Director of Music

Andrew Nethsingha

Andrew Nethsingha
Career: 
Director of Music
Director of Music
2007
Organ Scholar
1987 to 1990

Performing as a conductor and organist in North America, South Africa, the Far East, and throughout Europe, Andrew Nethsingha has been Director of Music at St John’s College, Cambridge since 2007. His innovations at St John’s have included weekly webcasts and a termly Bach cantata series. His recordings for Chandos have been well reviewed.

Andrew Nethsingha received his early musical training as a chorister at Exeter Cathedral, where his father was organist for over a quarter of a century. He later studied at the Royal College of Music, where he won seven prizes, and at St John’s College, Cambridge. He held Organ Scholarships under Christopher Robinson, at St George’s Windsor, and George Guest, at St John’s, before becoming Assistant Organist at Wells Cathedral. He was subsequently Director of Music at Truro and Gloucester Cathedrals. Other recent positions have included Artistic Director of the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival and Musical Director of the Gloucester Choral Society.

He has served as President of the Cathedral Organists’ Association. He has worked with some of the UK’s leading orchestras. Andrew’s concerts with the Philharmonia Orchestra have included many of the major choral works: Mahler’s 8th Symphony, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Britten War Requiem, Brahms Requiem, Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius and The Kingdom, Walton Belshazzar’s Feast, Poulenc Gloria and Duruflé Requiem. He has also worked with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the London Mozart Players, Britten Sinfonia, the Aarhus Symfoniorkester and the BBC Concert Orchestra. Recent conducting engagements have included the BBC Proms, Amsterdam Concertgebouw and Tokyo Suntory Hall. He regularly runs choral courses in various countries, including France, Mexico and the U.S.A.

A great tradition is thriving under music director Andrew Nethsingha.

Caroline Gill, Gramophone Magazine

Previous Directors of Music

David Hill

Director of Music
2003 to 2007

Renowned for his fine musicianship, David Hill is widely respected as both a choral and orchestral conductor. His talent has been recognised by his appointments as Chief Conductor of The BBC Singers, Musical Director of The Bach Choir, Music Director of Southern Sinfonia, Music Director of Leeds Philharmonic Society and Associate Guest conductor of The Bournemouth Symphony orchestra. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate by the University of Southampton in 2002 in recognition of his Services to Music.

Born in Carlisle in 1957 and educated at Chetham’s School of Music, where he is now a Governor, he was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists at the tender age of 17. He took an organ scholarship to St John’s College, Cambridge in 1976 under the direction of Dr George Guest where he returned as Director of Music. David Hill’s previous posts have included Master of the Music at Winchester Cathedral (1987-2002), Music Director of The Waynflete Singers (1987- 2002) Master of the Music at Westminster Cathedral, Musical Director of the Alexandra Choir (1980-87) and Associate Conductor and then Artistic Director of the Philharmonia Chorus (1986-1997). He is in great demand for choral training workshops worldwide and his handbook on the subject Giving Voice as published in 1995. He is a choral advisor to music publishers Novello, for whom he has edited a number of publications. As an organist, David Hill has given recitals in most of the major venues in he UK and has toured extensively abroad.

David Hill’s broad-ranging discography of over 70 recordings, including many award-winners, can be found on the for Decca/Argo, Hyperion, Naxos and Virgin Classics labels. The discs span repertoire from the renaissance to the present day. With The Bach Choir David Hill has contributed to the film sound tracks of Kingdom of Heaven, The Chronicles of Narnia and Shrek the Third. He is engaged in a series of recordings of major English choral composers with The Bach Choir and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra for Naxos.

David Hill has appeared as guest conductor with the London Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Zagreb Philharmonic, Ulster Orchestra, City of London Sinfonia, English Chamber Orchestra, The BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Sinfonia 21, the Northern Sinfonia, BBC Symphony Orchestra, RTE National Symphony Orchestra, The Minnesota orchestra and the Orchestre Philharmonqiue de Strasbourg as well as the Netherlands Radio Choir and RIAS Kammerchor, Berlin. His commitment to new music has led to his conducting first performances of works by Judith Bingham, Carl Rütti, Francis Pott, Patrick Gowers, Jonathan Harvey, Philip Moore and Naji Hakim, Sir John Tavener and Philip Wilby amongst others.

I can be myself, but knowing that I'm working within a tradition which I've grown up with.

David Hill, on returning to St John's in 2003.

Christopher Robinson

Director of Music
1991 to 2003

Christopher Robinson was educated at Rugby and Christ Church, Oxford, where he was Organ Scholar. After a period as Organist and Master of the Choristers at Worcester Cathedral, where he was also conductor of several Three Choirs Festivals, Christopher Robinson moved to St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, where he was Organist and Choirmaster until 1991. He was conductor of the Oxford Bach Choir from 1976 to 1997 and of the City of Birmingham Choir from 1964 to 2002. As well as conducting most of the large-choir repertoire with the City of Birmingham Choir, there were also concerts of special note. For example, Christopher Robinson’s expertise in and affinity for Elgar’s music produced several highly praised performances of The Dream of Gerontius. In 1981 he conducted Messiaen’s La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jesus Christ and in 1989 two highly acclaimed performances of Tippett’s Mask of Time. The Choir gave a widely praised first performance in England of the Jacobite Rising by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

He holds honorary degrees from Birmingham University and the University of Central England and is an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music. He has been Chairman of the Elgar Society and President of the Royal College of Organists. In 1992 the Queen bestowed on him the honour of Commander of the Victorian Order for his services at Windsor Castle, and in the summer of 2002, the Archbishop of Canterbury made him a Lambeth DMus. He became an Honorary Fellow of the Guild of Church Musicians in Autumn 2003 and received a CBE in the 2004 New Year’s Honours List. On 16 April 2011, a group of former Choral Scholars and Choristers sang Evensong to celebrate his 75th birthday, conducted by Dr Robinson. Listen to the service here.

"I aimed for an earthier sound, and tried to bring out the fun and the passion."

Christopher Robinson

What I value most of all is expressive phrasing.

Christopher Robinson at Gramophone Magazine

George Guest

Director of Music
1951 to 1991

George Guest was born in Bangor, Wales. His father was an organist, and George assisted him by acting as organ blower. He became a chorister at Bangor Cathedral, and subsequently at Chester Cathedral, where he received organ lessons from the sub-organist, Dr. Roland Middleton. He passed the examination for ARCO in 1940, and FRCO in 1942. By this time he had become the organist and choirmaster of Connah's Quay parish church, Flintshire. George Guest was always proud of his Welsh roots and from the 1970s onwards took a personal interest in the Cambridge University Welsh Society (Cymdeithas Y Mabinogi), sponsoring many of its events and providing a welcome face for Welsh students away from home. At the age of 18 he was called up for military service, and joined the Royal Air Force, being posted to India in 1945. On leaving the services in 1947 he took up the post of sub-organist at Chester Cathedral. The cathedral organist, Malcolm Boyle, encouraged him to apply for the Organ Scholarship at St John's College, Cambridge, in which endeavour he was successful. At Cambridge he studied under Robin Orr. In his final year as Organ Scholar, Robin Orr announced that he intended to retire, and the College Council offered the post to Guest.

Within five years of Guest becoming Organist and Choirmaster, the whole future of the Choir at St John's College came into question, with the proposed closure of the day school which provided the Choristers. Guest, with the support of his predecessor, persuaded the College to found a Choir School. Under George Guest's direction, the choir built up a formidable reputation, challenging the supremacy of the choir of King's College, Cambridge. Guest introduced a more "continental" tone into the choir, as George Malcolm was doing at Westminster Cathedral. The choir began broadcasting on the BBC in the early 1950s, and recorded its first long playing record in 1958. By the time of Guest's retirement in 1991, the choir had recorded sixty LPs or CDs under his direction. The BBC has broadcast Evensong from St. John's College on every Ash Wednesday since 1972, and the Advent Carol Service each year since 1981. During George Guest's tenure, the choir undertook many overseas tours. In 1987 Guest was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours. Herbert Howells and Michael Tippett are among the many composers who wrote liturgical settings for the St John's College Choir whilst George Guest was Organist and Choirmaster. They also include the French composer Jean Langlais, who wrote a setting of the psalm Beatus vir for the choir: a rare occurrence of a Continental composer writing for the English Cathedral tradition. Speaking about the Choir, "We are not", said Guest, "the exponents of the hard face and the stiff upper lip. Our singing — we hope — is redolent of all the emotions".

George conjured up a unique soundworld.

Andrew Nethsingha at Gramophone Magazine

Herbert Howells

Director of Music
1941 to 1945

During World War II, Robin Orr served in the RAF; during this time, Herbert Howells was appointed Acting Organist of St John’s. While Howells’s Music was rarely performed during his tenure, his substantial compositional output includes two works which have particular significance for St John’s: A Sequence for St Michael was a commission for the College’s 450th anniversary, and a setting of the evening canticles was later dedicated to St John’s (Collegium Sancti Johannis Cantabrigiense). Respected and remembered fondly by his Choristers, Howells took great care over the singing of the Psalms, for which St John's were already renowned.

Robin Orr

Director of Music
1938 to 1951

Born 1909 in Brechin, Scotland, Robin Orr studied at the Royal College of Music before becoming Organ Scholar of Pembroke College; he subsequently received lessons in composition from Alfredo Casella and Nadia Boulanger. Orr was University Lecturer in Music from 1947 to 1956, after which he became Professor of Music at Glasgow University. Orr returned to Cambridge in 1965 to take up the Chair of Music, a position he retained until his retirement in 1976. Among his compositions (including three operas and three symphonies) are several works written for St John’s Choir, including A Festival Te Deum and the anthem Jesu, Sweet Son Dear.

Cyril Rootham

Director of Music
1901 to 1938

Following undergraduate study at St John’s (where he read Classics), Rootham studied at the Royal College of Music. He succeeded Walford Davies as Organist of Christ Church, Hampstead, in 1898. In 1901 Rootham became Organist of St Asaph Cathedral, returning to St John’s in the same year; he subsequently became University Lecturer in Music, and was made a Fellow in 1914. Rootham worked closely with the Cambridge University Musical Society in the promotion of contemporary music, leading performances of works by Kodály, Honneger and Pizzetti. Although he composed widely, Rootham is remembered for his encouragement of contemporary composers, as well as the revival of forgotten works by Handel and Mozart.

Edward Thomas Sweeting

Director of Music
1897 to 1901

Prior to St John’s, Edward Thomas Sweeting held positions as Organist at St Mary’s Kensington and Rossall School, Lancashire, where he taught the future Sir Thomas Beecham. Following his tenure as Organist at St John’s, Sweeting became Organist of Winchester College. He died in 1930.

Alfred Bennett

Director of Music
1856

Alfred Bennett took up his short-lived appointment as Organist of St John’s on 24 June 1856. On 27 December of the same year, he left England to take up the post of Organist of St John’s Church, Calcutta.

George Garrett

Director of Music
1856 to 1897

The son of a Lay Clerk at Winchester Cathedral, George Garrett was a Chorister at New College, Oxford. After a brief period as Organist of two churches in Winchester, Garrett was appointed as Organist of Madras Cathedral. Two years later, he was appointed to St John’s, where he stayed for over forty years. In 1873, Garrett was appointed University Organist; he died in Cambridge on 8 April 1897. Garrett’s compositional output is wide-ranging (including a St John’s College ‘Boat Song’, no less), though he is chiefly remembered for a particular Anglican chant setting, used by choirs throughout the country.

Thomas Attwood Walmisley

Director of Music
1833 to 1856

The son of Thomas Forbes Walmisley (Organist of Croydon Parish Church), Thomas Attwood Walmisley was born in Westminster in 1814. He took up the joint appointment of Organist at St John’s and Trinity Colleges in 1833 at the age of 19. His premature death was, as John E. West has suggested, “hastened by an unwise indulgence in lethal remedies”. Stanford commented that “Walmisley…was a victim of four o’clock dinners in Hall, and long symposiums in the Combination Room after; and being a somewhat lonely bachelor, the excellent port of the College cellars was, at times, more his master than his servant.” As a composer, Walmisley is chiefly known for his setting of the Evening Canticles in D minor.

Samuel Matthews

Director of Music
1821 to 1932

Samuel Matthews’s musical career began, as with Beale, as a Chorister at Westminster Abbey. He was subsequently a Lay Clerk at Winchester Cathedral. He became joint Organist of St John’s and Trinity Colleges in 1821 and died at the early age of 36.

William Beale

Director of Music
1820 to 1821

William Beale was a Chorister at Westminster Abbey and later a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. He became joint Organist of St John’s and Trinity Colleges in 1820. Less than a year later, he became Organist of Wandsworth Parish church, and was later Organist of St John’s Church, Clapham Rise.

John Clarke-Whitfeld

Director of Music
1799 to 1820

John Clarke-Whitfeld held posts at Ludlow Parish Church, Armagh Cathedral and Christ Church and St Patrick’s Cathedrals, Dublin. Following the Irish Rebellion of 1798, he became joint Organist of St John’s and Trinity Colleges. He subsequently became Organist of Hereford Cathedral, but was dismissed on the grounds of the following minute passed by the Chapter: “In consequence of the long and increasing deterioration in the choral services of the cathedral…the Dean and Chapter now feel it to be their indispensable duty to communicate to him…that the office of Organist will be vacant at Midsummer next.”

William Tireman

Director of Music
1777

William Tireman took up the post of Organist at St John’s having first been dismissed from service at Doncaster Parish Church “in relation to playing the organ and accompanying the voices in the choir”, and subsequently holding the post of Organist at Trinity College. He took up the post of Organist at St John’s in February 1777 but died in March of that year.

Bernard Turner

Director of Music
1729

Bernard Turner was the son of the German organ builder Heinrich Tolner (Henry Turner) who settled in Cambridge. The length of Turner’s tenure as Organist is not known.

Thomas Williams

Director of Music
1682 to 1729

During his tenure as Organist at St John’s, Thomas Williams also sang in the choirs of King’s and Trinity Colleges. He is recorded in the College rentals for having been “paid a stipend for teaching the Quire from 1682 to 1729”.

James Hawkins

Director of Music
1681 to 1682

James Hawkins appears to have had a long - albeit informal - connection with St John's College. He may have been a chorister here (some authorities attest to him being at Worcester Cathedral) but he was almost certainly the 'Mr Hawkins' that trained the choristers at St John's from 1681-2 as well as being sometime organist. His anthem Behold, O God our defender was inscribed 'to the Great, Good, and Just Nonjurors of St John's College in Cambridge.' In 1719 he took the degree of BMus from the College, and one of his sons, William, was also educated here.

In 1682 he received his first permanent appointment as organist to Ely Cathedral, following the death of John Ferrabosco, and he later became Master of the Choristers in succession to Robert Robinson, the two posts having been separate in the past. It was there that his proclivity to compose got the better of him, for in 1693 the chapter resolved 'that the organist shall not be allowed any bill for pricking books, setting any chorus or composing any anthems or doing anything else for the church unless his design shall be first allowed before he performs it.'

His career illustrated the emergence of the cathedral organist from relative seclusion to being a leading professional musician in the local area, as whilst at Ely he was granted permission to teach at Bury St Edmunds and elsewhere.

John Brimble

Director of Music
1670

The College records mention John Brimble as an Organist of St John’s. He matriculated at St John’s on 13 July 1668, but died aged 19 - the date he was a Director of Music is therefore estimated.

George Loosemore

Director of Music
1661

George Loosemore is mentioned in the College rentals as being paid for “learning the Choristers” from 1661 to an unknown date. He may be the George Loosemore who became Organist of Trinity College after the Restoration.

Christopher Gibbons

Director of Music
1642

The second son of the composer Orlando Gibbons, Christopher Gibbons was a Chorister at the Chapel Royal under Nathaniel Giles, and sometime Organist of Winchester Cathedral. As a composer he bore a huge influence on such Restoration composers as John Blow, Pelham Humfrey and Henry Purcell. The exact length of his tenure at St John’s is not known.

James Dunkin

Director of Music
1638 to 1642

Little is known about James Dunkin; he is the first Organist of St John’s College to be noted by Watkins Shaw in The Succession of Organists.

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Latest webcast

Recorded on
5 September 2017

From the archives, this webcast of Choral Evensong features Adrian Batten's Fourth Service and an eight-part setting of Ave Maria by Alonso Lobo.

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