Next week, Watford Philharmonic Society says goodbye to its conductor of eight years, Terry Edwards, with a special concert of songs and music from four popular Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas, before the baton is handed over to new conductor Michael Cayton in September. Terry, 75, from Hatfield, taught music at Rickmansworth Grammar School from 1961 to 1964, was chorus director at the Royal Opera House for 12 years until 2004, and he is founder and director of the professional choir London Voices. He talks to Rosy Moorhead.
Is everybody ready for the concert next Wednesday?
It’s getting geared up now. The problem for everybody is that I’ve selected bits of four operas – The Mikado, Iolanthe, The Pirates of Penzance and HMS Pinafore – which is quite complicated for the orchestra. But it’s all coming together, absolutely.
Are you happy to be going out on Gilbert and Sullivan?
I think one does get a little bit sniffy about Gilbert and Sullivan, but when I opened the scores again and read the text, it’s brilliant. Both the writing of the libretto and the music is absolutely superb, it’s very, very high class. So I’ve stopped being sniffy about it!
How are you feeling about leaving?
I’m feeling good. The time has come. I think that by the time you’ve done about eight years a society knows all about you, your tricks and the way you work, and they need a change. I could well have carried on and I don’t think they’d have sacked me but I think they deserve someone new now.
How do you look back over the eight years since you took over in 2006?
Oh with a great deal of pleasure. There are people who have been in the group for about 30 years, it’s quite amazing, and they live for that society, and so one feels honoured to have helped them through eight years of their vocal lives. I’m just one of four to five to six conductors they’ve worked with.
In my other posts, I’ve spent all my time preparing choirs for concerts and then handing them over to another conductor, who does the concert. So it’s been a wonderful chance for me to prepare the choir and the orchestra and then do the concert. I’ve had several pieces, like the Elgar Dream of Gerontius, the Verdi Requiem and the Mozart Requiem, that I was very keen to actually conduct myself in concerts and so it gave me a chance to do that.
Did you have a vision for the society when you took over?
Because I’d worked within professional choral music all my life, I was keen to get the choir to work in a chorally disciplined way, which they probably hadn’t been used to, and I think to start off with that was quite a task for them to catch up with me really, with what my dreams were. But we’re there, now – they all turn up with a pencil! They’re all marking what they have to do and they learn their bits off-by-heart so that they can give of themselves. I would hope that I’ve improved the choral singing in the last eight years even if I’ve not necessarily improved the orchestral playing, which just goes on as it always has.
What are some of your fondest memories of your time?
I think the feeling when we did the Dream of Gerontius would be my best, most treasured moment. It’s British choral music at its very finest. It gives you a shiver. I think that’s the piece I’ll treasure most, having conducted that.
And your biggest challenges?
I think the biggest challenge is to get 150 people to actually be prepared to step out of their comfort zone. There are many of them who would probably be very happy to do a performance of Messiah every year!
What are you going to do now?
I shall carry on working with my professional choir, London Voices. We’re into doing film sessions and we’ve toured China recently, so they keep me going.
Is there any advice you’d give to your successor, Michael Cayton?
No! He’s very experienced and I’ve no doubt he’ll do things his own way and be just as successful as I’ve ever been – if I have been!