St John’s College announces Christopher Gray as its new Director of Music

Posted on: 15 November 2022

Christopher Gray (c) Chris Yacoubian

Christopher Gray (c) Chris Yacoubian

‘Exceptional musician’ Christopher Gray has been named as the new leader of The Choir of St John’s.

Gray, currently Director of Music at Truro Cathedral, will conduct the world-famous choir which is renowned for launching the careers of many globally recognised musicians.

Under Gray’s leadership since 2008, Truro Cathedral Choir's recent recordings have attracted praise from critics in the international classical press. Two have been ‘Editor’s Choice’ recommendations in Gramophone, one was a MusicWeb International ‘Recording of the Year’, and another was an American Record Guide ‘Critic’s Choice’ for the year.

Heather Hancock, Master of St John’s, said: “Chris is an exceptional musician whose acclaimed choral direction has brought the Truro Cathedral Choir to international prominence, and whose innovation in musical education and outreach is widely admired. We have no doubt that, in Chris’s hands, the St John’s College Choir will sustain and enhance its reputation for breath-taking musicality and originality, enhancing daily worship, the life of the College, and delighting audiences worldwide.” 

Gray is currently responsible for Truro Cathedral Choir and its six sung services each week. He also directs Three Spires Singers and Orchestra and has previously conducted St Mary's Singers and Orchestra, Cornwall Youth Choir, Cornwall Junior Choir, Richard Lander School's Wilbye Choir and Truro School's Senior Choir.

He said: “I have long been an admirer of St John’s College and the Chapel Choir whose performances have such intense power to move listeners. I feel a real affinity with the distinctive ethos of St John’s and look forward to working with the extremely talented organists and singers who are the current custodians of its celebrated choral tradition, as well as with the Headmaster and staff at St John's College School.”

Founded in the 1670s, The Choir of St John’s has a rich, warm and distinctive sound. Known internationally for its broadcasts, concert tours and more than 100 recordings, the choir is made up of male and female choristers, who join from the age of eight, and around 16 male and female adult choral scholars who are largely students at St John’s College, one of the 31 constituent Colleges of the University of Cambridge.

The choir enhances services of the College Chapel through daily Evensong services and Sung Eucharist on Sundays during university term.

Gray will succeed Andrew Nethsingha who has been appointed as Organist and Master of Choristers at Westminster Abbey. When Gray was appointed Assistant Director of Music at Truro in September 2000, he worked closely with Nethsingha, who was then the cathedral’s Director of Music. During this time, Gray appeared as organist with the Cathedral Choir in numerous live broadcasts for BBC radio and television as well as on eight CD recordings on the Regent, Lammas and Priory labels.

Gray added: “It is an honour to be taking over from Andrew Nethsingha whose approach I have admired since our time working together in Truro more than 20 years ago. I intend to draw heavily on the example of Andrew and his similarly inspirational predecessors in this next chapter. I also look forward to getting to know distinguished colleagues from across the College community and beyond.

“Leaving Truro Cathedral and the proud, open-hearted Cornish community will be a wrench. The encouragement and support I’ve received from the extraordinary people in this magical place have helped form me, as a person and as a musician, and I will always be grateful for that.”

The Very Rev’d Simon Robinson, Canon Missioner and Interim Dean at Truro Cathedral, said: “Chris’ passion, energy and talent have enriched the life and mission of the Cathedral locally, nationally, and internationally. He has given the most wonderful musical foundation and education to many generations of children and his legacy of the highest quality of choral music, worship and liturgy is respected around the globe.”

After his early musical education in his hometown of Bangor, Northern Ireland, Gray became Assistant Organist at St George’s Parish Church, Belfast. At the age of 18 he moved to England to take up the organ scholarship at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he read music. Gray will be the second Pembroke College Cambridge graduate to be Director of Music at St John’s College. Robin Orr was the first, taking up post at St John’s in 1938.

A Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, Gray studied the organ with David Sanger and Nicolas Kynaston at Cambridge. He was subsequently taught by Margaret Phillips at the Royal College of Music, where he was a postgraduate student and a prizewinner. During this time he also held the organ scholarship at Guildford Cathedral, working with Stephen Farr and Geoffrey Morgan.

Gray oversaw the introduction of girl choristers at Truro, working with the Cathedral Chapter and Truro School to devise a model that would be right for the girls as well as complementing the existing boy choristers. Girls and women also sing as full members of The Choir of St John’s. The decision to admit girls and women means the choir is unique in a Cambridge or Oxford College – no other choir of its kind combines the voices of males and females in both adults and children.

The Rev'd Dr Mark Oakley, Dean of Chapel at St John’s, said: “I am delighted that Christopher Gray is to pick up the baton here and begin a new chapter for our amazing choir. The skill, experience and imagination he brings, so evident throughout his years at Truro Cathedral, will continue to build on the work of his impressive predecessors at St John’s. We look forward to welcoming him very much indeed.”

Andrew Nethsingha’s final Evensong at St John’s will be sung on Thursday 1 December at 6.30pm. Gray will begin his new role as Director of Music later this academic year. Professor Stephen Darlington MBE will be the interim Director of Music from Lent Term 2023.

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