Walter Wurbuger’s life mirrors the maelstrom of the history of this century. He was born in Frankfurt in 1914 on 21st April; he died in Worcester park in 1995 on 21st March. He came from a musical family - his father was organist at a Frankfurt synagogue and a well respected teacher. He enlivened the musical life of three continents, and enriched the personal lives of his many friends; music is, after all, a highly social activity - at least the way that Walter practised it. If his life can be summarised, it is a series of enterprising and “self-driven” activities, punctuated by the refrain “played in band”!
A pupil of Mátyás Seiber, he covered the whole musical spectrum, from classical to jazz, as player, composer, conductor and teacher. He was forced to leave Germany in 1933 going to France, Singapore, Australia and finally Britain.
One enduring achievement has been the Kingston Philharmonia, to which we bear witness tonight. Twenty one years ago, in the words of Hilton Tims, Kingston's musical landscape was bleak and spare. Alone and undeterred, Walter was to change this. With often no more than a string quartet and a bagful of woodwind, he gestated and gave birth to the infant that tonight comes into its majority. This he did with rare single-mindedness, energy and, most important to those of us willingly seduced into his project, endless optimism and infectious enthusiasm.
At the time of Walter's retirement from the orchestra in 1991, we entered the complete list of performed works into the computer, pressed the button, and waited. The computer told us that, since we first began in 1974, we had given a total of 79 concerts, including two in Southwark Cathedral. The concert repertoire was well covered, with a total of 168 symphonies, 40 concertos, 8 oratorios and 19 other works by composers ranging from Abel, Albinoni and Arne to Weber, Weil and Wurzburger.
What the computer did not tell us, but this we already knew, was that this enormous achievement resulted from the work of one man, and the affection, love and enthusiasm for that man and his works that he engendered in those who contributed to his project. In a very real sense, this has been and will always be "Walter's orchestra".
At the time of his retirement he was already frail and beset by illness. This did not affect his mind or spirit. He knew how to live, and those of us fortunate to know him were happy to share in that life and sense of life - always content, always open and receptive, always concerned with others' problems and shrugging off his own. He was ready for the latest gossip, to discuss the fads and follies of the day, with a gaiety and lightness of spirit that we realise the more keenly now that we can no longer share in it.
Martin Buber wrote: "It is a glorious thing to be old, when we know how to begin again not by being young, but by becoming old in a young way." This typifies Walter - he had the wisdom and authority of one who has lived a long and full life, and the openness and freshness of a child starting out on a journey.