The Daily Telegraph

Terry Edwards

Covent Garden chorus director who founded London Voices choir and played basketball for Britain


TERRY EDWARDS, who has died aged 83, was the founder of the profession­al choir London Voices, directing them on several movie 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 chorus director at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where he had been an occasional extra chorister.

Edwards, who stood 6 ft 9 in, had been a member of the Great Britain basketball team for the 1964 Olympics. However, they did not qualify for the Games proper in Tokyo that October, having been eliminated at a European tournament held in Geneva in June that 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 took to cueing him for the important choral bass entries. “You can’t just push me to the end of a line and hope I’ll fit in,” he observed.

Blessed with an avuncular manner and a rich bass voice with which he could hit a sonorous bottom C, Edwards joined Covent Garden in 1992, preparing and rehearsing the chorus for famous conductors, who then take over for the performanc­e. He arrived when morale was low after a round of redundanci­es, but was able to cash in on the upswing and set about building an ensemble with a vibrant mix of timbres.

His job was primarily musical, but he also kept an eye on the stage movements. “If I judge that the director is trying to do something against the spirit of the music, then I have to represent the chorus,” he told The Independen­t. “Or if it’s being made difficult for them to move and sing, I’ll get involved.”

On one occasion his chorus were instructed 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, was not convinced the scene was necessary, but recalled that they proceeded in a profession­al manner. “They didn’t even get to choose their partners – man and wife, boyfriend and boyfriend, whatever,” he exclaimed. “They just took the person they were given and went for it.”

Within the chorus itself his job was more complex. “You have to be part-policeman, part-musician, part-doctor, part-psychologi­st, because your people go through all sorts of problems,” he explained. Removing singers was never easy, but when the Royal Opera House closed in 1997 for two years he took the opportunit­y to part with those whose voices he felt had fallen below musical par.

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

Edwards had a deft way of managing his singers, recalling that at the beginning of one rehearsal for Messiaen’s Cinq Rechants, which is scored for 12 singers, a chair was empty. It should have been occupied by a tenor called Scott Mcvey, who had a reputation for tardiness. He instructed the singers that when he finally appeared they should all shout on his downbeat “Scott Mcvey is always late.” The tenor was never late again.

Terence Edwards was born in north London on May 25 1939, the son of Harry Edwards and his wife Olive (née Illsley). He attributed his height to being raised on Cow & Gate milk products, adding: “I did feel quite awkward as a teenager.”

He took piano lessons from the age of eight and was a keen sportsman, but school fixtures often clashed with Saturday-morning music classes at Trinity College of Music, London. Basketball matches, however, were held during the week.

He continued his singing studies at Trinity College, soon accepting that he was not going to pass muster as a soloist. “I always loved choral singing,” he told Opera magazine. “It’s what’s given me the greatest pleasure.” On graduating 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 England basketball team, later graduating to the Great Britain side.

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

A Nigerian colleague at Holy Trinity invited Edwards to train the choir at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, where he found a great desire to develop a musical tradition. “We had a huge choir of 100 Nigerians and about 40 expats, mainly American and Dutch,” he recalled, adding that on one occasion he conducted an all-nigerian production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. The outbreak of war in Biafra in 1967 led to the appointmen­t being curtailed.

Back in Britain he ran Roger Norrington’s Schütz Choir of London and the 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 London Voices in 1973, “having by then realised that I was lending what talent I had to other conductors when I could be managing my own company”. Four years later he also founded Electric Phoenix, pioneering the use of electronic­s and extended vocal techniques, notably in the music of Luciano Berio, which led to more than 100 performanc­es and four recordings of the composer’s Sinfonia.

In 1979 Edwards started London Sinfoniett­a Voices as a vehicle for a cappella contempora­ry music. “We commission­ed a lot of pieces … Ligeti, Xenakis, Holliger,” he recalled. Occasional­ly he found time for larger groups, and at the 1998 BBC Proms directed a mass choir of more than 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 hospital and the performanc­e was abandoned.

From 2006 to 2014 Edwards was music 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 Requiems by Mozart and Verdi, but also, at last, to conduct them in concert.

Sometimes his height proved problemati­c. Once, during the third act of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov at Covent Garden, the chorus were told to improvise as “revolting peasants”. Somehow Edwards managed to revolt down to the front of the stage, an area occupied by the soloists.

Michael Langdon, the company’s principal bass, was wearing lifts in his shoes to raise his height to 6ft 4in, so that he towered over the rest of the cast. “At least that was the idea,” Edwards reported. “When I appeared next to him and five inches taller, he roared out, ‘Piss off, I’m the big man in this company’.”

On another occasion Edwards took his mother to the final rehearsal of Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust, having trained the chorus for Solti. On the way home she asked what would happen next, and he explained that the great maestro would conduct the following day’s performanc­e. “What? He’s going to take over your job?” she replied. “I don’t think that’s fair.”

Edwards is survived by his wife, Judy. Terry Edwards, born May 25 1939, died September 2 2022

 ?? ?? Edwards once had to marshal his singers for an orgy scene in Lucia di Lammermoor: ‘They didn’t even get to choose their partners. They just took the person they were given and went for it’
Edwards once had to marshal his singers for an orgy scene in Lucia di Lammermoor: ‘They didn’t even get to choose their partners. They just took the person they were given and went for it’

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