Featuring a varied programme of familiar seasonal carols and fresh festive offerings from composers including John Rutter, Philip Stopford, Philip Wilby, and Philip Ledger, this concert will celebrate Christmas with the choir of Northern Ireland’s national cathedral. Copies of the newly released album will be available at a special price, before and after the concert, along with another new release Christmas Bells - Organ Music from Belfast Cathedral, with Matthew Owens.
Belfast Cathedral Choir
Tristan Russcher (organ)
Matthew Owens (conductor)
Choral music has always played a significant and central role at Belfast Cathedral, since its consecration in 1904, when there was a cathedral choir of 48 voices (ladies, gentlemen, and 24 boy choristers). Since then, the choir has undergone various transformations, most latterly in the late summer of 2019, when it became an all-adult, fully professional vocal ensemble. This ‘new’ cathedral choir brings together some of the finest singers in Northern Ireland who lead the liturgy and worship of Belfast Cathedral, known locally as ‘St Anne’s’. Under the direction of Matthew Owens, who took up the post of Director of Music in September 2019, the choir has sung a wide and diverse range of works from the mediaeval period through to the present day, including world premiere performances of works by Judith Bingham, the late John Joubert, and Philip Stopford.
A number of world premiere performances of newly composed works for the Cranmer Anthem Book are scheduled from 2021 to 2022, by Richard Allain, Luke Bedford, Michael Berkeley, Richard Causton, Naji Hakim, Gabriel Jackson, Philip Moore, and Philip Stopford.
In addition, Howard Skempton began as Belfast Cathedral’s first ever Composer-in-Association, in September 2021.
Under Owens the cathedral choir has broadcast (live and recorded) on both BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Ulster. The choir now records exclusively for Resonus Classics.
Matthew Owens became Director of Music at Belfast Cathedral in September 2019 where he leads the fully professional, all adult choir of Northern Ireland’s national cathedral. He is the head of the cathedral’s music department and responsible for all musical aspects of the music there. Later in 2019 he founded the Ulster Consort, a new professional vocal and instrumental ensemble for Northern Ireland. Previously, he had been Organist and Master of the Music at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh (1999-2004), and Organist and Master of the Choristers at Wells Cathedral (2005-2019). Under his leadership, Wells Cathedral Choir was named by an international jury for Gramophone as the best choir in the world with children, and the sixth greatest overall. Matthew served as President of the Cathedral Organists’ Association (2010-13); he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Guild of Church Musicians in November 2012; and in October 2017 he was made a Prebendary (Canon) of Wells Cathedral “for outstanding service” to the Diocese and the Cathedral. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in October 2020.
Matthew was educated at Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester; The Queen’s College, Oxford; the Royal Northern College of Music; and the Amsterdam Conservatorium. Studying with Gordon Stewart, Margaret Phillips, and Jacques van Oortmerssen, he won all the major prizes in the diplomas of the Royal College of Organists and the Silver Medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. As an organist, Matthew has given recitals in Australia, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, the USA, and throughout the UK.
He has guest conducted, among others, the London Mozart Players, English Symphony Orchestra, Southern Sinfonia, Scottish Ensemble, Nash Ensemble, Brook Street Band, and the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2021 he was appointed Associate Director of the Grand Rapids Choir of Men and Boys, in Michigan, USA. As a conductor he has made over 30 CDs with major labels, and now records exclusively for the award-winning label, Resonus Classics.
As an educator, he has directed choral workshops and summer schools throughout the UK and abroad including Australia, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Luxembourg, New Zealand, and the USA; he was Tutor in Organ Studies at the Royal Northern College of Music (1995-2001); and has contributed academic papers and publications on choristers and on contemporary sacred music (OUP; Journal of Voice; Open Book Publishers).
He has championed new music, particularly of British composers, conducting over 200 world premieres, including works by leading composers ranging from Jools Holland to Sir James MacMillan, and John Rutter to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. He is Director of the Cranmer Anthem Book (launched in October 2017); a project that will set all 88 Collects from the Book of Common Prayer to music, by some of the world’s finest composers. As a composer himself, Matthew is published by Oxford University Press, Novello, and the Royal School of Church Music.
Tristan Russcher grew up in Perth, Australia, and began playing the piano at the age of three. He left Australia to study for his A-levels at Ampleforth College, York. On entry to university Tristan was awarded the organ scholarship at Worcester College, Oxford. After completing his Bachelor of Arts in Music, Tristan was appointed to the post of joint organ scholar at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral, in Dublin. He won prizes in the Royal College of Organists’ diploma examinations, gaining his Fellowship diploma in 2004.
From 2005 to 2009 Tristan was Assistant Director of Music at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, working with the late Dean Desmond Harmon. Whilst at Christ Church, Tristan was responsible for playing the organ at all services and for running the Cathedral Girls’ Choir.
During this time, he was runner-up in the Pipeworks International Organ Festival (2005) and in 2008 he presented a joint recital series of the complete organ works of Olivier Messiaen.
Since 2011, Tristan has been Director of Music at St Bartholomew’s Parish Church, in Dublin. There he has developed and enhanced the choral and musical life of the parish, in addition to pursuing a freelance musical career. Tristan has also worked with the renowned choir, The Choral Scholars of University College Dublin.
From mid-November 2018, Tristan will assume the role of Associate Organist at Belfast Cathedral.