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
Among Richard Elfyn Jones’s choral pieces that have been performed recently, are Psalm 46 by Constanza Chamber Choir, conducted by Joanna Tomlinson at St. Sepulchre–without–Newgate, Holborn, London. Christ the Gardener has been published by Encore Publications and was premiered by the John S Davies Singers, conducted by John S Davies, at All Saints’ Church, Ammanford. This anthem was performed later in an Eucharist service at Salisbury Cathedral, where the Cathedral Choir was directed by David Halls. Most of Richard Elfyn Jones’s recent choral and organ pieces have been published by Encore Publications.
The BBC Symphony Chorus conductor Neil Ferris, with Richard Pearce, organ, included Good King Wenceslas in their 2019 Christmas concert. (BBC publicity described this arrangement as, ‘Wenceslas as you’ve never heard it before!’)
Catherine Tanner-Williams, oboe, and Christopher Williams, piano, premiered the new Oboe Sonata in a Recital at St.Woolos Cathedral, Newport and a commercial recording followed soon afterwards.
In 2022 the World Harp Congress commissioned four choral pieces for SATB & harp Cwlwm Cariad (the Knot of Love) and Interlude for harp, for performance at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, July 2022.
A major new work, an Organ Concerto specially written for the international virtuoso Thomas Trotter, was completed in 2022 and awaits its first performance.
A forthcoming CD of all of Richard Elfyn Jones’s piano music, played by Christopher Williams and entitled Lures for Feeling, will be released by Willowhayne Records in 2023.
Richard Elfyn Jones has been commissioned to write a new work for Catherine Tanner Williams and Christopher Williams’s oboe & piano recital at Cardiff University in October 2023. While his relationship with Cardiff University continues to be productive, he devotes time to other academic institutions, notably the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (where he will be contributing to the College’s composition activities in June 2023) and the University of West London, parent organisation for the examining institution, London College of Music. He continues to examine nationally and internationally for the London College of Music, notably in Turkey and Vietnam.