Angelus ad Virginem
Choir of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh
Director: Matthew Owens
Organ: Simon Nieminski
Choir of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh
The Choir of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh is Scotland's premier cathedral choir and unique in Scotland, maintaining as it does a daily choral tradition. The choristers are educated at St Mary's Music School, which acts as the choir school for the cathedral, again unique in Scotland. In 1978 St Mary's Cathedral became the first to offer girls scholarships to sing with the boys as trebles. The lay clerks of the choir consist of undergraduate choral scholars reading a diverse range of subjects at Edinburgh University, and more experienced singers.
The choir broadcasts frequently on BBC Radio 3 and television and has made a number of recordings on the Herald, Lammas and Priory labels. It has a busy schedule of concerts, and, in recent years, has worked with the King's Consort, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Scottish Concert Orchestra and the Scottish Early Music Consort. It has toured extensively within recent years; including France in 1994 when the choir received a standing ovation at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. In 1996 the choir undertook a tour of English cathedrals and abbeys, where the concert it gave in Westminster Abbey was described in Choir and Organ as "an exquisite performance". In 1997 the Choir toured Holland and America. They also toured Germany with the London Festival Orchestra and took part in the European Festival of Music in Basle, Switzerland.
During the Edinburgh International Festival, the choir is in residence, singing the daily services and broadcasting Choral Evensong on BBC Radio 3. In addition it gives a number of concerts in the Festival Fringe. Highlights in the current season include a performance of Handels Messiah with the BT Scottish Ensemble, a concert with Unique Events as part of the official 2000 Hogmany celebrations and two CD recordings. Plans are in hand for tours to Malta in 2001, Norway in 2002 and the USA in 2003.
The choir regularly features works by contemporary composers in its repertoire: three commissions from Kenneth Leighton, a Scottish premiére of John Tavener's Hymns of Paradise with the London Festival Orchestra, and a commission from Francis Grier, Salve Regina. In November, 1999, the choir gave the first performance of Adam Lay y bounden by Howard Skempton and in August of 2000 will give the first performance of a new work by Francis Jackson. Forthcoming commissions also include Richard Allain, James MacMillan and Swedish composer, Jan Sandström.
Matthew Owens became Organist and Master of the Music at St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, in September 1999. He is also Tutor in Organ Studies at the Royal Northern College of Music and Director of the Exon Singers. Born in Manchester in 1971, he studied at Chetham's School of Music and was subsequently Organ Scholar at The Queen's College, Oxford from where he graduated with honours in music and made his recording debut as a conductor at the age of 21. He then studied at the Royal Northern College of Music, and in 1994 received the highest award for performance, the Professional Performance Diploma, with distinction, and won the college Bach prize. He also received a Master's Degree from the University of Manchester. In the same year he took the Associateship and Fellowship diplomas of the Royal College of Organists, winning all the major prizes in both, and was awarded the Silver Medal of The Worshipful Company of Musicians. A Countess of Munster scholarship then enabled Matthew to study with Jacques van Oortmerssen at the Sweelinck Conservatorium in Amsterdam in 1995, when he was also a finalist in the Royal College of Organists Performer of the Year competition. In 1996 he was appointed Sub Organist at Manchester Cathedral and was awarded the W.T. Best Memorial Scholarship by The Worshipful Company of Musicians for further studies on the organ.
As an organist and harpsichordist Matthew has given recitals in France and Switzerland and throughout the UK, including festival appearances at Newbury, Oxford and Peterborough and at venues such as Westminster Cathedral, St John's Smith Square and the Fairfields Hall, Croydon. As organist to the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, he has given solo performances throughout New Zealand and Australia and was appointed Assistant Conductor of the choir in 1993, becoming Associate Conductor in 1997. As a conductor and organist he has premiered works by leading composers including Richard Allain, George Lloyd, Michael Nyman, Howard Skempton and Giles Swayne.
Simon Nieminski studied initially with Nicholas Danby at the Royal College of Music, where he gained their associate diploma. He was then awarded the Organ Scholarship of Pembroke College, Cambridge. After graduating with honours in music from Cambridge University, he was appointed Organ Scholar of York Minster for two years, during which time he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists. He left York to become Assistant Organist of Dundee Cathedral.
After returning to London, he was appointed Assistant Director of Music at the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great, in the City of London, and Organ Tutor at Kingston University. In addition to playing and teaching, he regularly conducted the professional choir of St Bartholomew's, and several other semi-professional choirs. He was appointed to St Mary's Cathedral in October 1998. He also writes reviews and articles on church and organ music, which have been published in Organists Review and the Musical Times.
His playing engagements have taken him around the United Kingdom, as well as to Sweden, Holland, Germany, and most recently Malta and the USA. He has also taken part in live broadcasts on BBC Radio 3, Radio York and Swedish national radio, and recordings on Radio 4 and three times for the BBC television programme Songs of Praise. In May 2000 he returned to the USA to record the complete Promenades en Provence by Eugène Reuchsel on the Pro Organo label, for the centenary of the composers birth, on the organ of St Louis RC Cathedral, Missouri.
Produced by Richard Tanner Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews
Front cover picture of a mural in St Mary's Cathedral Song School:
'Benedicite omnia opera' (detail) by Phoebe Anna Traquair (1852-1936)