John Alldis has died

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Ted Quanrud
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John Alldis has died

Post by Ted Quanrud » Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:15 am

The noted choral conductor, John Alldis, has died. Here's the obit from The Telegraph:

John Alldis, who died on December 20 aged 81, was a distinguished choral conductor.

Through his eponymous choir, Alldis was responsible for introducing the British public to some of the more eclectic contemporary music of the last century; he also worked with Pink Floyd and Duke Ellington, established a permanent chorus for the London Symphony Orchestra and wrote pantomime music.

The John Alldis Choir, a 16-strong force, announced itself in 1962 with the premiere of Alexander Goehr’s A Little Cantata of Proverbs. A series of new works followed, including the premiere of Stravinsky’s Requiem Canticles at the Edinburgh Festival in 1967, for which Alldis rehearsed the choir but which was performed under Pierre Boulez.

Indeed Alldis, like many choir masters, spent much time preparing singers whose performances would be credited to a big-name conductor. The Colin Davis recording of Handel’s Messiah from 1966, with a pared-down LSO Chorus (effectively the John Alldis Choir), was said to have “shattered previous conceptions of Messiah”.

During the 1960s composers such as Goehr, Malcolm Williamson and Harrison Birtwistle were pushing the boundaries of contemporary music. While orchestras and chamber ensembles were willing to take them up, there were few takers in the choral world. Alldis was convinced that there were unexplored possibilities. “There is a feeling that [choral music] hasn’t been carried to its logical conclusion,” he once said.

A review of the choir’s Wigmore Hall concert in May 1966 referred to it as “one of the great chamber choirs”; while at the Bath Festival in 1981 the audience at a sleepy country church was jolted awake by the first performance of Birtwistle’s madrigal On the Sheer Threshold of the Night.

Meanwhile, when Pink Floyd needed a choir for Atom Heart Mother in 1970 they turned to Alldis; the next year he wrote a score for a pantomime of Humpty Dumpty in Guildford; and Duke Ellington’s final recording, Sacred Concert, made at Westminster Abbey in October 1973, was accompanied by the choir.

Although there were guest appointments with orchestras such as the Hallé in Manchester, if Alldis was disappointed at not making a career as an orchestral conductor, he rarely let it show. “I wouldn’t be able to compete with Solti, I don’t think,” he once said.

John Trevor Alldis was born at Ilford on August 10 1929 and educated at Felsted School in Essex. After National Service he went on a choral scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge, where he studied under Boris Ord.

After a decade during which he taught in Guildford and was director of music at Holy Trinity church, Prince Consort Road, in Kensington, he founded his choir with the support of some leading contemporary composers. In May 1962, for example, a concert at Holy Trinity featured music by Palestrina alongside Symphony for Voices, a setting of five poems by James McAuley written for the occasion by Williamson.

The London Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1904, had hitherto hired an outside choir for its choral works. In 1966 it turned to Alldis, then newly appointed as director of the choir of the Guildhall School of Music (a post he held until 1979).

After three years he moved to the London Philharmonic Choir to succeed Frederic Jackson, remaining in the post until 1982. He was in such demand with choirs and choral societies across Europe, however, that they eventually had to appoint an official deputy to take many of his rehearsals.

Alldis worked with many other ensembles, including the Danish State Radio Chorus (1971-77), the American Choral Symposium in Kansas (1978-87), the Cameran Singers in Israel (1989-90) — where the critics gave him a rough ride — and the Netherlands Chamber Choir (1985-98).

The French, envious of the British contemporary music scene, had established the Ensemble Intercontemporain under Boulez in 1976. They now wanted a choral group of similar standing to explore contemporary classical music, and Alldis was drafted in to create the Groupe Vocal de France, which he ran from 1979 to 1983. As well as with Boulez, there were opportunities to work with Messiaen and other leading French musicians.

In the 1990s Alldis worked in Japan and China, conducting one of the first performances of Messiah in the latter, but he never neglected music closer to home, directing the Wimbledon Symphony Orchestra from 1971 until he suffered a stroke in 2004.

The advent of the licence-fee-funded BBC Singers gradually put paid to the John Alldis Choir, but its legacy is secure thanks to a wide-ranging catalogue of discs, particularly with Sir Adrian Boult, who was a great encouragement in its early days.

Alldis was nominated for Grammy Awards for his choral work in 1974 (with Boult) and 1978 (with Sir Georg Solti), and in 1994 was appointed Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

He enjoyed sailing his dinghy in The Solent and was widely read, especially enjoying the works of PG Wodehouse.

Choir members, he once said, should be treated as individual musicians, with the conductor drawing the optimum performance from each singer. “I don’t think there is such a thing as a chorister, one of a flock of sheep to do one’s bidding,” he said.

John Alldis married, in 1960, the violinist Ursula Mason. She survives him, as do two sons, one of whom, Dominic, is a prominent jazz musician.

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Re: John Alldis has died

Post by maestrob » Wed Dec 22, 2010 11:27 am

In the spring of 1980 (April?), John Aldiss was invited to Carnegie Hall to conduct and celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the founding of Oxford University Press. Roughly 800 voices were invited from choirs around the city (myself included) for a gala performance: we took over the first 20 or so rows of the orchestra seating in order to accomodate everyone. Among the works on the program was a special choir singing Thomas Tallis's monumental Spem in Alium, and Walton's Coronation Anthem, written for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. A massive, magnificent sound filled the hall on that night, leaving me with memories I will treasure for as long as I live. The concert was broadcast live on WNYC and I still have the tape.

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Re: John Alldis has died

Post by Fergus » Wed Dec 22, 2010 4:38 pm

My main exposure to the John Alldis Choir is through the work on the Vivaldi Sacred Choral Music series which was done with Vittorio Negri on the Philips label. These are really wonderful performances all round and I have enjoyed every one of them.

josé echenique
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Re: John Alldis has died

Post by josé echenique » Wed Dec 22, 2010 8:29 pm

In the 1970´s almost every other opera recording had the John Alldis Choir, wether it was La Vida Breve or Carmen. He always did an excellent job.

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Re: John Alldis has died

Post by val » Fri Dec 24, 2010 5:27 am

Among other great performances, I cherish his CD with Choral works of Poulenc, conducting the Groupe Vocal de France. Wonderful performances of Litanies pour la Vierge Noire, Chansons Françaises and the sublime Figure Humaine.

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