"The Chorus sounded immense...finely calibrated...
just as impressive when singing very quietly."
RSNO Chorus, Verdi Requiem, 2023
I was thrilled to be appointed Chorus Director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Chorus in September, 2022. Very much a case of 'hitting the ground running', however, with an invitation to conduct the RSNO and a community choir in the premiere of Jonathan Dove/Zeb Soames' Gaspard's Christmas! A big success, with two live performances over Christmas and a broadcast on Classic FM. This first season also required my preparing the 130-strong Chorus for the 'book-end' performances of Britten's War Requiem and Verdi's Requiem, both critically-acclaimed with the Verdi showcasing choir of 190 singers that I brought together ("Their sound was magnificent"- Edinburgh Music Review). Mid-season, however, saw the RSNO Chorus a cappella, in a programme stretching from Schütz to Rheinberger with some MacMillan thrown in. See some images from this performance here.
Prior to my position with the RSNO this I spent a wonderful 10 years directing Belfast Philharmonic Choir, the only symphonic chorus in Northern Ireland, who perform most frequently with the Ulster Orchestra, not least the annual performances of Handel's Messiah where the choir was commended for its "rhythmic attack, precision of diction and varying dynamics showing exactly what a large choir can bring to Handel's choruses." The 100-strong choir often appeared in their own right, however, including an acclaimed performance of Mendelssohn's Elijah with the Ulster Orchestra under my direction in 2019: "a sense of excitement each time the choir stood..." The Choir also took their sound to Poland & Ukraine in August 2017, performing Mozart C minor Mass and Poulenc Stabat Mater to capacity audiences in venues including the vast cathedral of Christ the King in Katowice.
Contemporary works regularly appeared in the choir's schedule including the world premiere of James Whitbourn's The Seven Heavens based on the life of C.S. Lewis- I'm excited to be performing the work in the subsequent arrangement for a chamber ensemble of 7 instruments to mark the 60th anniversary of Lewis' death- a highly moving and poignant premiere of Philip Hammond's Requiem for the Lost Souls of the Titanic performed 100 years to the hour since it sank to the bottom of the Atlantic, and the European premieres of Christopher Marshall's Earthsong and Stuart Scott's highly atmospheric Requiem Brevis, which saw 'the Phil' divided into 8 choirs spaced around the building.
Based in East Lothian, Scotland, the Garleton Singers, a choir of some 70 voices, has been a feature of musical life in the east of Scotland since its formation in 1970 and I'm only the second director of this enthusiastic group of singers! The choir's 50th birthday was somewhat hampered by COVID, but recent concerts have seen the choir bursting back on the concert stage, not least with the world premiere of a new substantial work for choir, brass and organ, The Haddington Psalms written for the choir by local composer Nigel Don.
"...great vitality and energy...exuberant and glorious resonance..."
Garleton Singers, Vivaldi Gloria, 2019
The choir performs most regularly in the glorious 14th century St. Mary's Church, Haddington but also sings regularly in Edinburgh. Furthermore the choir has embarked on four tours to Europe, to the Rhine Valley, Florence and San Gimignano in Italy, Krakow and, most recently, Munich.
Edinburgh Bach Choir has been a major music force in Scotland's capital city since 1909, following a proposal that "...a Bach Society Choir should be organised, consisting of about 30 members..." with the purpose of the study and performance of the recently rediscovered marvels and riches of Johann Sebastian Bach and making these works more widely known. Since its formation Edinburgh Bach Choir has been directed by a plethora of leading musicians and I was delighted to be appointed Musical Director in 2017.
"...a glorious sound, always expressive, often dramatic and emotive..."
While the performance of Bach's music has, of course, been a feature of concert programmes throughout the Choir's history- St. John Passion, B minor Mass and the lesser-known St. Luke Passion have been performed under my baton- I have also endeavoured to reflect the spirit of a decision taken in 1922, when the Society agreed to allow music by composers other than Bach to be introduced!
Such performances have included Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle, a concert of American music to celebrate Bernstein's 100th anniversary which featured his Missa Brevis and Chichester Psalms and, in June 2022, the season finale Sing Joyfully featured Great British Choral music from across the ages including the ever-popular Blest pair of sirens by Parry- click on the video to enjoy the finale!
'Come & Sing' events, where people turn up and learn music in a day purely for the fun of it, is an aspect of my musical life I find hugely enjoyable! Throughout my choral career I have directed a number of highly-successful events, usually accompanied by piano/organ and featuring repertoire generally on the 'straightforward' side eg Choral Classics (see picture). However, an event in aid of Waverley Care- a performance of Verdi's monumental Requiem- included a full symphony orchestra. I am delighted to be directing a similar event in January '24, conducting the RSNO and hopefully a choir of some 900 singers in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Sign up here!
In September 2018, after almost 18 years of great music-making, I relinquished my position as Organist and Director of Music of St. John's Episcopal Church in Edinburgh- the first time in 30 years I'm without a church appointment! For me a highlight of the job was directing the excellent, 30-voice chamber choir, not only in directing the full range of choral services, with added instrumental accompaniment during the Edinburgh Festival, but also making a CD recording with the Choir entitled Sing the Seasons. The repertoire in this recording covers much of the church year, also featuring a new commission by Francis Grier, At the manger Mary Sings, which I had the pleasure of accompanying- you can hear this and other performances by that fine choir here.