Musician who sang at Winston Churchill's funeral to retire from Durham Cathedral role

The master of choristers and organist at the region's most iconic cathedrals has announced his retirement.

Sunday, 15th January 2017, 1:46 pm
Updated Sunday, 15th January 2017, 1:51 pm
James Lancelot, who will be retiring from his role at Durham Cathedral.

James Lancelo has said he is step down after 32 years of leading Durham Cathedral's choir and its musical output

James arrived in Durham in 1985, having previously been sub-organist at Winchester Cathedral and an Organ Scholar of King’s College, Cambridge.

James Lancelot, performing on the organ.

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As a child he was a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral where he sang at the state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill.

Leaders say his time at Durham "will be remembered with huge affection and admiration."

He succeeded Richard Lloyd and continued the reputation of Durham Cathedral Choir as one of Britain’s leading cathedral choirs.

During James’ stewardship the choir has flourished as it leads the musical ministry of the cathedral, at whose heart are the Opus Dei – daily Evensong, together with Matins and Sung Eucharist on Sundays.

James Lancelot, performing on the organ.

The choir has toured internationally to Brazil, the United States, France and other parts of Europe, most recently to sing a concert at Frankfurt Cathedral in 2015.

The work of the choir is complemented by Durham Cathedral Consort of Singers, an adult voluntary choir, founded by James who was also instrumental in establishing the cathedral’s music outreach programme.

It started in 2003 and continues with a termly programme in schools across the region culminating in a celebration at the cathedral.

The programme also offers a variety of community choirs for children and young people of different ages that meet weekly.

Perhaps of most significance was the expansion of the choir through the recruitment and admission of a team of girl choristers in 2009.

The girl and boy trebles take turns at singing with the gentlemen of the choir, all coming together for some special services and concerts.

The establishment of girl choristers at Durham Cathedral was done in a way that gives the girl choristers equal status to the boy choristers, again, an initiative led by James.

The Very Reverend Andrew Tremlett, Dean of Durham said: “As a newcomer to Durham, when compared to James’ long service to the cathedral, I was immediately

struck by the commitment of James and the whole music department.

"Working alongside Canon David Kennedy, precentor at the Cathedral, James has overseen music in worship to the highest standard.

"The music sung at my installation in July 2016 was magnificent and I am continually blessed by the glorious music offered to God as the choir, under James’ leadership, sings its eight weekly services.

"There will be opportunities to say thank you formally to James closer to his retirement in August but he will be greatly missed.

"Given the national and international reputation of the choral tradition James has fostered in Durham, it is expected that there will be a very strong field of candidates as his successor."

James Lancelot said: “It has been a privilege beyond words to serve for over 30 years in this community and in this building which is so transcendent and so greatly loved.

"My wife Sylvia and I shall miss Durham enormously, but it is time for somebody else with faith, vision and energy to take forward the wonderful musical tradition of this place.

"For ourselves, there will be new surroundings to explore and doubtless more music to make; as well as a few further months to enjoy here.”

James is hugely respected throughout the musical world.

He holds Honorary Fellowship of the Royal School of Church Music, the Guild of Church Musicians, and St Chad’s College, Durham University; in addition, Durham University conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Music on him in 2014. From 1987 to 2013 he was Conductor of Durham University Choral Society and continues as Durham University Organist.

He is a Past President of the Incorporated Association of Organists and in 2016 was a recipient of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Cranmer Award for Worship, recognising his contribution to the continuation of the nation’s choral tradition through his time at Durham and his previous positions.

He was appointed a Lay Canon of the Cathedral in 2002. James pursues an active recital career in both Britain and abroad.

He has many recordings to his credit and has made numerous broadcasts, most recently a recital on BBC Radio 3 in 2015.

There will be a number of opportunities to hear James play the cathedral organ between now and August, the first of which is this Wednesday at 7.30pm when he will

perform the great Christmas cycle La Nativité du Seigneur by the French 20th century composer Olivier Messiaen.

Tickets will be available on the door.