Terry Edwards, choir director at the Royal Opera House who founded the London Voices choir and also represented Britain in basketball – obituary

Terry Edwards, choir director at the Royal Opera House who founded the London Voices choir and also represented Britain in basketball – obituary

Terry Edwards, choir director at the Royal Opera House who founded the London Voices choir and also represented Britain in basketball – obituary

Terry Edwards

Terry Edwards

Terry Edwards, who died at the age of 83, was the founder of the London Voices professional choir, directing it on several film soundtracks including The Mission with music by Ennio Morricone, the Harry Potter franchise and The Lord of the Rings films. ; he also spent a dozen years as a choir director at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where he had occasionally been an extra backing vocalist.

Edwards, 6 feet 9 inches tall, had been a member of Britain’s basketball team for the 1964 Olympics. However, they did not qualify for the actual Games in Tokyo that October, having been knocked out in a tournament. European Championship held in Geneva in June of the same year.

His height meant that conductors could easily spot him on a crowded stage, and he recalled how in his early days Sir Georg Solti cared for him for important bass choral voices. “You can’t just push me to the end of a line and hope it fits me,” he noted.

Gifted with an avuncular manner and a rich bass voice with which he could hit a resounding low C, Edwards joined Covent Garden in 1992, preparing and rehearsing the refrain for famous conductors, who then take over the performance. He arrived when morale was low after a round of layoffs, but he was able to cash in on the take and started building an ensemble with a vibrant mix of tones.

His work was mainly musical, but he also kept an eye on the movements of the stage. “If I judge that the director is trying to do something against the spirit of the music, then I have to play the chorus,” he told The Independent. “Or if it is made difficult for them to move and sing, I will work hard.”

On one occasion his choir was commissioned to participate in the staging of a mass orgy for Christof Loy’s production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Edwards, like many of his singers, wasn’t convinced the scene was necessary, but recalled that they proceeded professionally. “They couldn’t even choose their partners – husband and wife, boyfriend and boyfriend, whatever,” he exclaimed. “They just took the person they were given and they took him.”

Within the chorus itself, his work was more complex. “You have to be part cop, part musician, part doctor, part psychologist, because your people go through all kinds of problems,” she explained. Removing singers has never been easy, but when the Royal Opera House closed in 1997 for two years he took the opportunity to part ways with those whose voices he claimed had fallen below musical level.

During his dozen years at Covent Garden he has collaborated with conductors including Bernard Haitink, Antonio Pappano, Simon Rattle and Zubin Mehta, and has worked on more than 100 operas, including no fewer than 25 by Verdi. Among his favorites were those of Wagner, most notably Graham Vick’s production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, which was devilishly complicated for the chorus. Lohengrin was also thrilling “and nightmare”, with 58 separate voices for his chorus.

Edwards had a clever way of handling his singers, remembering that at the start of a rehearsal for Messiaen’s Cinq Rechants, which is made up of 12 singers, one chair was empty. He was supposed to be occupied by a tenor named Scott McVey, known for being late. He instructed the singers that when he finally appeared they should all yell on his pessimistic him “Scott McVey is always late”. The tenor is never late again.

Terence Edwards was born in North London on May 25, 1939, the son of Harry Edwards and his wife Olive (nee Illsley). He attributed his height to growing up with Cow & Gate dairy products, adding, “I felt pretty uncomfortable as a teenager.” He has taken piano lessons since the age of eight and was a sports enthusiast, but school commitments often clashed with Saturday morning music lessons at London’s Trinity College of Music. The basketball games, however, took place during the week.

He continued his singing studies at Trinity College, quickly accepting that he would not pass the gathering as a soloist. “I’ve always loved choral singing,” she told Opera magazine. “That’s what gave me the greatest pleasure.” After graduation he became a music teacher at Rickmansworth Grammar School, where he also coached football, cricket and tennis. Meanwhile, in 1959 he was selected for the English basketball team, then moved on to the British team.

Edwards was 6 feet 9 inches tall and recalled:

Edwards was 6 feet 9 inches tall and recalled: “I felt pretty uncomfortable as a teenager”

By 1966 Edwards’ sporting career was over, although he continued to play golf and dropped out of teaching to sing full time, including for Sunday services at Holy Trinity, Brompton. He was in Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron choir at the Royal Opera House, conducted by Solti (“one of my most exciting engagements”), and joined the John Alldis choir, singing new works by Harrison Birtwistle, Elisabeth Lutyens and Malcolm Williamson, and be involved in choir management.

A Nigerian colleague from the Holy Trinity invited Edwards to form the choir at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka, where he found a great desire to develop a musical tradition. “We had a huge choir of 100 Nigerians and about 40 expatriates, mostly Americans and Dutch,” he recalled, adding that on one occasion he directed an all-Nigerian production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. The outbreak of the war in Biafra in 1967 led to the reduction of the nomination.

Back in Britain, he directed the Schütz Choir of London and Roger Norrington’s Linden Singers before working with the English incarnation of the Swingle Singers as manager, sound designer and record producer. At Solti’s urging he formed the London Voices in 1973, “having realized by now that I was lending the talent I had to other conductors when I could run my own company.”

Four years later he also founded Electric Phoenix, pioneering the use of electronics and extended vocal techniques, particularly in the music of Luciano Berio, which resulted in more than 100 performances and four recordings of the composer’s Symphony.

In 1979 Edwards founded London Sinfonietta Voices as a vehicle for contemporary a cappella music. “We have commissioned many pieces … Ligeti, Xenakis, Holliger,” she recalled. He occasionally found time for larger groups and at the 1998 BBC Proms conducted a mass choir of over 1,000 voices in Orff’s Carmina Burana at the Royal Albert Hall. In 2006 he suffered a heart attack while conducting a concert in Lyon; he was taken to the hospital and the show was abandoned.

From 2006 to 2014 Edwards was musical director of the Watford Philharmonic Society, enjoying the opportunity not only to prepare the choir and orchestra in works such as Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius and Mozart and Verdi’s Requiems, but also, ultimately, to conduct them in concert.

At times his height proved problematic. Once, during the third act of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov at Covent Garden, the choir was told to improvise like “rebel peasants”. Somehow Edwards managed to rebel all the way to the front of the stage, an area occupied by the soloists.

Michael Langdon, the main bass of the company, wore elevators in his shoes to increase his height to 6 feet 4 inches, thus dominating the rest of the cast. “At least that was the idea,” Edwards reported. “When I appeared next to him and five inches taller, he exclaimed, ‘Pissed off, I’m the big man in this company.’ “

On another occasion Edwards took his mother to the final rehearsals of Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust, after coaching the choir for Solti. On the way back he asked what would happen next, and he explained that the grand master would conduct the next day’s performance. “What? Will he take care of your work?” she answered. “I don’t think it’s fair.”

Edwards leaves his wife, Judy.

Terry Edwards, born May 25, 1939, died September 2, 2022

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