4th of August, 2018
Worcester Festival Choral Society has been deeply saddened to learn of the death of one of our former conductors, and a major figure in the local and national music world, Dr Donald Hunt OBE MA.
Amongst his many professional achievements, Donald was master of choristers and organist at Worcester Cathedral – and conductor of Worcester Festival Choral Society - from 1975-1996.
Born in Gloucester, he began his musical career as a cathedral chorister and became assistant organist there at the age of seventeen. Over the next seven years his initial contact with the Three Choirs Festival gave him both experience in choral and orchestral work and contact with such composers as Finzi, Howells and Vaughan Williams. In 1954 Donald became organist at St John’s Church, Torquay, and three year later he was appointed director of music at Leeds Parish Church, where he stayed for seventeen years. During that time he also taught at the Leeds College of Music, founded the Yorkshire Sinfonia Orchestra and was appointed Leeds’ City organist. He also expanded his experience of the choral society tradition and of conducting, becoming conductor of the Halifax and Leeds Philharmonic Societies and associate conductor and chorus master of the Leeds Festival, including conducting leading orchestras such as the BBC Philharmonic and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.
In 1975 Donald returned to Three Choirs country to become organist and master of the choristers at Worcester Cathedral. The allied roles of conductor of Worcester Festival Choral Society and artistic director of Worcester Three Choirs Festival enabled him to promote the music of his hero, Edward Elgar. He continued to champion Elgar’s music well into his retirement; founding the Elgar Chorale choir in Worcester, acting as artistic director and conductor of the 150th Elgar Anniversary celebration in Worcester in 2007, and through his close association with the Elgar Foundation.
As conductor or Worcester Festival Choral Society for more than 20 years, Donald’s carefully-chosen programmes of traditional and new choral works (which included many Elgar performances and reflected his interest in French music), as well as numerous commercial recordings and special ‘away’ concert performances, saw the Society go from strength to strength. His connections with the Society also continued after 1996, when he became one of the Society’s Vice Presidents. Of WFCS, Donald wrote in A Prevailing Passion (Mary Parsons/Osborne Heritage 1996): “Worcester Festival Choral Society is justly proud of its history. …I have been privileged to be a small part of its history, and touched to have been the recipient of such generosity, friendship and musical satisfaction from the members: the ‘joy of singing’ is indeed a reality here. Bravo, Worcester Festival Choral Society! March on … with pride, confidence, ambition and humility.”
His honours included a Doctorate in Music from Leeds University, a Master of Arts degree from the University of Worcester and a Fellowship of the Royal School of Church Music. Donald was also appointed OBE for services to British Music in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List of 1993. In retirement he continued his musical involvement, and enjoyed musical research and writing as well as being interested in gardening and poetry.
Donald died on 4 August 2018, aged 88, in Worcester. His drive, talent and inspiration have undoubtedly made a huge contribution to building the thriving classical music tradition that Worcestershire still enjoys today.
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