The Daily Telegraph
Choirmaster and organist who served Manchester Cathedral
DERRICK CANTRELL, who has died aged 96, was organist and master of the choristers at Manchester Cathedral from 1962 to 1977; he was also conductor of the cathedral’s larger Cantata Choir, with whom he performed all the major Bach choral works. They were often accompanied by the Manchester Mozart Orchestra, a forerunner of today’s Manchester Camerata, at whose inaugural concert in 1963 Cantrell was soloist in Poulenc’s magnificent Organ Concerto.
Cantrell was something of a fixture on the Manchester music scene, broadcasting a Handel organ concerto with the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, giving recitals at the cathedral and recording all C P E Bach’s sonatas at St Philip’s Church, Salford. He eschewed self-promotion, instead concentrating on producing music of the highest standard. Those who trained under him include some of today’s most prominent classical musicians including Simon Wright, David Hill and Wayne Marshall.
Keen to spread his musical wings, however, Cantrell left the cathedral at the relatively young age of 51 to devote himself to teaching, adjudicating and performing. He was not forgotten, and 20 years later was appointed organist emeritus.
Derrick Edward Cantrell was born in Sheffield on June 2 1926, the younger of two sons of Cyril Cantrell, also a church organist, and his wife Winifred (née Munn); his paternal grandfather had been a church musician while working in the city’s cutlery industry.
He was educated at King Edward VII Grammar School, Sheffield, and in 1944 joined the Navy and trained as a Japanese translator. By the time he qualified, however, the war was over and he instead served as education officer at HMS Fieldfare in Scotland, working with troops returning from overseas.
On demobilisation Cantrell took up a delayed Holroyd Music Scholarship to Keble College, Oxford, serving as assistant organist at New College and organist at St Giles’ Church. Coming down, he joined the Church of the Holy Rude, Stirling, combining his responsibilities there with lecturing at Glasgow University and what was then the Royal Scottish Academy of Music. He also revived Stirling Choral Union, today known as Stirling City Choir, and on December 26 1951 conducted their 100 members and an 18-piece orchestra in Handel’s Messiah.
In 1953 he succeeded the ebullient Stanley Vann as organist at Chelmsford Cathedral, where he was remembered as a gentler and less extroverted personality than his predecessor. He also directed the Chelmsford Singers, built his recital work and began collecting private pupils. Nine years later came the move to Manchester.
After leaving the cathedral he devoted more time to teaching at the Royal Northern College of Music, where he had worked since 1963. He also took advantage of the travel opportunities afforded by his role as a senior examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, which took him to Africa and the Far East. Closer to home, he was a regular adjudicator on the competition circuit, where his kindly assessments and words of encouragement were greatly appreciated.
Away from music Cantrell tried his hand at winemaking, fell walking and gardening. With the exception of Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation or Morecambe and Wise shows, he regarded the television as a vulgar distraction to be banished to a spare bedroom.
He continued to teach privately into his 80s, and on Palm Sunday 2014 was organist for John Stainer’s
The Crucifixion at Hale Barns in Cheshire. More recently he won a national competition organised by the owner of his care home for a rendition of Beethoven’s
In 1950 Derrick Cantrell married Nancy Bland. She and their eldest daughter predeceased him. He is survived by two sons and another daughter.