Who's who


Heather Hancock

Heather Hancock
Master of St John's College, Cambridge - 2020

Heather Hancock became Master-Elect of St John’s College in November 2019; her Mastership started in October 2020. Heather returns to St John’s having read Land Economy at the College as an undergraduate. Her career and personal interests have always revolved around urban and rural land-use, making places where people live, work, invest and enjoy, and environments that deliver public good.

Heather chaired the Food Standards Agency, a non-Ministerial government department, and regulator of the food and feed industries, from 2015-2020. Before this, she was a Managing Partner at Deloitte LLP, with UK leadership for innovation, brand and talent; she also served in Deloitte’s global senior leadership. Heather was a Strategy consultant, specialising in governance and strategy for novel ventures, and in complex programme leadership. She headed the firm’s global services to the Olympic movement. Prior to joining Deloitte in 2003, Heather held a series of CEO and senior civil service roles in the public sector, with a consistent theme of large-scale urban and rural regeneration and land management.

Heather was a Trustee of the Prince’s Trust, the UK’s biggest youth charity, for over a decade, chaired the BBC’s rural affairs committee from 2003-2010 and, in 2013-14, was commissioned by the BBC Trust to investigate and report on bias and impartiality in the BBC’s rural affairs coverage. She was Deputy Chair of the World Athletics Championships and Paralympic Athletics Championships from 2013-2016. Heather was appointed Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order in the 2012 New Year Honours, and she is a Deputy Lieutenant of North Yorkshire. She currently holds a number of non-executive roles, including as a non-executive Director of Rural Solutions Ltd, and of Urban Logistics REIT plc.

Honorary Patrons

Iestyn Davies

Iestyn Davies
Choral Scholar
1999 to 2002
1987 to 1993

After graduating from St John’s College, Cambridge, Iestyn Davies studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London.

In 2017 Iestyn received an Olivier Award nomination for singing the role of Farinelli in Farinelli and the King with Mark Rylance, a Globe Theatre production which was revived in the West End and on Broadway.

On the opera stage he has appeared at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, English National Opera, La Scala, Milan, the Metropolitan Opera, New York, the Chicago Lyric Opera and in Munich, Vienna and Zurich. Recent highlights include returns to the Bayerische Staatsoper for Ottone/Agrippina, Terry/Marnie at the Metropolitan Opera and Polinesso/Ariodante at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. In the 2019/20 season he reprises the role of Ottone/Agrippina at the Royal Opera House and at the Metropolitan Opera.

Celebrated on the concert platform, he has performed at La Scala Milan, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Tonhalle in Zurich, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, at the Barbican in London and Lincoln Centre New York. Recent highlights include concerts with William Christie and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bernard Labadie and Les Violons du Roy and the Handel & Haydn Society, Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo at the BBC Proms, and a highly acclaimed performance of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice at the 2019 Edinburgh International Festival with Labadie and the English Concert. This season he joins Fretwork for  Purcell and Nyman in an extensive tour of the U.S., Laurence Cummings and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Bucharest for Orfeo, Harry Bicket and the New York Philharmonic for Messiah, Emmanuel Haim and the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra for the St. John Passion, and will sing the world premiere of Tim Watts’ A World in the Moone on tour with the Britten Sinfonia.

A committed recitalist, with repertoire ranging from Dowland to Clapton, he is a regular guest at Carnegie Hall, New York and has curated residencies at both the Wigmore Hall and Saffron Hall. At the start of the season, Iestyn celebrated his 40th birthday with a special concert at the Wigmore Hall, where he was presented their prestigious Gold Medal.

Iestyn has twice been awarded the Gramophone Recital Award, and in 2017 won the Gramophone Baroque Vocal Award for his Bach Cantatas disc with Arcangelo and Jonathan Cohen. In 2017 he was awarded an MBE for his services to music.

Mary Dobson

Mary Dobson

Mary Dobson is an historian of medicine with wide ranging interests in global health.  She read Geography at St. Hugh’s College, University of Oxford, and was awarded a BA with First Class honours in 1976 and a DPhil at Nuffield College, Oxford, in 1982. She is the author of numerous publications ranging from academic articles and monographs to popular science and history.  She has held a number of prestigious Research Fellowships (including a Harkness Fellowship at Harvard University) and was Director of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine and Fellow of Green Templeton College, Oxford.

Iain Farrington

Iain Farrington
Organ Scholar
1996 to 1999

Iain Farrington was born and bred in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, and studied music at Cambridge University and piano at the Royal Academy of Music. As Organ Scholar at St John's, Iain toured Japan, South Africa and Europe, and made the first recordings for the award-winning Naxos series of English choral music. Since finishing his studies, Iain has developed a multi-faceted career as a pianist, organist, composer and arranger. He has made numerous recordings, and regularly broadcasts on BBC Television, Classic FM and BBC Radio 3, as well as international networks.

As a pianist and organist, Iain has performed at all the major UK venues and abroad in the USA, Mexico, Malaysia, Hong Kong and all across Europe. He has worked with many of the country's leading musicians, including Paul McCartney, Willard White and Bryn Terfel. Iain played the piano at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics with Rowan Atkinson, the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle. As a session pianist, Iain has recorded numerous film and TV soundtracks for Hollywood, Disney and independent productions.

Iain has composed works for orchestra, film, choir, opera, ballet and instrumental pieces and has arranged hundreds of works in many styles, including African songs, cabaret, klezmer, jazz and pop. For the Coronation in 2023, Iain composed an organ piece Voices of the World, and made arrangements of three orchestral works. Iain has composed numerous orchestral works for the BBC Proms, including A Party with Auntie, Earth Symphony (with Hans Zimmer), Beethoveniana, Gershwinicity, and two works for the Wallace and Gromit Prom. He co-composed the soundtrack to the Horrible Histories Movie. With the poet, DJ and actor Craig Charles he has written three large-scale orchestral works based on traditional fairytales.

Iain has made numerous arrangements for chamber orchestra of symphonic works that are regularly performed by small ensembles, students and touring groups around the world. He has arranged and performed the Mahler and Elgar Symphonies for solo piano. Iain's organ arrangement of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 5 was performed at the Royal Wedding in 2011. With his Art Deco Trio, he performs and records his own jazz-classical versions of popular favourites. Iain is the Arranger in Residence for Aurora Orchestra. Iain composed Nova, nova for the St John's Advent Carol Service in 2022, and the anthem has since been recorded and performed by various choirs around the world.


David Hill

David Hill
Director of Music
2003 to 2007
Organ Scholar
1976 to 1979

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 Musical Director of The Bach Choir, Music Director of Leeds Philharmonic Society, Associate Guest conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Principal Conductor of Yale Schola Cantorum, and International Chair in Choral Conducting at the Royal Northern College of Music. He was Chief Conductor of the BBC Singers from September 2007 to September 2017 and is a former Music Director of Southern Sinfonia.

Born in Carlisle and educated at Chetham’s School of Music, of which he is now a Governor, he was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists at the remarkably young age of 17. Having been Organ Scholar at St John’s College, Cambridge, David Hill returned to hold the post of Director of Music from 2004-2007. His other appointments have included Master of the Music at Winchester Cathedral, Master of the Music at Westminster Cathedral and Artistic Director of the Philharmonia Chorus. He holds an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Southampton for Services to Music, and in March 2018, he was honoured with the prestigious Royal College of Organists medal, in recognition of distinguished achievement in choral conducting and organ playing.

David Hill has a broad-ranging discography covering repertoire from Thomas Tallis to a number of world premiere recordings. As well as achieving prestigious Grammy and Gramophone Awards, many of his discs have been recommended as Critic’s Choices, with his ongoing series of English choral music for Naxos, and discs for Hyperion with the Yale Schola Cantorum receiving particular acclaim.

Hill has appeared with the BBC Symphony and BBC Philharmonic orchestras, London Philharmonic, City of London Sinfonia, English Chamber Orchestra, Royal Northern Sinfonia, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the Orchestra and Chorus of Welsh National Opera, the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North, Ulster Orchestra, Hallé Orchestra, RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, Réal Filharmonia de Galicia, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Omaha Symphony, and Portland Baroque Orchestras as well as the Netherlands Radio Choir and RIAS Chamber Choir, Berlin.

In January 2019 David Hill was awarded an MBE for services to music.

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.

Simon Keenlyside

Simon Keenlyside
Choral Scholar
1980 to 1983
1967 to 1972

Simon Keenlyside is one of Britain's most sought after and charismatic singers, noted for his versatility and highly charged performances on stage. He has been acclaimed for Billy Budd and Prospero in the world première of Thomas Ades' 'The Tempest' at the Royal Opera House; Count Almaviva in Milan and Vienna under Muti; Don Giovanni in Ferrara under Abbado, Pelleas in San Francisco, Geneva, Paris, and most recently in Salzburg, Berlin and London under Rattle, his first Wozzeck at the Paris Opera, and Posa (Don Carlos) at the Royal Opera House under Pappano.

He has recorded 'Des Knaben Wunderhorn' under Rattle, the title role in Don Giovanni under Abbado, Carmina Burana under Thielemann, Marcello in La Bohème under Chailly, the title role in Billy Budd under Hickox, Count Almaviva under Jacobs and Papageno under Mackerras. Since appearing in recital at La Scala in 1998 he has gone on to give recitals all over the world. Simon will return to the Metropolitan Opera (Hamlet), the Royal Opera House (Macbeth) and the Viena State Opera (Macbeth, Posa and Wozzeck). For Sony BMG Simon has released an orchestral arias disc, which won the Gramophone 2007 best recital award, an operetta disc with Angelika Kirchschlager and his latest release is a recital disc with Malcolm Martineau of Brahms Lieder and Schumann's Dichterliebe.

In 2018, Simon Keenlyside was awarded a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours for services to music.

David Pountney

David Pountney
1956 to 1961

David Pountney became internationally known through his production of Katya Kabanova at the 1972 Wexford Festival. Between 1975-80, David Pountney was Director of Production for Scottish Opera. His productions there featured a Janacek cycle in collaboration with Welsh National Opera of Jenufa, House of the Dead, The Makropulos Case, Katya Kabanova and The Cunning Little Vixen. He produced the world première of David Blake's Toussaint in 1977 at English National Opera and went on to become Director of Productions in 1980, directing over twenty operas including Rusalka, Osud, The Midsummer Marriage, Doctor Faust, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Hansel and Gretel, The Adventures of Mr Broucek and The Fairy Queen.

He has directed over ten world premieres, including two by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies for which he also wrote the libretto, and has translated many operas into English from Russian, Czech, German and Italian.

As a freelance Director from 1992 he has worked regularly in Zürich, at the Vienna State Opera, at the Bayerische Staatsoper Munich as well as opera houses in America and Japan, and in the UK has a long-standing association with Opera North and Welsh National Opera. He received a Janacek medal for his Janacek cycle in Wales and Scotland, and a Martinu medal for his productions of Julietta and Greek Passion at Opera North and the Bregenz Festival. His productions have twice won an Olivier award. He recently directed Die Soldaten for the Ruhr Festival, La Juive and Agrippina in Zurich, Khovanshchina for Welsh National Opera, Carmen at the Bolshoi, and König Roger for the Bregenz Festival where he had been Intendant (2003-2011). Future plans include Die Frau ohne Schatten in Zurich, The Passenger (Weinberg) at the Bregenz Festival and Les Troyens at the Deutsche Oper, Berlin. David was made a CBE and a Chevalier in the French Ordre des Arts et Lettres in 1993.

In 2019, David Pountney was awarded a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours for services to opera.

Christopher Robinson

Christopher Robinson
Director of Music
1991 to 2003

Christopher Robinson was born in 1936 and 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 from 1963-75, he moved to St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, where he was Organist and Choirmaster until 1991, when he succeeded George Guest as Director of Music at St John’s College. 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. Since retirement in 2003 he has continued to be active as a conductor, composer, keyboard player and mentor to young musicians. In 2006 he was Acting Director of Music at Clare College and from 2015-17 was Mentor to the Organ Scholars at Downing College. In 2019 he continued to work with various college choirs, including Queens’, King’s and Caius. He was Interim Associate Director of Music at King’s during the Hilary Term and Acting Precentor at Caius in the Easter.

"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


Tim Jones

Tim Jones
Choral Scholar
1974 to 1977
1964 to 1969

Tim Jones was both a chorister at St John’s and a Choral Student under George Guest. After a spell as a Lay Clerk in Worcester Cathedral Choir, his professional career has been spent largely in choral music, alongside teaching and examining.

As a Vicar Choral in St Paul’s Cathedral Choir (1986-2019), he appeared frequently as a soloist in the annual performances of  Messiah and the Bach Passions and on CD recordings, as well as participating in all the major services held in the Cathedral, celebrating such occasions as HM The Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilees, her 90th birthday, HM The Queen Mother’s 100th birthday and the Funeral of Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven.

He has been a member of The Sixteen for over thirty years, travelling extensively and singing in the USA, Australia, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, Scandinavia, Singapore and throughout Europe. He featured on television in the choir’s much-acclaimed BBC 4 series Sacred Music, presented by former St Paul’s chorister, Sir Simon Russell Beale, and also helps select and coach the young singers on the training programme, Genesis Sixteen.

The Committee

Management of the Association’s activities and finances is through the elected Executive Committee which meets formally three times a year. Committee members include current members of the College, former members of the Choir and friends and are drawn from a variety of professional and business backgrounds. They work on a voluntary basis. As a College Society, the finances of the Association are overseen by the College Bursar, to maximise the use of funds. All funds other than those used in general administration are used to support the Choir and its past and present members.

  • Tim Jones (Chairman/Former Chorister and Choral Scholar)
  • Vacant (Dean of Chapel)
  • Christopher Gray (Director of Music)
  • Owen Elsley (Choir Assistant Administrator)
  • Alice Hilder-Jarvis (Current Choral Scholar)
  • Ian Aitkenhead (Former Choral Scholar)
  • Tom Blackie (Former Choral Scholar)
  • Anthony Bushell (St John's College School nominated Member)
  • Francis Bushell (Former Chorister)
  • Oliver Lepage Dean (Former Chorister)
  • Jill MacMahon (Supporting Member)
  • Charles Naylor (Former Choral Scholar)
  • Sarah Upjohn (Supporting Member)

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Latest webcast

Recorded on
9 March 2024


A Meditation on the Passion of Christ is a service of music and readings reflecting on the Passion of Christ. This year the service features music by Byrd, Purcell, Weelkes and MacMillan, as well as the final piece of a triptych of works written for the choir by Joanna Marsh.

Latest news

Magnificat 4 includes two commissions written specially for the Choir of St John's College; Jonathan Dove's 2022 canticle setting St John's Service, and Judith Weir's 2011 service of the same name.

Winner of the 2008 Ivor Novello Award for classical music, Jonathan Dove CBE has composed a broad range of works and is one of the most successful British composers today. 

Jonathan was kind enough to share insights into his St John's Service, the compositional process, and what we can look forward to in the future.

The commitment, projection and natural energy of this choir have never failed to inspire me

Organists’ Review