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John Poole

A memorial concert for British conductor John Poole was live-streamed from London


English choral conductor John Poole passed away last year on 18 May 2020 in Haute-Vienne, France. Today, Saturday 18 September 2021, a live-streamed concert was given in his memory at St George's Church, Bloomsbury, London UK. This is where John, as organist and director of the London University Church Choir, also founded and conducted the Bloomsbury Singers in the 1960s, before his time with the BBC. The concert consisted of three groups of choral works interleaved with two groups of readings and solo items, with a duration of just over ninety minutes, without an interval.

Remembering John Poole at St George's Church Bloomsbury, London UK on 18 September 2021, with Keith Bennett conducting the choir. Video screenshot © 2021 Keith Bramich
Remembering John Poole at St George's Church Bloomsbury, London UK on 18 September 2021, with Keith Bennett conducting the choir. Video screenshot © 2021 Keith Bramich

This concert was of special interest to anyone who knew John Poole from his time with the BBC Singers (1972-1992), from his first period in France (1990-2000) working with the Groupe Vocal de France and with the Academie Internationale in Parthenay, or from his period at the Jacobs School of Music, University of Indiana, Bloomington, Illinois, USA (2001-2009), teaching and conducting.

The concert, which began at 5pm local time, was introduced by Perry Butler, a former rector of St George's Bloomsbury, who met John Poole and many members of the Bloomsbury Singers in 2008, when they met for a reunion of the Bloomsbury Singers. The first group of choral items - Purcell's O God, thou art my God, Byrd's Civitas sancti tui and the Alleluia from J S Bach's Lobet den Herrn - was conducted by Keith Bennett.

Vivian Anthony, a former member of the London University Church Choir, spoke about John Poole's positive influence on the music at St George's Bloomsbury, and Philip Fryer talked about John Poole, University College London and the Bloomsbury Singers. In between, violinist Charlotte Edwards played the Adagio and Gigue from J S Bach's Violin Sonata in E minor, BWV 1023.

The second group of choral items was conducted by Philip Simms: Bruckner's Locus iste, Rachmaninov's Bogoroditsye Dyevo and O pray for the peace of Jerusalem by Herbert Howells.

Stephen Charlesworth and Ian Kennedy from the BBC Singers spoke about Poole's time at the BBC (whilst one of John's BBC successors, Stephen Jackson, put in a brief appearance at the back of the church), and John Poole's son, Matthew Poole read the words of My life with John by Laura Poole, John's second wife. In between these readings, clarinettist Janet Hilton (who also sang alto in the choir) played the Romance and Forlana from Gerald Finzi's Five Bagatelles.

John Poole (1934-2020)
John Poole (1934-2020)

The final group of choral items, conducted again by Keith Bennett, consisted of the Cantique de Jean Racine by Gabriel Fauré, Drop, drop slow tears by Orlando Gibbons and the Dona nobis pacem from J S Bach's B minor Mass.

Andrew Carter provided organ and piano accompaniments to the choral items, and the instrumental soloists were accompanied by Andrew and by Keith Bennett. All the musical items in this concert were chosen for their connection with John Poole, and the choral items had special resonances with John's time with the Bloomsbury Singers, including at reunions which took place during the last decade or so.

In addition to the reminiscences spoken during the concert, the attractive concert leaflet (created by Keith Bennett) contained additional written memories contributed by Giles Swayne (whose CRY was given its first performance by John Poole and the BBC Singers in 1980) and Nicola Lefanu, who worked closely with John Poole when he directed the BBC Singers in the first performance of her radio opera The Story of Mary O'Neill.

Behind the scenes at this event was an organising team of Bloomsbury Singers, who have also staged biennial singing reunions in France since 2010 at the invitation of John Poole, who lived in Bellac, Haute-Vienne. Noel Gordon, caretaker and hirings manager at St George's Bloomsbury, was very helpful and friendly, and the church kindly waived its usual hire fee in consideration of John Poole's very special connection with St George's.

Posted 18 September 2021 and last updated 23 September 2021 by Keith Bramich





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