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a life in architecture

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mark elder

For conductor Mark Elder, Frank Gehry is one of the key architects of the day. Judging from the models and drawings he has seen of Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall, he believes that when completed it will be 'a remarkable building for a troubled downtown area of Los Angeles, and as dramatic as his Guggenheim in Bilbao'.

An Umbrian farmhouse which the Elders have rented for holidays over the past few years is his second building choice. Set on a hill surrounded by vines and sunflowers, it is simple and unpretentious, but with beautiful rounded doorways and tiled floors. For the conductor and his family, 'it has real restorative powers'.

Elder started his musical career as a chorister in Canterbury and has always been drawn to ecclesiastical architecture. Two Italian churches in particular have made a lasting impact. One is the tiny eleventh-century Romanesque chapel of Santa Maria on the beach at Portonovo, south of Ancona. He says he will never forget 'standing in this simple place of incredible perfection and hearing the sound of the waves breaking from inside the chapel.' The other church is Sant'Antimo in Tuscany, south of Montalcino (pictured), a Benedictine abbey, dating from 1118; again a building of stark simplicity, standing isolated in fields which are still being tilled and grazed, and looking exactly as it must have done 600 years ago.

Mark Elder takes over as music director of the Halle Orchestra next year

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