On Wednesday 6th March we welcome Hilary Punnett from London for our ninth organ recital of the 2024 season. In this edition of ‘Notes from an Organist’ we discover more about them, and what to expect from their recital, including marking Woman Composer Sunday / International Women’s Day with the music; how the UK differs from Canada musically; and their MA in Choral Conducting.

Could you introduce yourself, how you got into music / become an organist and your musical journey to where you are today?
I started playing the organ by accident, really. I played the piano, and I asked our local organist on a whim if I could ‘have a go’ on the organ, and he told me he’d give me lessons, which wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind…! But after a few lessons I was hooked.

What can people expect from your recital at Bradford Cathedral?
In celebration of Woman Composer Sunday, coming up on March 10th, my recital this week features the music of female composers for organ. I have tried to include something for everyone: there are grand French favourites like the Demessieux Te Deum, and the Chaminade Prélude, as well as lighter music by Amy Beach and Judith Weir.

Why do you enjoy playing the organ?
I enjoy the range of colour and dynamic contrast available on the organ, as well as the variety of contexts in which organ can be used, and the huge repertoire available, spanning centuries, all of which mean that as an organist you are always learning and developing.

Do you have a particular favourite piece out of those you are playing?
The Prélude by Josephine Boulay is a real hidden gem, and I hope more organists will learn her music.

This season’s theme is ‘Trios and Trio Sonatas’ which features JS Bach’s six trio sonatas in full. Are you playing one and, if so, which one is it, why did you choose this one, and why are you looking forward to playing it?
To continue the theme of ‘Trios’ that runs through this season’s recitals, I am playing Trio in C by Anna Amalia of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. She was a German composer and patron of the arts, and this trio is a delightful and cheerful little piece which shows off her skill as a composer.

What are your hopes or plans musically for 2024?
This year I am looking forward to recording a CD with the Cathedral Singers of Christ Church, Oxford, which will feature specially commissioned music for that choir, including a new mass setting by Grayston Ives.

You are originally from Canada. How do you find the music of the UK compared to there?
There are many interesting things happening musically in Canada by many talented musicians, in particular coming from my alma mater, McGill University. One major difference, however, is that liturgical music-making is not a tradition in the same way that it is here, which means that daily sung worship is rare, and so the chorister experience is less easily accessible to Canadian children.

You have played at many places and collaborated with some prestigious groups – have there been any particularly memorable times?
One of my favourite recent experiences was having the opportunity to conduct the BBC Singers in a masterclass at RAM as part of my MA course.

You are currently pursuing an MA in Choral Conducting – how is that going?
This has been a great experience so far, which has inspired me to think about not only my conducting more deeply, but my music-making in general in a different way. I’m enjoying the challenge!

This recital will be themed for International Women’s Day and will feature a programme of all female composers. How did you come to pick those particular organists, and are any of their pieces a favourite to play?
I tried to choose music that I think the audience would enjoy. It’s worth saying, however, that it wasn’t difficult to find repertoire to play by women, it was more difficult to narrow my selection down to the length of one recital! There’s such a wealth of music out there and it’s very easy to access, so I’d encourage organists and enthusiasts to do a bit of exploration and find some new favourites for their repertoire or playlists!

You are the Director of Music for ‘The Cathedral Singers’ of Christ Church Oxford. How do you find that role?
I love working with the Cathedral Singers at Christ Church. The choir sing any time the Cathedral Choirs are not in residence, which adds up to about 110 services each year, and we have our own organ and choral scholars as well. It has been a real privilege to be part of such a supportive and skilled Music Department. I’m thrilled to be in the role.

You recently started as the Director of RSCM Voices South – how are you settling in to that role?
This is a relatively new role for me, but I have enjoyed it so far!

Your X profile says ‘Conductor, organist, singer, cheese enthusiast…’ so we have to ask – what is favourite cheese and why?
I’m partial to a camembert…

Also you went ‘wand shopping’ back in September. How is your wand work shaping up?!
We’re getting there – I’ve since had to purchase 2 more batons just to get the right shape for my hand!

Finally, how would you sum up your upcoming recital at Bradford Cathedral?
A celebration of the music of women composers through the ages.

You can join us on Wednesday 6th March at 1pm to hear Hilary’s organ recital, with an optional £4 buffet lunch beforehand at 12:30pm. You can find out more about them on Twitter / X.

You can discover more about our organ recital season on our dedicated page.

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