Andrew Nethsingha appointed to Westminster Abbey

Posted on: 5 July 2022

Andrew Nethsingha (c) Ben Philips

Andrew Nethsingha in his set at St John's College (c) Ben Phillips

Andrew Nethsingha will lead the musical life of Westminster Abbey after he was named as the next Organist and Master of Choristers at one of the United Kingdom’s most notable religious buildings.

Andrew, who has been Director of Music at St John’s College since 2007, will succeed James O’Donnell, who has been appointed as Professor in the Yale School of Music and Yale Institute of Sacred Music. James will leave the Abbey this Christmas, and Andrew will replace him in the New Year.

As the Abbey’s Director of Music, the Organist and Master of the Choristers is the head of the Abbey music department and oversees all musical aspects of the Abbey’s work, including directing the celebrated Choir of Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey is one of the United Kingdom's most famous religious buildings and the traditional place of coronation and a burial site for English and, later, British monarchs. Since the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066, all coronations of English and British monarchs have taken place at Westminster Abbey. Since its foundation in the fourteenth century, the Choir has sung daily services in the Abbey and today has a worldwide reputation for its work, which includes concerts, broadcasts, and a critically acclaimed series of recordings.

Performing as a conductor and organist in North America, South Africa, Far East, and throughout Europe, Andrew Nethsingha has been Director of Music at St John’s College, Cambridge for 15 years. His innovations at St John’s have included weekly webcasts and a termly Bach cantata series and last year he spearheaded the decision to admit girls and women as full members to The Choir of St John’s - making it the only Oxbridge choir to have both male and female members among the children and the students.

Heather Hancock, Master of St John’s College, said: “Andrew Nethsingha has been an outstanding musical presence at St John’s for over two decades, first as Organ Scholar and undergraduate and, since 2007 as Director of Music. Under Andrew’s thoughtful and kind leadership, audiences have widely admired the rich, warm and distinctive sound of our world-renowned College Choir, whether experienced in person, through broadcasts or on critically acclaimed recordings. 

“Andrew combines an unwavering commitment to musical excellence with a pioneering spirit, earning him a reputation for exciting and innovative commissions, and of course most recently, he spearheaded the move to admit girls and women to our choir. His enrichment of the repertoire, his exceptional teaching and his originality have sustained and enhanced the distinctive and much-loved tradition of choral excellence at St John’s. We will be very sorry to bid him farewell, but heartily congratulate him on such an exciting appointment.”

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.

Andrew said: “I am excited to have been appointed to direct the music at Westminster Abbey. It will be a great privilege to contribute to the worship in a building of such beauty and historical significance. Following the work of his eminent predecessors, James O’ Donnell has created a choir of enormous distinction, comprising choristers from the unique Abbey Choir School and some of the world’s finest adult choral singers.

“I have been struck by the warmth and friendliness of the Abbey community, of which my family and I look forward to becoming a part. At the same time I will greatly miss St John’s, another of the world’s finest choral foundations. I have been immensely happy there and I will be forever grateful to my wonderful colleagues at both College and College School, and to all the supremely talented people with whom I have been privileged to make music over the past 15 years.”

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, said: “I am delighted that we can look forward to welcoming Andrew Nethsingha into our life, our work, and our worship. He is an exceptional musician who needs no introduction to those who visit ‘places where they sing’. He is known to audiences at the Three Choirs Festival and to the many who have experienced St John’s Advent Carols, a series of marvellous recordings and otherwise shared in years of music made for the glory of God. He is also known for his kindness, intelligence and readiness to explore the potential for music to enhance divine worship.

“Under James O’Donnell the Abbey has enjoyed a golden age of music making. We are so grateful. His legacy is in safe hands.”

Andrew will begin his new role in January and the recruitment of his successor will begin shortly.

Andrew Nethsingha (c) Paul Baumann

Andrew Nethsingha on the Quire Screen at Westminster Abbey (c) Paul Baumann

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Recorded on
15 March 2022
  • Responses and Preces: Radcliffe
  • Psalm 18 vv. 1-6 (tone i)
  • Readings: Ezekiel 36.22-27, Acts 19.1-10
  • Howells (Collegium Regale)
  • Elgar: Give unto the Lord
  • Voluntary: Bach  Prelude in C minor
Nethsingha is his own man and absolutely his own musician, which is why his choir continues to evolve and lead

Andrew Mellor, Gramophone