew van der Beek

Andrew van der Beek

 a player of the serpent and sackbut and the founder of the Lacock courses

Andrew van der Beek studied at University College London, where he spent much time organising concerts and graduated in geology and physics. He then worked for a few years as a scientific journalist and editor. During this time - the early seventies - he became fascinated by the wind instruments of the Renaissance, an interest that grew from an early liking for Tudor church music, which he had sung as a boy. He taught himself to play the bass members of the crumhorn, racket, recorder, curtal and sackbut family and began to play in several professional ensembles. At a weekend course at Dartington Hall he was fortunate enough to meet David Munrow, who invited him to play and record with the Early Music Consort of London.

Two serpent players - Christopher Monk and Alan Lumsden - suggested that he learnt to play the instrument so that they could form a trio. In a characteristic act of generosity Christopher Monk lent him a fine military serpent by Francis Pretty of London, circa 1830. The London Serpent Trio subsequently performed widely in Britain and Europe and made three concert tours of North America. More recently he has made a speciality of playing the serpent parts in the orchestral works of Felix Mendelssohn: the overtures Ein Sommernachtstraum (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and Meerstille und gl ückliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage), The Reformation Symphony (Symphony No 5) and the oratorio Paulus (St Paul). He has performed these and other works (including Peter Maxwell Davies’s opera Taverner) as a guest serpent player with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonia, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and John Eliot Gardener’s Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique.

In the late seventies he began promoting early music concerts and courses in London. Through this activity he became involved with the work of Bruno Turner, the scholar and conductor who had founded the publishing house Mapa Mundi, specialising in editions of Spanish renaissance church music. Throughout the eighties he presented numerous concerts featuring these editions at St John’s, Smith Square, often large-scale events featuring choirs, solo singers and instrumental ensembles.

In 1988 he moved from London to the Wiltshire village of Lacock and founded the Lacock Summer School. The demand to attend the Lacock course has steadily increased and now there are events organised under the Lacock umbrella throughout the year and in a variety of countries: Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland and Mexico.

His interests outside music include anything to do with Mediterranean Europe. He is a director of the Centre for Albanian Studies, an independent non-political research institute set up under the scholar Bejtullah Destani on the death of Dervish Duma in 1998. It works in cooperation with the Nash Albanian Studies Programme of University College London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies.

June Mendoza portrait

Andrew van der Beek and Anaconda, a portrait by June Mendoza. This magnificent contrabass serpent,  probably the only one ever made (apart from some recent copies), was constructed near Huddersfield in about 1840. It was used in Gerard Hoffnung’s Interplanetary Music Festivals in London in the 1950s, and is now  in the Reid Collection of Musical Instruments at Edinburgh University.