Rod Franks, third trumpet of the London Symphony Orchestra and principal for more than two decades, died in a car crash on the A1 in Nottinghamshire on the evening of 20 July.
Franks, 58, was a passenger in the car and was taken to Nottingham Queen’s Medical Centre, where he was later pronounced dead. The driver, a friend, survived the crash. Two people travelling in another car were pronounced dead at the scene.
The LSO announced the news on 21 July, ‘with much sadness’, saying that Franks had been returning home after a day at the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
‘Hugely respected and immensely popular with members of the orchestra, conductors and audience alike, Rod will be missed for his ever-welcoming friendliness and brilliant playing.
‘Having celebrated 25 years’ service last year, 23 of which as principal trumpet, Rod had recently requested to step down from his principal position but to continue playing with the orchestra. Rod had been beset by health issues for over ten years but would never allow them to compromise his supreme professionalism.’
Franks had a potentially career-ending operation to remove a brain tumour in 2002, after which he suffered from epilepsy, facial palsy and hearing loss. He told the Times in 2008: ‘It’s very far from normal and never will be. And I can’t always tell how loud I’m playing.’ He said that he had relied on his then co-principal, Maurice Murphy, “Who I can trust to tell me the absolute truth. And I have made him promise to tell me if the day comes I should give up”.’
Franks was also professor of trumpet at the Royal Academy of Music. Its principal, Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, wrote: ‘This is desperately sad news. Rod had become an important part of the Academy team of trumpet teachers over the years. I will remember his incisive understanding of what students needed, genuine warmth and of course his legendary and remarkable courage. And what a player.’
Born in West Yorkshire in 1956, Franks took up the cornet at the age of six, going on to play in the Hammonds, Brighouse and Rastrick and Black Dyke brass bands. He studied at the Royal Northern College of Music where his teachers included Maurice Murphy, with whom he would go on to serve as LSO joint principal for many years.
After graduation he was appointed principal trumpet of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. He returned to the UK to become principal trumpet of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. He went on to be a founder member of the English Brass Ensemble and London Brass, and was also artistic director of the LSO’s brass ensemble.
The LSO described him as ‘passionate about the education of future generations of musicians’, noting his commitment to the orchestra’s education work and particularly to its brass academies, which involved intensive workshops with talented orchestral musicians aged 14 to 24.