Recollections by Terry Edwards, founder of London Voices
I was born in North London and educated at Trinity College of Music. I taught music and played basketball for the Great Britain team.
LUCKY BREAK no.1 - I am 6ft 9in tall.
I changed direction after the Olympic Games of 1964 to become a professional singer. One of my most exciting engagements was being invited to sing as a guest with the Royal Opera House Chorus in a production of the immensely difficult Moses and Aaron by Schoenberg, conducted by the charismatic and world-famous Sir Georg Solti.
LUCKY BREAK no.2 - Solti soon started cueing me for the important choral bass leads as he could pick me out on the crowded stage.
ASIDE: I sang as an extra chorister in another opera at Covent Garden, Boris Godunov. In a rehearsal of Act 3 the Chorus was directed to improvise as ‘revolting peasants’ around the stage. Unfortunately my colleague and I somehow revolted ourselves down to the front of the stage into the area occupied by the soloists. Michael Langdon, the company’s Principal Bass, was wearing lifts which raised his height to 6ft 4in. so that he towered over everybody – at least, that was the idea. When I appeared next to him and five inches taller he roared out “Piss off, I’m the big man in this Company”.
ASIDE: The scene: Solti is being interviewed live on BBC2 during an interval in an opera performance. INTERVIEWER (who should have known better): “Tell me Maestro please, why is it that although you have lived in the United Kingdom for a very long time you still speak English with a strong Hungarian accent?”. SOLTI, with one of his steely looks, replies, “Well my dear, I may have an accent but I can do interviews in English, French, German, Italian, Hungarian and Hebrew…CAN YOU?”
I soon became the Manager of firstly the ground-breaking John Alldis Choir, then the Linden Singers and subsequently Roger Norrington's Schütz Choir of London. In 1973 I formed LONDON VOICES having by then realised that I was lending what talent I had to other conductors when I could be managing my own company. In 1973 I also became the first manager and the sound engineer of Swingle II, moving on in 1977 to form the pioneering avant-garde vocal consort Electric Phoenix (see website here).
LUCKY BREAK no.3 - it was with the Swingles and Electric Phoenix that my long association with the composer Luciano Berio began which has led to over one hundred performances and four recordings of Sinfonia with many of the world’s leading symphony orchestras.
LUCKY BREAK no.4 - I have Maestro Solti to thank for helping to establish London Voices as he asked me to assemble and chorus-master several high visibility projects with large professional forces for performances in London, Frankfurt and Geneva with works including Beethoven Symphony no.9 and concert performances of Berlioz’ Damnation of Faust and The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan Tutte by Mozart.
ASIDE: I took my mother to my final piano rehearsal of the Berlioz as she was visiting me at the time. She seemed to be impressed but was quiet for some time on the way home. Finally she asked “What happens next, son?” I told her that Maestro Solti would arrive at the rehearsal tomorrow and take over. She replied “What? He’s going to take over your job? I don’t think that’s fair!”
ASIDE: Although I have no nerves when facing a professional choir of 150 or even a vast assembled amateur chorus of a thousand in the Royal Albert Hall, I know that my talent is limited when conducting an orchestra. Solti soon realised this and would delight in asking me to go onto the podium so that he could judge the balance in the hall. He would then offer me a conducting lesson from the middle of the hall much to the amusement of choir and orchestra.
LUCKY BREAK no.5 - from the 1970’s for at least twenty five years boxed LP sets of complete operas were best sellers. They were recorded in London because the wonderful London orchestras could be relied upon to sight-read their way into a perfect performance and in double-quick time. Every summer internationally famous opera singers would descend upon London to record for the record companies with which they were signed. And of course these operas invariably needed a large professional choir. I was fortunate to rub shoulders with world-class singers including Joan Sutherland, Marylin Horne, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti.
ASIDE: The scene: I am standing in front of my choir of 60 singers as the soloists enter just in front of us. Pavarotti (not a small man) walks over to me and says in as loud a voice as is needed to reach the back row “Where do you buy your clothes?” I mumble the reply “High and Mighty, Sir”. He shouts back, “Oh, High and Mighty. I went there this morning and asked what they had got to fit me. The assistant replied ‘only cuff links sir’.”
ASIDE: At the beginning of a rehearsal for Messiaen’s Cinq Rechants which was scored for twelve singers, one chair was empty. It should have been occupied by a lovely tenor called Scott McVey who had a reputation for lateness. I instructed the singers that instead of singing when he finally appeared they should all shout on my downbeat "Scott McVey is always late". Needless to say he was mortified and was never late again. But that wasn’t the end of the matter as the story took on a life of its own and very often, when Scott was singing as a guest with one of the many European choirs, somebody would always say “Are you the famous Scott McVey?”
I became Director of London Sinfonietta Voices and Chorus in 1980 and this, plus my engagements with London Voices and my continuing association with Electric Phoenix, brought me into contact with many of the most famous late twentieth-century composers including Adams, Berio, Birtwistle, Boulez, Cage, Holliger, Ligeti, Maxwell Davies, Messiaen and Pousseur. I chorus-mastered first performances and made recordings of several of their compositions and was also instrumental in commissioning over fifty other new works.
ASIDE: During a project in Florence, Berio invited a group of us to have dinner with him in his lovely house in Radicondoli which is in the hills between Florence and Siena. We arrived at about 7.30 but by 8.30 there were no sights, sounds or smells of any cooking. Suddenly we were aware of ladies struggling up the hill by foot or on bikes carrying food they had cooked in their own houses. Needless to say it was all delicious.
ASIDE: After a week in Gutesloh recording for CD all Ligeti’s a cappella works he asked me to join him and his wife for breakfast at his hotel to discuss the contents of the record sleeve. They were in a small private room with a table groaning with every choice of food. When it was time to leave I was horrified to observe them loading as much as they could carry into two bags. They noticed my shock and Ligeti explained that from birth until they were thirty in Hungary before they moved to Western Europe they had so little food that every scrap was saved to be used again. This has left them unable to leave food on the table although now they do throw it away at the end of the day.
Sir Georg Solti was hugely influential in my development as a chorus master, offering me many opportunities with London Voices in Europe and also inviting me to Chicago as guest chorus master with the much-acclaimed Chicago Symphony Chorus. It was Sir Georg who also invited me to act as Guest Chorus Master at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in November 1991 and I completed twelve years as permanent Chorus Director there in the Summer of 2004. During those years I prepared the Royal Opera Chorus for productions of one hundred and eleven operas by forty-three composers with sixty-eight conductors including Abbado, Dohnanyi, Gatti, Gergiev, Haitink, Mackerras, Mehta, Pappano, Rattle, Salonen and Thielemann.
ASIDE: The scene: Charles Mackerras is conducting a rehearsal of Act 1 of The Bartered Bride which opens with a chorus scene. The director has decided that while they are singing they should build a village hall at the very back of the stage. The result; I can’t hear them from the stalls. As I’m climbing over the orchestra on a temporary bridge Sir Charles shouts, “Terry, can’t you get the Chorus to sing louder?” In anger I shout back, “Can’t you get the orchestra to play softer?” “Why should I?” he shouts. I blurt back “because it’s opera”. A sound then of 60 orchestral musicians going “OOOOOOOH!”
In 1986 London Voices recorded their first film soundtrack - The Mission - with music by Ennio Morricone.
LUCKY BREAK no.6 - the film and the music found immediate world-wide fame. From that time London Voices has developed a wonderfully successful career in the film and video game soundtrack recording studios. The impeccable work of our singers has led to us even being invited to add choral tracks recorded in London to orchestral music recorded in the USA.
ASIDE: The scene: The wonderful John Williams is recording music for Harry Potter in Abbey Road Studio 1. 60 players and 60 London Voices are squashed into the room. John Williams turns round from the rostrum and asks, “Are you getting randy in the control room??” 120 players and singers collapse into helpless laughter much to the maestro’s puzzlement. Actually he was enquiring about the important celesta solo being played by Randy Kerber.
FINAL ASIDE: The scene: I am returning to my car from the Royal Albert Hall after a performance of one of the Lord of the Rings films with live orchestra and choir. I am accosted by a slightly frightening looking man who says’ “you are Christopher Lee and I want your autograph.” I tell him that my name is Terry Edwards. He says he doesn’t believe me and that I am Christopher Lee and insists that I sign his autograph book. I make one more effort to resist but I sense this is going to get unpleasant and so I sign as Christopher Lee and he goes away happy.
© Terry Edwards 2021