John Hugh Thomas

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John Hugh Thomas

Last updated: 07 November 2011

As John Hugh Thomas steps down as Musical Director of Swansea Bach Choir we talk to him and his successor, Greg Hallam.

After 47 years the founder and conductor of Swansea Bach Choir, John Hugh Thomas, stepped down in July 2011 and on Saturday 19 November the choir will be conducted by someone else for the very first time.

Greg Hallam is taking over as musical director. He told us:

"As I prepare for my first concert as Musical Director of the Swansea Bach Choir in just two weeks, I reflect on my involvement so far and look forward to many exciting years of concerts to come.

"Over the last few years I have been fortunate enough to sing under John Hugh Thomas a number of times in concerts when he required an extra bass. Each time, I returned to London musically fulfilled, having sung beautiful and exciting music at such a high standard with a fantastic group of people. If it wasn't for this previous association, I may not have known that Swansea Bach Choir would be requiring a new conductor in 2011.

"I was over the moon when I was offered the position after audition and interview In January of this year, and accepted immediately.

"I am very much aware that I have a hard act to follow, but endeavour to do all I can to take Swansea Bach Choir from strength to strength. In my varied career of conducting, singing and teaching, my music making in Swansea is the part I look forward to most.

"John Hugh single-handedly built up and sustained a choir of such musical ability, that he and the choir are known not just in Wales, but by professional singers on the London circuit, and choral directors nationally. He has left behind something that I feel is worth every yard of a 380-mile round-trip, and when asked if they are an amateur choir gets the response "they are one of the finest choirs I have heard". There is nothing amateur about the sound the choir produces - just 'an oasis of fine singing'."

John Hugh Thomas reflected on his 46 years with the choir:

"Having recently retired as Director of the Swansea Bach Choir, after 46 years at the helm, I now have time to reflect on some of the most memorable events from those years. In the earliest days the choir was a 'Town and Gown' affair, being a mixture of enthusiastic students at University College Swansea (as it then was) and a similar number of talented singers from the town.

"From the outset the choir introduced audiences to works not in the standard repertoire, for example Bach's less well-known cantatas; some of the finest sacred works of Heinrich Schütz and the remarkable motets of Bouzignac. As time went on the repertoire expanded to include works from the last four centuries. Choristers and audiences approached new repertoire with trust and and enthusiasm, allowing the choir to develop and expand its horizons.

"We enjoyed the enthusiastic support of some of the finest professional singers and orchestral players, in particular period instrumentalists, who brought the highest standards of orchestral playing. This, in turn, helped raise the choir's standard of singing and general professionalism.

"The choir has achieved a great deal there is still more to be done, and it has found an energetic and highly gifted conductor in Greg Hallam to take it forward into the future. I am delighted to know that the Swansea Bach Choir will be in such capable hands."

Swansea Bach Choir's concert on 19 November is entitled In Praise of Christ and Mary, and features Rheinberger's Mass in Eb and Schütz's German Magnificat. This will be held at one of the choir's favourite venues in the heart of Swansea, St Mary's Church at 7.30pm. Their December concert, also at St Mary's, is entitled A Christmas Fantasia and "comprises well-loved, high quality festive music along with solos from a very fine young baritone, Johnny Herford."


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