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Peter Leech - Conductor, composer and musicologist

A musician with diverse skills and interests, including late sixteenth-century continental polyphony, Catholic court musicians in seventeenth-century England, early Russian Orthodox church music, seventeenth-century instrumental music and the music of late Georgian and early nineteenth-century English composers, Peter Leech has over 25 years experience as a choral and orchestral conductor, composer and musicologist.

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A graduate of the Elder Conservatorium of Music at the University of Adelaide, Peter was awarded a degree in composition (studying with Graeme Koehne and Peter Brideoake) in 1990, having previously gained a Bachelor of Arts in Modern European History at the same University in 1987. Peter studied conducting with Graham Abbott (1987-88), Robert Rosen (1990-91) and David Porcelijn (1994).

In 1992 he completed a Graduate Diploma in Conducting at the Victorian College of the Arts and in 1994 was one of four finalists in the ABC National Conductors’ Masterclass, whilst serving as the first Director of Music at St Peter’s Cathedral, Adelaide.

From 1990 to 1995 Peter’s wide conducting repertory extended from chamber and philharmonic choral works to classical and romantic opera and contemporary chamber music. He was a founding member and conductor of Libra Contemporary Ensemble (Melbourne) and Ensemble Eszterhaza (Melbourne),and collaborated with a number of leading Australian and British directors in the production of operatic and music theatre works by G.F.Handel, David Young, Scot McIntyre, Malcolm Williamson, Kurt Weill, Gaetano Donizetti, Arthur Sullivan, Matthew Locke, Henry Purcell and many others.

In August 1996 Peter moved permanently to the UK to undertake post-graduate study with Dr Peter Holman, whilst continuing to pursue a conducting career. Peter’s guest directorship of The Song Company (Sydney) in 1996 included production of the award-winning CD recording of Martin Wesley-Smith’s musical drama Quito for the Tall Poppies label.

From 1997-99 Peter was Musical Director of the Cathedral Singers of Christ Church, Oxford. He directed the City of Oxford Choir from 1998-2005 and Chandos Chamber Choir from 2000-02. He was conductor of the Bristol Bach Choir from 1999-2008, with whom he achieved consistent critical acclaim.

In 2002 Peter conducted the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, and from 2002-3 he was guest chorus master with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Chorus, which included preparing them for the world premiére recording of Edward Collin’s Hymn to the Earth, with the RSNO conducted by Marin Alsop.

In October 2003 Peter won First Prize at the Mariele Ventre International Choral Conducting Competition, which included the Silver Cup of the Italian Republic and an appearance at the 2005 Ravenna Festival directing Coro Euridice at Ravenna Cathedral. Later in 2005 he took the Bristol Bach Choir to Bologna as a participating ensemble in the Mariele Ventre International competition.

In 2004 Peter discovered a hitherto unknown manuscript of late seventeenth-century keyboard music (now known as The Selosse Manuscript) shortly before being awarded his PhD in musicology from Anglia Ruskin University.

Peter’s current conducting posts in the UK include Aylesbury Choral Society, Collegium Singers and Harmonia Sacra. He is also founder and conductor of the professional ensemble Cappella Fede and works annually with Wells Tallis Voices at Wells Cathedral.

In the UK Peter has led choral workshops with Harpenden Choral Society, Daventry Choral Society, Cheltenham Choral Society, Cantemus Chamber Choir (Wales), amongst many others, and with several Early Music Fora.

From 2008-12 Peter was Chair of the South West Early Music Forum. Since 2008 he has been an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of History (School of Arts and Humanities) at Swansea University working alongside Professor Maurice Whitehead.

In January 2010 Peter returned to Bologna to direct Coro Euridice and the Chorus of the Teatro Comunale in a grand festival concert at the Teatro Comunale for the  prize-winning conductors of previous Mariele Ventre competitions.

Alongside his regular commitments, Peter has continued to pursue free-lance engagements with several UK and international ensembles, including Esterhazy Chamber Choir (2000-1) and The Delightful Companions (2007).

As a scholar, Peter is a regular contributor to Early Music (Oxford University Press) and has also written reviews for other scholarly journals such as Eighteenth-Century Music (Cambridge University Press), Music & Letters (OUP) and Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu.

For most of his professional life Peter has been a church musician, having been a Tenor Lay Clerk at St George’s Hanover Square (2000-2004), as well as deputy singer at Christ Church Oxford (1997-99), St Margaret’s Westminster, St Luke’s Chelsea, St Mark’s Regent’s Park and Westminster Cathedral.

Based in North Somerset, Peter also devotes a lot of his time to teaching singing and conducting, as well as keyboard continuo playing and appearances as a tenor soloist with local choirs and choral societies.

Contact: pgleech@hotmail.com

Peter Leech with Coro Euridice, Bologna, 2010

Selection of recent concert reviews

The Power and the Passion – St.George’s Brandon Hill, Bristol, 2008

Queen Mary of Modena © Peter Leech

King James II © Peter Leech

From start to finish the entire performance by the Bristol Bach Choir was exquisite.  The performance began with John Blow’s ‘God Spake Sometime in Visions’ which, while being a decent opener, was not indicative of what was to come. The entire concert was lifted by the extraordinary recital of Scarlatti’s Agnus Dei which was topped by the performance of Handel’s ‘Eternal source of light divine’:

Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne. The evening was definitely made by the performers. The conductor, Peter Leech, was perhaps as informal as a conductor could be as he spoke about the history behind the music.

The knowledge that Purcell’s My Heart is Inditing of a Good Matter was performed at James II’s coronation with Mary of Modena meant that one could imagine how “she shall be brought unto the King in a raiment of needlework”. One was also able to see how the music could be enjoyed “across all divides” as Leech suggested. Similarly the musicians themselves deserve congratulations. The ensemble was collectively excellent, but the stand-out individual was undoubtedly counter-tenor Timothy Travers-Brown. Daniel Stewart, Epigram (Bristol University)

J.S.Bach – Mass in B minor, Wells Cathedral, November 2007

This highly accomplished chorus, under the baton of Peter Leech, accompanied by Canzona, an ensemble specialising in performing on authentic instruments, gave a splendid rendition of this significant work. The majesty was projected at the outset by the decisive and warm tones of the chorus within the awe-inspiring acoustic. The chorus admirably portrayed Bach’s lofty intentions throughout the performance, not least in the magnificent Dona nobis pacem with sublime rising passages like a stairway to heaven. I was deeply impressed by the exultant Sanctus with its expansive qualities and grandiose fugue. Following the audience’s gratified response I noted a pronounced stillness among the departing company, the sort that occurs when a group of people have experienced a truly transformational occurrence together. Jacqui Strevens, Wells Journal

The Delightful Companions – Buxtehude Membra Jesu Nostri, December 2007

With the early 17th century mystical painting The Glory illuminated behind them, the singers took their places and the opening sad strains of the first cantata began. What a fine band this was. The chamber organ chuffed along beautifully and the theorbist Jamie Akers played with such sensitivity that the sound was one glorious whole. All of this was led with great aplomb by Peter Leech, a man whose direction was subtle and non-obtrusive, both aurally and visually, and which allowed the work to retain its consort independence. A moment of stillness hung in the air after the final cantata, the triple-time rhythms of the Amen being particularly well indicated. I had not heard it performed so clearly before. This was truly a delightful performance. Jon Hutchings, Early Music Review

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