DR. ROY WALES AND HIS WORK CONDUCTING CHOIRS
Roy Wales has spent a lifetime forming and conducting choirs and training choral conductors. He first conducted a church youth choir at the age of 15 in Guernsey in the Channel Islands where he grew up and went to school.
After initial training as a specialist school music teacher, he received his first choral conducting lessons from Charles Proctor at Trinity College of Music, where he also conducted a student choir. He studied singing with the celebrated Welsh tenor, Parry Jones, and his early music experiences as a student included singing with the Royal Choral Society under Sir Malcolm Sargent, and later singing at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and with English National Opera.
His early choral conducting experience was with three choirs he founded and directed – the London Student Singers, the London Student Chorale and the Pro Arte Singers of London, a chamber choir. With the London Student Chorale he won first prize on three occasions at the Montreux International Choral Festival in Switzerland. The Chorale travelled extensively to various countries including Poland, Hungary, France, Turkey, Italy, Switzerland, Greece and Germany. The Pro Arte Singers presented much contemporary music and the Daily Telegraph critic after a performance in the Purcell Room at the Southbank Centre said: “There was admirably neat and well balanced singing from the Pro Arte Singers under their conductor Roy Wales. Their tone was rich and secure and their singing clean, incisive and sensitively shaded.”
Roy Wales’ early orchestral conducting experience was with the London Academic Orchestra and the London Student Symphony Orchestra. He won a Gulbenkian Foundation Scholarship to study orchestral and opera conducting at the Guildhall School of Music, London where he won the School Conducting Prize and the Kapsalis Memorial Cup for Conducting. He also won an Italian Government Scholarship to study orchestral conducting with Franco Ferrara in Venice, Italy.
From 1968-1973 Roy Wales was Director of Music for the County Borough of Southend-on-Sea. During these five years he did much to expand the music activities in the town. In 1969 he formed the Southend Festival Chorus and Southend Festival Orchestra and also the Southend Music School whose Junior Choir won first prize at the Cork International Choral Festival under his direction. After their performance of Purcell’s ‘Sound the Trumpet’ in the Royal Albert Hall the music critic in the Guardian wrote: “I have never heard such fantastically clear diction from any choir as we heard in Purcell’s ‘Sound the Trumpet’ from the mixed Junior Choir.” The Essex Music Critic commenting on the Southend Festival Chorus and Orchestra’s performance of Walton’s ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’ said: “Sir William Walton’s oratorio ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’ presents a supreme challenge to choral societies in so many ways. It is therefore a great compliment to the Southend Festival and Orchestra and their conductor Roy Wales that their performance at the Cliffs Pavilion was such an outstanding success.”
The London Student Chorale performed a wide range of choral repertoire from the 16-20th century and gave the first London performance of many works including Aaron Copland’s folk opera The Tender Land, Zoltán Kodály’s folk opera Hary Janos as well as Laudes Organi and Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms shortly after its première in Chichester. They established an exciting relationship with the young British composer, Paul Patterson and premièred a number of his works. One of the early successes of the London Student Chorale was a performance of Britten’s War Requiem in the Royal Albert Hall with the English Concert Orchestra. The Daily Telegaph described the performance as follows:
“The performance of Britten’s ‘War Requiem’ in the Royal Albert Hall by the London Student Chorale and English Concert Orchestra was assured and committed enough challenge comparison with the best of past interpretations. The choirs sang strongly and rhythmically with excellent intonation.”
On Aaron Copland’s opera ‘The Tender Land’, the Daily Telegraph critic commented: “The London Student Chorale were in splendid voice in the party chorus in Act II.”
The Chorale was also invited to represent British Student Choirs in an American International Choral Festival in New York and Washington promoted by the Lincoln Centre in New York. The New York Times described the Chorale’s performance in the Lincoln Centre Philharmonic Hall in glowing terms: “The expert London Student Chorale” and the Long Island Press described Roy Wales as: “The Festival’s most dynamic conductor.”
Following a Student Chorale tour to Hungary on an exchange visit with the Budapest based Bela Bartok Choir, the Egyatemi Lapok commented on: “…the London Student Chorale’s precise interpretation and unsurpassed technical skill were the main features of the concert.” The Polish Trybuna Luda Newspaper critic in Warsaw commented that: “Under their dynamic conductor Roy Wales, the London Student Chorale distinguished itself in their concert at the National Philharmonic Hall by the very high level of their performance. One has to admire the choir’s high quality of sound, its pliability and outstanding technical proficiency.”
The London Chorale also gave many first performances including Paul Patterson’s Kyrie, Gloria and Requiem, Phyllis Tate’s Secular Requiem, David Bedford’s Of Beares, Foxes and Many Many Wonders, Stephen Dodgson’s The Innocents and a number of works by Antonín Tučapský.
In 1973 following their participation in the International University Choral Festival in the USA, the choir changed its name to The London Chorale, as many of the student members had graduated and wished to stay in the choir. The newly-named choir, under the direction of Roy Wales, then made a fascinating tour to Russia, visiting Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Moscow and Kiev. They also recorded with Procul Harum and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, performed with the Béjart Ballet at the London Coliseum and took part in many Raymond Gubbay concerts at the Royal Festival Hall, Royal Albert Hall, the Barbican and Fairfield Halls, Croydon in a series of Opera Gala and Classical Spectacular Concerts, various Christmas events and Messiah performances.
From 1973-1974 Roy Wales was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Washington where he gained his Doctorate with Choral Conducting and Choral Music as his main performance and research areas. He was Associate Director of the University of Washington Chamber Singers that visited Australia and New Zealand in 1974.
In 1974 he returned to England and resumed directorship of the London Chorale. He also became Director of Music of the University of Warwick and for the next six and a half years directed the University Chamber Choir (which he founded), the University Chorus and the University Symphony and Chamber Orchestras.
The Times described the University Chamber Choir performance after one of their London Purcell Room concerts as: “….a fresh, accurate and well tuned chorus”, while the Guardian said that: “The University Chorus brilliantly showed the Wales imprint.”
In 1976 the University of Warwick, with Leonard Bernstein’s personal approval, presented the first British performance of his large-scale theatre piece MASS. The two performances took place in the Coventry Theatre and the Royal Albert Hall with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the University Chorus, the London Chorale and the Southend Boys Choir. The concerts were great successes and well received by the public and the press. The Financial Times mentioned that: “…the singing of the University of Warwick Chorus was bold and vigorous and Roy Wales had clearly trained his forced exceptionally well.”
In 1980 the University of Warwick Chamber Choir won first prize in the Montreux International Choral Competition and were also finalists in the Contemporary Music Section of the BBC’s International Choir Competition “Let the Peoples Sing” (where they competed against Roy Wales’ London Chorale – who came 1st). The London Chorale had particular success in this competition, winning the national mixed voice and contemporary choral music classes.
From 1981-1987 Roy Wales lived in Australia where he was Director of the Queensland Conservatorium of Music in Brisbane. During his tenure he formed and directed the Conservatorium Singers and the Brisbane Chorale.
The Conservatorium Singers toured overseas in 1982, visiting Japan, Switzerland, Hungary, Austria, Italy, France and the UK. The London Times described their performance at St. John’s Smith Square, London as follows:
“An excellent, bright-toned energy, allied with rigorous musical and a sophisticated refinement of vocal timbres was tellingly displayed in a daring heterogeneous programme ranging from Bennett and Vittoria to Puccini, Britten and Stravinksy and spirituals. Their opening Choral Fanfare was indicative of the dynamism and flair, in presentation as much as in musicianship, which characterised everything they did.”
The Singers were also selected by the Australian Broadcasting Commission to represent Australian choirs in the International Radio Competition “Let the Peoples Sing”.
The repertoire for the Brisbane Chorale focussed on major works from the choral repertoire and they included in their many performances The Creation (Haydn), Elijah (Mendelssohn), Messiah (Handel), The Dream of Gerontius (Elgar), War Requiem (Britten), Israel in Egypt (Handel), Chichester Psalms (Bernstein), Psalmus Hungaricus (Kodály), Messa di Gloria (Puccini), Choral Symphony (Beethoven), St. Matthew Passion and Mass in B Minor (Bach), Grande Messe des Morts (Berlioz), Belshazzar’s Feast (Walton), Carmina Burana (Orff), African Sanctus (Fanshawe) and the Requiems of Verdi, Mozart, Fauré and Brahms.
They also presented the first Australian performance of Bernstein’s MASS which The Australian newspaper critic described as follows: “The performance by the Brisbane Chorale, Conservatorium Singers and the Brisbane Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Dr. Roy Wales was a triumph for all concerned. It was a real triumph for Dr. Wales to whom this city is indebted for bringing so many fine choral works in performance. Suffice to say the impact of the performance was incredibly moving and one performance is not enough.”
The Brisbane Chorale also represented Australian choirs and the Australian Broadcasting Commission in the Prix Italia Radio Prize.
Dr. Wales taught Choral Conducting classes at the Conservatorium at undergraduate and postgraduate level and also gave many choral and choral conducting workshops throughout Australia.
He also founded the Australian Choral Conductors’ Association which later became part of the Australian National Choral Association supported by the Australian Arts Council.
On returning to the UK in 1987 as Professor and Head of the Birmingham School of Music (now the Birmingham Conservatoire) he continued choral directing and teaching activities. He directed the Chamber Choir which visited Russia and also founded a large chorus which included both students and community singers. The Birmingham Post music critic described the choir’s performance of Carmina Burana in the following terms:
“The Chorus performed with expertise and commitment, full toned, sensitive and flexible, Professor Wales exerting remarkable grip and control over all concerned.”
In 1989 Roy Wales formed the English Concert Singers, a large chamber choir and its extension choir, the English Concert Chorus for large scale choral works. For the last twenty-three years the Singers and the Chorus have performed extensively throughout the UK and abroad in a large variety of choral projects.
On leaving Birmingham Dr. Wales became Director of the Bournemouth International Festival, an extensive three week Music and Arts Festival in Bournemouth and the surrounding area. Choral music played in important part in the Festival, and The Guardian described the performance of the English Concert Singers and the Festival Chorus and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta conducted by Roy Wales in a new piece by Antonín Tučapský and the Fauré Requiem as follows:
“The English Concert Singers displayed a forward tone and balanced cohesion. In the Fauré Requiem the large chorus had strength in attack and power to sustain the structure moulded by Dr. Wales who had the gift of eliciting the spiritual potency of this beautiful work.”
The English Concert Singers have visited 44 countries including most parts of Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, the Baltic States, South America, China and Hong Kong, Australia, Bali, South Africa, Israel and Turkey. They have competed successfully in an International Choral Competition in Naples, Italy and been involved in a number of International Choral Festivals in Hungary, Wales and Exeter. The Concert Singers have recorded CDs with José Carreras (No. 1 in the Classic FM Charts) and with the Hungarian Mendelssohn Chamber Orchestra, as well as their own Choral Kaleidoscope Collection. The record reviewer in the Truro (Cornwall) press described their Choral Kaleidoscope CD:
“There is a splendid choice of repertoire from 16th-20th centuries. All the pieces recorded in Truro and in Southwark Cathedral are handled with style and sensitivity by the English Concert Singers and their conductor Roy Wales.”
Roy Wales was Chairman of the Association of British Choral Directors from 1989-1993, directing two national conventions and the initiation of the establishment of regional committees throughout the UK. He was also the founding Director of the British Choral Institute and directed many of their summer schools, workshops, concerts and touring activities since its formation.
Dr. Wales has also been a member of the Jury at over 25 International Choral Festivals and Competitions in Hungary, Holland, France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, Austria, Australia and USA and for the BBC TV Choral Competition “Choir of the Year”.
He has directed many choral festivals including an International University Choral Festival while at the University of Warwick, a British International Youth Choral Festival, 3 Anglo-French Choral Festivals in Paris, Chartres and Rouen, an Anglo-Hungarian Festival in Budapest and an Anglo-Australian Bicentennial Festival in Birmingham. In 2002 he founded the British International Male Voice Choral Festival based in Truro, Cornwall. He directed the first 3 bi-annual Festivals. The Festival in 2021 will be the 10 th .
It has grown to be the largest Festival of its kind in the world and Roy is proud to
be its Vice-President.
He now lives in Rottingdean, Brighton, where he is Founder/Director of Rottingdean Arts which runs an annual programme of arts events. In addition he continues his work as Music Director of the English Concert Singers, English Concert Chorus, London Chorale and English Concert Orchestra. Roy Wales is President of the Southend Festival Chorus and St Stythians Male Voice Choir and a Patron of the Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir (Queensland, Australia). He was awarded the BEM (British Empire Medal) for Services to Choral Music in the 2020 Queen’s New Year Honours List and has just completed his autobiography and memoir “My Musical Journey”.