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George Guest

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George Guest is generally regarded among the finest British choral conductors of his time. Some musicologists have attributed the endurance, if not the very survival, of the English cathedral choir to him. He made more than 60 recordings with St. John's Choir (Cambridge), covering a broad range of repertory (Palestrina and Mozart to Tippett and Lennox Berkeley) and garnering consistent critical acclaim. Guest was born in Bangor, Wales, on February 19, 1924. He attended the Friars school in his hometown and became a chorister by age 9 at the local cathedral. At 11 he sang in the choir at Chester Cathedral while taking private lessons to develop his keyboard skills. After serving four years in the Royal Air Force during World War II, he returned to Chester Cathedral as sub-organist in 1946. The following year he enrolled at St. John's under an organ scholarship, studying with Thurston Dart and Boris Ord. In 1951 the choir director, Robin Orr, resigned to focus on composition, leaving the post to Guest. In the coming years, Guest, not least because of a healthy rivalry with David Willcocks who was director of the Choir of King's College, vastly improved St. John's choral standards. Beginning in the mid-'50s, Guest and his choir began appearing regularly on radio broadcasts, and in 1958 he made his first recording with the group, Mendelssohn's Hear My Prayer, for the English label Argo. At Cambridge he became a lecturer in 1956, then the university's organist in 1974. In the mid-'70s Guest's growing interest in French music yielded two acclaimed recordings, the Duruflé Requiem and a collection of Fauré works. In 1978 Guest was elected president of the Royal College of Organists, serving in the post for two years. He retired from university lecturing in 1982, but continued his work with St. John's Choir, both in concert and on recordings, as well as in performances abroad. In 1991 Guest retired both from his directorship of St. John's Choir and from his organ post. He died on November 20, 2002.

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February 9, 1924 in Bangor, Wales

Years Active:

'60s, '70s, '80s