The Spanish violinist and conductor, José-Luis García was born to a Catholic family steeped in music. He began studying the violin at the age of 6 with his father. After taking first prize in the Sarasate Competition in Pamplona, in 1960, he moved to London to take lessons with his compatriot Antonio Brosa at the Royal College of Music, where he took the Stoutzker Prize, the College’s main violin award. It was intended to be a six-month sojourn in Britain. However, a return to Franco’s Spain could have meant time out from music so, as he once said: “I did my National Service in the pit of the Royal Opera House.”
José-Luis García made his Proms debut, aged only 19, in Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Malcolm Sargent (his fellow soloists were Kenneth Sillito, Roy Malan and Ronald Thomas). However, as if to demonstrate the breadth of his repertoire, his next visit to the Proms, in 1970, was in Tippett’s Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli, with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by the composer. In between times he had begun teaching at the Royal College of Music, one of the youngest musicians ever to do so. In 1967 he received the highly-regarded Harriet Cohen International Music Award.
When Emanuel Hurwitz left the English Chamber Orchestra in 1968, José-Luis García was appointed associate leader, working alongside Kenneth Sillito, whom he succeeded a few years later. The 1970’s were golden years for the English Chamber Orchestra and Garcia relished the variety, sometimes leading, sometimes billed as soloist, and sometimes conducting his colleagues. Over time, demand for his performances came from Israel, Canada and the USA, where he formed a particularly close link with the Fort Worth Chamber Orchestra. Among the conductors with whom Garcia worked were Daniel Barenboim, Raymond Leppard, Sir Colin Davis and, in particular, Sergiu Celibidache, who was something of a mentor. He also played with the English Chamber Orchestra at the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer in St Paul’s Cathedral in 1981.
José-Luis García had, said the critics, a mellow, lyrical tone and a repertoire that extended from composers such as J.S. Bach to 20th-century giants including Paul Hindemith and Tippett. And while his solo performances inevitably included some Latin fire - Tartini and Paganini were among his favourites - he was able to demonstrate more than mere showmanship with his considered accounts of Mozart and Johannes Brahms. His approach to the Baroque repertoire remained resolutely romantic; indeed, his conducting “might have set authenticists’ teeth on edge”, noted the Washington Post after a performance with the National Symphony Orchestra in 1999. But his style would have been familiar to those accustomed to mainstream performances of the 1950’s and 1960’s. “Vibrato was freely employed, making for a rich string sonority,” the Post reviewer concluded. García was a great jazz enthusiast, often retiring to Ronnie Scott’s after a London concert.
In the days before Nigel Kennedy’s highly-marketed account of A. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, José-Luis Garcia’s version with the English Chamber Orchestra was one of the bestselling classical music discs. Among his many other recordings with the orchestra were dazzling versions of J.S. Bach’s Double Concerto (BWV 1043) with his fellow violinist Pinchas Zuckerman (1990) and with Dmitry Sitkovetsky
José-Luis García was for more than 20 years a much-loved leader of the English Chamber Orchestra. He gradually stepped back from the English Chamber Orchestra in the late 1980’s, and during the 1990’s spent more time in Madrid, in particular working at the Reina Sofia School of Music where, as well as teaching, he conducted the orchestra from 1992 to 1999. He was awarded the ‘Order of Alfonso X, The Wise’, by King Juan Carlos, for his musical contribution to Spain.
José-Luis García’s marriage to the cellist Joanna Milholland took place on the day that England won the World Cup in 1966, causing some disruption to the nuptial celebrations as guests endeavoured to keep abreast of the score. After his stroke in 2007 he appeared to be recovering, giving master-classes as part of Violins en Valencia 2011. He died in 2011, aged 67. He is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.