Profile: Ann Pinhey, conductor

Ann passed away in October 2023.

Who or what were the main influences on your decision to pursue a career in music?

I won a scholarship to Godolphin and Latymer School in Hammersmith, London, and was introduced to music by a very enthusiastic teacher, so I began piano lessons at 13. Whilst at school, I was introduced to the music of Benjamin Britten, as the English Opera Group used to come to the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. I vividly remember hearing The Rape of Lucretia with Kathleen Ferrier. Let’s make an opera was also great fun. I can still remember some of the audience participation songs! I used to go to the Proms frequently and stand in the Arena for 2 shillings!

I studied piano and organ at the Guildhall School of Music for a year, before I abandoned the graduate course. While I was there, I was asked by a fellow student, Buxton Orr, if I would copy out a piece of music for his composition class the following day with Benjamin Frankel, who was a prolific film composer. The latter looked at the music and said,” Did you do this? It’s beautiful. Do you want a job?” Thus began my career as a professional music copyist when everything was done by hand. Computers did not exist in those days!

Most of my work was copying the orchestral parts for film scores such as The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. It was all great fun. I remember being taken out to lunch by Malcolm Arnold. He was smoking a huge Churchillian cigar. I told him I loved the smell of cigars. He clicked his fingers at the waiter and said,” Get the young lady a cigar!” A huge one appeared. Two puffs and I was as green as grass, but I took the cigar home!

I also worked for Novello and Boosey and Hawkes. For the latter I worked on tracing paper with a special pen, as the work had to look exactly like printed music. I also worked for Donald Swann, Sir Charles Mackerras and Sir John Eliot Gardner. I sang under the latter when he was conductor of the Portsmouth Festival Choir in the 1970s, a memorable experience!

Later I became orchestral manager for the Leppard Ensemble. Raymond Leppard had just come down from Cambridge and formed his small chamber orchestra, which eventually merged with the Goldsburgh Orchestra to become the English Chamber Orchestra in 1960. I vividly remember a concert that Raymond gave at the Wigmore Hall where he was the pianist – and conductor – in a Mozart piano concerto. I turned the pages for him…nerve racking!

So how did it all develop from here?

After getting married, I moved to Compton, near Petersfield. I became a teacher at Lavant House, a girls’ independent school, where I remained for many years. I was head of the Junior Department and taught all subjects. Eventually I became Director of Music.

In the 1980s I became music critic of the Petersfield Herald and until quite recently, was the music critic of the Petersfield Post, a paper which no longer appears to print reviews of concerts! It is difficult being a music critic for a local paper, as you often have to review the performances of people you know. I do have high standards and people are at liberty to disagree with me!

What about your choral work?

Although I’ve never studied conducting, I was persuaded to take over the Harting Choral Society in the late 1970s. I went on to conduct the Meon Consort and the Thursday Singers. In 1984 I formed the small choral group, Musica Sacra. We performed within a 20-mile radius of Petersfield, giving free concerts for over 15 years and raising over £20,000 for charity. We performed more than 300 works by more than 100 composers, often singing the music of Charpentier, whose music I had transcribed from the composer’s original manuscripts.

After Musica Sacra was disbanded in 1999, I set up the Petersfield Chamber Choir in 2000, which ran for 13 years.

In 2014 I formed the Gemini Consort. It is a group of 12 experienced musicians, who all sing and some of whom play instruments. The aim is to use all their talents. The music performed ranges from the Baroque to the present day and includes music by Handel, Mozart, Poulenc and Britten. We love works written by Arvo Pärt, James MacMillan and Cecilia McDowall. The solo instruments are recorder, flute and trumpet.

Which works or performances are you most proud of?

The highlight for me was a performance of the Bach St Matthew Passion which I conducted in 2010 with the Petersfield Chamber Choir and Orchestra. It was a massive undertaking, but was a great success, so much so that I decided to do the St John Passion the following year! All soloists came from the choir and the orchestra was made up of local musicians.

Of the St Matthew Passion, Jonathan Willcocks wrote, “The line of music-lovers waiting on Saturday night outside St Peter’s Church in the hope that “return” tickets might become available suggested that something rather special was happening…the true laurel leaves must rest with Ann Pinhey, whose concept and planning in every detail this memorable evening was”.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

While at school I was introduced to the music of Benjamin Britten when my music teacher played his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. I find his music deeply moving, exciting and gripping. I’ve performed all his choral works. While conducting with Musica Sacra, I developed a love of Charpentier, in particular. I love the operas of Janáček. Handel wrote some great music for voice, such as the duets in Julius Caesar.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My most memorable performance was seeing Raymond Leppard conduct his realisation of Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea at Glyndebourne in the 1960s. It was the first time I had heard anything by the composer. I was transfixed! I love it and have performed a great deal of his music ever since!

And what about your love of painting?

In 1989 I took up a new hobby, painting. I am totally self-taught and began with watercolours. I moved on to collages and am now immersed in working with alcohol ink on plastic paper and acrylic pouring work.

Tell me about your fund-raising activities.

All my concerts have enjoyed free admission (apart from the 2 Passions, as I had to pay the orchestra and so charge a small amount for tickets, although £1,000 was still collected for The Rosemary Foundation as the audience left!). The retiring collection has always been given to local charities, for whom I have raised over £55,000. We now donate solely to The Rosemary Foundation. So far we have given it £20,000 – a most worthy cause.

Follow Ann on Instagram.

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