Who or what inspired you to take up composing and singing, and make it your career?
I guess my dad was my biggest inspiration – he was a church organist all his working life (he had a stroke 6 years ago and can’t play any more) and I immersed myself in church choral music from a very early age. All my brothers and sisters sang in the choir, as did many other local families, and I fondly remember great choral evensongs at the end of each month, including music by Stanford, Parry, Howells, Britten and so on.
Who or what were the most important influences on your composing?
The British choral tradition – and, most importantly, Benjamin Britten. I was born and brought up in Suffolk – and have recently returned to live here (in fact I direct Aldeburgh Voices, the resident choir at Snape Maltings). I attended concerts at the Aldeburgh Festival and met Britten once in his sports car! The harmonic language of my own music is also tinged with my love of a cappella close harmony – the Great American Songbook, Latin styles and so on.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
My managerial and administrative roles as a director of music at St Paul’s School and Junior Academy in London have been challenging, as well as character-building! Having to make strategic decisions, which are sometimes unpopular, is difficult but often necessary, and sometimes I wish I could just get on with the music-making.
Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?
I conducted a production of Menotti’s opera Amahl and the Night Visitors in Scotland – and Menotti staged it for us. I’d met him at a concert in Haddington by my vocal group Dunedin Consort (which I co-founded – something else I’m proud of) and he promised to work on it with me. My choral pieces Flame and Three Angels are special to me – Flame was my Proms debut last year, and Three Angels was sung by King’s College Choir on the TV last Christmas.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?
I’ve performed in many, many venues – New York, Los Angeles,Tokyo, Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, – but Snape Maltings Concert Hall takes some beating, as does King’s College Chapel for sacred music.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
I love performing Stockhausen’s Stimmung! It becomes other-worldly after a while, and quite trance-like. I’m not sure the audience feels the same way. I love listening to Beatles songs, which are timeless and so inventive. The Sergeant Pepper album is genius.
Who are your favourite musicians?
Who would I pay money to hear?!
Classical – Tenebrae Choir
Jazz/Contemporary – The Real Group (5 part Swedish a cappella group)
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Take Six at the Barbican in 1991, or The Rolling Stones at Wembley 1982.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Practice, of course, but love what you do, and always remember to learn from your experiences.
What are you working on at the moment?
A piece for choir and orchestra, and strategic planning in my new role as Director of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain. Plus all the other stuff!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A good work/life balance – but is it ever achievable?
Ben Parry has made over sixty CD recordings and his music is published by Peters Edition and Faber Music. He works regularly with young musicians as a director of the Eton Choral Courses and as Director of Junior Academy at the Royal Academy of Music. He has just been appointed the new Director of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain.
Ben is co-Director of the professional choir London Voices, and worked with Sir Paul McCartney on his classic choral work, ‘Ecce Cor Meum’, as well as conducting and singing on many major film soundtracks. He regularly collaborates with writer Garth Bardsley, and their choral piece, ‘Flame’ was performed at the 2012 BBC Proms. He is also Music Director of the Aldeburgh Voices.
As a singer Ben has worked with Taverner Consort, Gabrieli Consort and Tenebrae and was a singer and music director with The Swingle Singers. As a conductor he has worked with the London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Ensemble, National Youth Orchestra, Royal Symphony Orchestra of Seville, Vancouver Youth Symphony, Cumbria Youth Orchestra, London Philharmonic Choir and Philharmonia Voices.