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Portsmouth Festival Choir
 
Portsmouth Festival Choir

Our Conductor - THOMAS NEAL

Photographs courtesy of Nick Rutter

Thomas Neal is a music teacher, choral conductor, and musicologist. Born at Stockton-on-Tees in 1990 into a musical family, he went on to study at Clare College, Cambridge first as an undergraduate and then as a graduate research student, graduating with an MPhil in Musicology in 2013. At Cambridge, he held the position of John Stewart of Rannoch Scholar in Sacred Music; he is also a former Stanley Vann Scholar.

Having been directing both professional and amateur choirs since his early teens, Thomas is fast developing a reputation as a popular choir trainer, choral clinician, and workshop leader. At Cambridge, he worked under Tim Brown as assistant conductor of the elite Cambridge University Chamber Choir, and under Stephen Cleobury as assistant conductor and répétiteur of the 120-strong CUMS Chorus. He also founded and directed his own ensemble,The Clare Consort, which specialised in the performance of sixteenth-century polyphony. A fervent advocate of the choral society tradition, Tom has acted as chorusmaster for most of the major choral works, including: Bach’s St. John Passion and St. Matthew Passion, Handel Messiah, Mendelssohn Elijah, Verdi Requiem, Elgar The Dream of Gerontius, Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony, and Howells Hymnus Paradisi—among many others. In January 2017 he was appointed Musical Director of the Portsmouth Festival Choir.

As a musicologist, Thomas has researched and written widely on music and liturgy in the sixteenth century, focussing on the life and music of Giovanni Pierluigi ‘da Palestrina’. He has presented papers at many academic conferences in the UK and abroad, and has contributed articles and reviews to several academic publications. He has also worked as score editor and academic advisor to a number of recording projects, most notably with Alamire/David Skinner on the Gramophone Award-winning The Spy’s Choirbook (Obsidian). He is currently engaged in an ambitious project to re-assess Palestrina’s life and works, which he hopes will result in a book.

An occasional composer, Thomas’s music has been performed and recorded on both sides of the Atlantic, and he has composed for several notable ensembles, including: Westminster Cathedral Choir/Martin Baker (Salve Regina, 2008), the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge/Tim Brown (Veni Redemptor gentium, 2010), and the BBC Singers/David Hill (Alleluia! A new work is come on hand, 2016). His first song cycle, Requiem, will be premiered in 2017.

Thomas’s passion lies in music proper to the traditional Latin liturgy. While at Cambridge he served as organ scholar at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and the English Martyrs, and subsequently as director of the Schola Cantorum at Fisher House. After relocating to Kent, he was appointed Director of Music at the Shrine Church of St. Augustine, Ramsgate, where for three years he directed the shrine’s professional choir, The Victoria Consort, in the weekly choral liturgy and in a series of concerts, tours, and broadcasts for BBC Radio 4. He expanded the music programme to include a large community choir, The Schola Augustini, with the aim of teaching Gregorian chant to local amateur singers, and launched a project to restore the historic pipe organ. Thomas now regularly travels around the UK and abroad directing choirs, giving lectures, and leading workshops on Gregorian chant and polyphony.

Following a year spent teaching music at a school in France, last September Thomas took up a position in the music department at The Portsmouth Grammar School. Outside of term, he maintains a busy schedule of performing, writing, and composing.