Braham Murray, 1943-2018

From Tod Machover’s Facebook page:

Braham Murray. Photo by Mia Rose.

It is with great sadness that I report the passing of Braham Murray. In fact, Braham died a week go – suddenly and unexpectedly – and I haven’t been able to get myself to write a post since then; it all still feels so shocking and unreal. Braham was one of the world’s great theater directors, a true artist who never compromised on ideas, a visionary who helped to found and then lead Manchester’s magnificent Royal Exchange Theater, a thinker who could get to the core of any story and could make actors and singers come alive on stage like no one else, and a kind of Buddha, a curmudgeonly but very sweet-hearted and enlightened man who knew what was important and what wasn’t.

He was a most unusual artist: completely allergic to anything trendy or fashionable, he wasn’t a conservative either – he always found the inner truth in each situation, which made his stagings feel radically real and deeply affecting. What he created really mattered. I was introduced to Braham by conductor Kent Nagano – then conductor of the Halle Orchestra in Manchester UK – way back in 1997 when I was looking for a director for my Resurrection opera with Houston. Kent said that Braham could animate characters on stage like no one else, and he was right. Braham and I collaborated on the libretto as well as the whole production of Resurrection, and Braham’s artistic guidance and belief in the project steered it to success. My daughter Hana, then 5 years old, watched rehearsals and performances of Resurrection from backstage at Houston Grand Opera, and loved Braham so much that she asked him to be her godfather…which he accepted, and was the world’s best godfather for all these years. After Resurrection, we searched for another opera to work on together, which led to our collaboration on Skellig, based on David Almond’s brilliant novel about a grimy, lost, homeless person who turns out to be an angel. Braham’s belief in the angelic potential in everyone kept that opera on track, and led to one of the most fruitful collaborations I have ever enjoyed. Since Skellig, we searched for another opera to work on together, and found it in Schoenberg in Hollywood, an idea I had had in mind for years that many had thought to be just a bit too odd to pursue. But Braham loved the idea, and with the support of Esther Nelson and Boston Lyric Opera, and the collaboration of librettist Simon Robson, we created the work, scheduled for premiere by the BLO in November (2018!). Unlike Resurrection and Skellig, Schoenberg in Hollywood was not based on a novel but rather on an original idea I had, from which Braham created a scenario. The crazy, unusual shape of the opera – what would have happened if Arnold Schoenberg had accepted Irving Thalberg’s offer to write a Hollywood movie score (and it turns out not quite the way you might expect:) – is thanks to Braham, and it kills me to think that he won’t be able to shape and realize the premiere production over these final months. That said, Braham has already put his mark on the whole project, has helped to assemble an incredible team of collaborators, and has left things in beautiful shape. As it happens, I just delivered the full score today to Boston Lyric Opera, so all is full speed ahead. However, Braham’s passing leaves an incredible ache, since besides being just about my favorite collaborator, he was also one of my closest friends. He knew how to go for the core idea and get rid of the frills, how to find value and meaning and reject surface, believed that art was worth fighting for and that no compromise was worth making, had the talent of helping others – from actors to writers to, well, even composers – believe in their talents and potential, and was capable of being gruff and elegant, simple and erudite, hilarious and serious, passionately frenzied and perfectly calm all at the same time…..and he was the best friend anyone could ever have. Braham will be very deeply missed by all who knew him and worked with him, but I know I will never forget the sound of his voice or the wisdom of his words (many of which are – luckily – preserved in his three books), and his artistry will live on in the many works that he inspired and shaped, like Resurrection, Skellig and Schoenberg in Hollywood, none of which would have existed without Braham’s magic touch.

To read more about Braham:

The Stage – Obituary: Manchester Royal Exchange co-founder Braham Murray

BBC – Braham Murray: Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre founder dies

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