Happy Birthday to Ivor Bolton

A birthday message from our founder, Tim Brown

Ivor Bolton - Photo by Ben Wright

As Ivor Bolton approaches his birthday and we wish him a nearly-out-of-lockdown celebration, I am reminded of the times English Voices has spent singing for him over the years.

I have known Ivor ever since I arrived at Clare College in September if 1979, where I coincided with him as he studied for a BMus. Having been a brilliant organ scholar under John Rutter, he went on to become Director of Music at St James’s Piccadilly, which is where I first worked with him as a chorus master in the Lufthansa Festival. Thus began a long friendship that survives till today. Projects with Clare Choir and Cambridge University Chamber choir subsequently led to concerts and opera productions featuring English Voices.

Three productions stand out in my mind, along with a memorable performance of Handel’s Solomon, once again for the Lufhansa Festival. English Voices was the chorus for this concert, so I was around for all the rehearsals. Just one day before the performance there was consternation when Ivor was suddenly taken ill. I had conducted the work previously and knew what Ivor wanted, so was invited to step into the breech – which was easy: Ivor’s interpretation of the work had been so thought-through and carefully rehearsed that all I really had to do was to stand in front of the wonderful Akademie für alte Musik Berlin, with English Voices behind them, and wave a helpful arm from time to time.

Montiverdi Orfeo

Ivor has always seemed something of a human volcano when it comes to realising his vision of a piece of music. It’s always fascinating to observe first-hand how conductors realise their interpretations. With Ivor one is aware that this is a never-ending process; not for him a clinical interpretation, with a carefully choreographed rehearsal process, but more a voyage of discovery as one goes along. Not always the most comfortable process, as it entails being alert even in when that process continues into a run of performances. So it was when English Voices performed Gluck’s Alceste in Aix, or when I worked with the Ivor and the Zürcher Sing-Akademie in Monteverdi’s Orfeo in Munich, or in Amsterdam with Ivor on Cavalli’s Ercole amante. Three very different composers and styles, and from Ivor very different approaches, but from a choral point of view all evidence of his instinctive feel for and love of the human voice, and his ability to give space for the vocal lines to blossom.

Working with Ivor has been one of the life’s joys, both for English Voices and for me. Demanding, but at the same time always intensely rewarding on a personal as well as musical level.

We look forward to the next time!

Happy Birthday, Maestro.