The Final Concert After 65 Years Of Direction

Putney Choral Society sing goodbye to their conductor


On 8th December at St. Paul's Church in Southfields, at 7 o'clock, Stephen Rhys will conduct his final concert with Putney Choral Society after an amazing 65 years of committed and enthusiastic music making.

Stephen founded the choir in 1947, when he was just 21 years old. In the beginning the group was known as the Mayfield Singers and was a small madrigal choir, with Stephen's father roped in to sing the bass line. Very soon, however, under Stephen's indefatigable leadership the choir grew into a thriving choral society and today it is a large choir of about 80 members. Over these 65 years Stephen has steered PCS through hundreds of memorable and ambitious concerts and thousands of rehearsals. Exceedingly rarely has he ever missed one of these weekly rehearsals. Whatever the weather, whatever has been going on in his life, he has been there, except for the year he spent teaching music in Xinjiang Province in Western China, which was perhaps slightly too far away even for Stephen to come on his trusted bicycle or in his vintage Morris Traveller!





Stephen studied at the Royal Academy of Music, although this was interrupted by conscription into the Royal Marines where he somehow managed spare moments in the barrack room to study for his B.Mus. Later as a Professor he taught at the Royal Academy of Music for 30 years, and it should be remembered that Putney Choral Society has been only one aspect of Stephen's musical activity. Among his other commitments he was conductor of the Richmond Orchestra for some years, he was organist and choirmaster at Christchurch East Sheen for many years, he ran lunchtime choirs at the City Literary Institute in London, and after 57 years still conducts the City Philharmonic Choir, which also began life at the City Lit. He has composed several operas and written a book “The ABC of Church Music”, and he still teaches the piano, plays the organ in various local churches, and from time to time directs a group of madrigal singers.

It was with very good reason that Stephen was awarded an MBE in the Queen's Honours' List of 2004, a formal recognition for his considerable contribution to music making in S.W. London. His success in getting the very best out of non-auditioned singers of all ages, and from a multitude of backgrounds, has been extraordinary and has remained undiminished over the years. Under Stephen's direction Putney Choral Society has taken part in so many exciting events, and has been given the opportunity to sing an enormous variety of music by all the great choral composers of the past as well as many of those living now, always with full orchestra and professional soloists, and he has taken the choir to sing in some of London's most famous churches and concert halls. To mark PCS's 50th anniversary, he formed a strong bond with a choir in Dunkerque which for some years provided enjoyable singing on both sides of the Channel. Preparations for concerts have not always gone smoothly however. Stephen remembers several difficult situations. For instance, when the Queen's Master of Music sat in the final rehearsal, only then finishing his new work, soloists becoming ill and unable to sing or play on the day of a concert, church bookings being cancelled, or organs being found out of commission at the last moment.

Whatever the situation, Putney Choral Society have loved singing with Stephen over the years. It is therefore perhaps not remarkable, even in a time when loyalty and continuity is hard to find, that many of the choir's members have sung with PCS over a long period. The choir is going to miss him tremendously, but wish him the very best for his retirement. It is certain the vegetables in his beloved allotment will benefit from the additional attention they will now have! However, before Stephen finally puts away his baton and puts on his wellington boots it should not be forgotten he is conducting a farewell concert on 8th December – a magnificent evening of music which will include John Rutter's Magnificat, Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Messe de Minuit, the first performance of Paul Rhys's (Stephen's son) First Piano Concerto, Mozart's Exsultate Jubilate with Catherine Hamilton, Pablo Sarasate's Concerto for Violin and Piano, and Christmas Carols for all to sing. The choir is anticipating a vast audience to attend this magnificent concert and enjoy the warm and friendly atmosphere for which the choir is famous and which Stephen has generated during his time as their conductor.

October 31, 2012

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