Aged 61, Robert George Turnbull died on Christmas Day from lymphoma at his home near Carcassonne. His final hours were beautifully tended by his sister Penny, Michael Tomczak and a host of devoted neighbours and admirers. Grateful thanks are due to the super staff at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, who did so much to make him comfortable during his months of illness.
Robert and I met in the queue for the Ring cycle at Covent Garden 40 years ago: Wagner would remain a leitmotif of our conversation ever after, but through thick and thin, across three continents, we shared so much else as well. Our relationship wasn’t always easy and we were often geographically separated, but he was my Best Man and the nearest I have had to a brother. He drove me mad, I loved him deeply, and his death leaves a great void in my life.
Ceaselessly hungry for experience, he was an insatiable traveller, always open to adventure, gobbling up possibilities with impulsive gusto. Charming, gregarious, sensitive and generous - as well as stubborn, impatient and chaotic - he made friends wherever he went and styled himself, with good reason, a citizen of the world.
Music, especially the piano ( which he played to professional standard) and opera, was his grand passion. Aside from his intermittently successful but somewhat erratic career as a journalist - specialising in opera and Asian culture and including some trenchant long-form pieces for Opera Now, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Sunday Telegraph and South China Morning Post among others - he could boast two more durable achievements.
One was his work in Cambodia, where in collaboration with Fred Frumberg, he spent a decade helping to restore the country’s classical arts after the horrors of the Pol Pot regime, as well as producing an epoch-making performance of The Magic Flute just before he fell sick in March; the other is the annual summer festival for young pianists he established in Lagrasse. Sustained financially by a foundation he has set up in his will, this wonderful event will be continued in his memory, guided by his unquenchable and mercurial spirit.