Although he has composed music for most of his life and was head of Composition at Cardiff University for more than a quarter of a century, Richard Elfyn Jones’s range of musical activities has not been restricted to composition. He is an unusually wide-ranging musician (prompting a description of him once as ‘one of the most versatile musicians Wales has produced’). He was born in Blaenau Ffestiniog and studied at University College Bangor where his teachers included William Mathias, Reginald Smith Brindle and Bernard Rands. He graduated with First Class Honours and afterwards held a Research Scholarship at King’s College Cambridge, studying with Professor Robin Orr. Towards the end of his undergraduate years at Bangor he was an assistant organist to Dr Leslie Paul at Bangor Cathedral where he became active as a concert organist. In 1967 he was awarded the Limpus Prize, gaining the highest marks in the practical examination for the Fellowship of the Royal College of Organists. While at Cambridge he was in demand as a recitalist and after his appointment to the staff of the Music Department at University College Cardiff in 1970 he gave more than 20 organ recitals on Radio 3 (1970-1992). During these years prestigious venues where he performed included St John’s College Cambridge, Hereford Cathedral, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, Ottobeuren and Ochsenhausen Abbeys in Bavaria, the Gedachtnistkerke Berlin, and many other churches in the UK and abroad. As an organ accompanist he was prominent during the 1970s in choral concerts televised and recorded at the Royal Albert Hall.
In 1977 he was appointed Musical Director of the Cardiff Polyphonic Choir, with which he performed many of the great choral works ranging from Bach’s B Minor Mass and Handel’s Messiah to Durufle’s Requiem and Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. With the Polyphonic he toured the USA and Canada three times under the auspices of the Columbia Artists Management. Working with orchestras (mainly in a choral orchestral context) was an important aspect of his music-making during his 14 years as conductor of the Polyphonic Choir, and this was supported by his studies with the Italian conductor Franco Ferrara in the early 1980s, which culminated in him being a semi-finalist in the prestigious Guido Cantelli International Orchestral Conducting Competition, Milan, 1981.
In 1991 he resigned from the Cardiff Polyphonic Choir but continued his involvement with choral music as conductor of Cardiff University’s Chamber Choir and the Welsh Vocal Ensemble. Richard Elfyn Jones’s strong commitment to music making in Wales is evident in his long-standing contribution as a vocal and choral adjudicator at the National Eisteddfod and in his consultancy work for S4C (1996-2004) where he was responsible for the classical music output of the channel. He was also a member of the European Broadcasting central music committee.
As a composer he has written prolifically, mainly to commission, in all genres, including film and television music, notably for the two Maryland PBS series, Timeline (1989) and After the Warming (1990) He is also is the author of 4 books on 20th-century music, including The Early Operas of Tippett and, Music and the Numinous , the latter reflecting many years of research into Whiteheadian Process philosophy and its relevance to music and the arts.
‘Richard Elfyn Jones’s new piece (the Brangwyn Festival Overture) was one of the most skilfully conceived and expertly written I have seen. It was tender and mystical at first but very exhilarating later. My orchestra was delighted with it!’ Szymon Kawalla, conductor - Polish Radio & TV Orchestra of Krakow
Brangwyn Festival Overture 1981
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra, Louis Fremaux (conductor), Gillian Weir (organ)
The performance revealed a score of real merit: the suitably festive Allegro is preceded by a Lento of unusually impressionistic sensitivity and harmonic delicacy. A Prom must, if not heard before at the South Bank.
THE SUNDAY TIMES
This piece by a composer from Wales was very much a tour de force and in the grand manner. But there was fastidious subtlety here as well.
GAZET KRAKOWSKA (transl.)
There was positive feedback from the band and audience about how joyful the piece was – definitely a hit with us.
TIM THORNE BBC Music Producer