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Sebastian Forbes (Choral Conductor)

Born: 1941 - England

The English choral conductor, Sebastian Forbes, is from an actively musical family. His father was the famous viola player Watson Forbes, his brother Rupert Oliver Forbes is a singer (especially in opera in Switzerland for 20 years), and his eldest daughter Joanna is second soprano and Musical Director of the Swingle Singers. His own musical outlook was conditioned by two early experiences - his activity as a boy singer trained by Martindale Sidwell and his encounter with chamber music, classical and contemporary, through his father's playing, particularly with the Aeolian String Quartet.

Sebastian Forbes studied at the Royal Academy of Music (including Composition with Howard Ferguson) and then at Cambridge University where he gained a first-class degree as well as singing in King's College Chapel Choir. He was a BBC Producer in London for 2-3 years and also an organist and choral conductor before becoming temporary Director of Music at Trinity College Cambridge in 1968. Later that year he joined the staff at Bangor (University College of North Wales), moving to Surrey in 1972 at a time when the Music Department (and indeed the University) was almost new. He has been at the heart of the Department's growth ever since and took a leading part in the process towards the creation of the Performing Arts Technology Studios, which has been the home of the Department since 1988. Amongst many course developments, he introduced the PhD by Composition in 1991.

Sebastian Forbes founded the Aeolian Singers in 1965: LP's include the first UK recording of Bach's motets. He conducted many concerts and broadcasts with the Seiriol Singers in 1969-1972 and many London concerts with the Horniman Singers in 1980-90. He was till recently Artistic Director of the Guildford International Festival, and also a member of the Executive Committee of the Composers Guild of Great Britain. He has produced many CD's of syllabus music of the Associated Board, mainly for Warehouse Records. His contribution to charity (and to leisure) is focused on Wintershall, near Guildford, where he and his wife Tessa have been musical directors for all their sacred drama productions since 1991.

Sebastian Forbes has been a member of staff at the University of Surrey since 1972 and Professor of Music since 1981. He was Head of Department from 1981 to 1991, when he became Director of Music - in overall charge of the practical activity of the Department and instrumental/vocal tuition. Composition and 20th-century Analysis are his areas of research work and supervision, though his interests spread more widely, covering much else in teaching and other activities such as conducting and record production. His extensive external examining now centres on postgraduate composition. Research other than Composition is centred on 20th-century analysis and on the music of Alan Rawsthorne. PhD supervision has included projects on Goehr and Pierre Boulez, in addition to Composition.

In Composition, Sebastian Forbes' style found its focus through a series of chamber works in the 1960's, including the Piano Trio (1964) which, as Conrad Wilson wrote in The New Grove (1981), 'established him as a composer of intellectual toughness'. Such works culminated in becoming a joint winner of the 1969 Radcliffe Award with his String Quartet No 1, 'a landmark in an exciting maturity' (The Strad). Significant commissions followed, including orchestral works for the BBC Proms and the Edinburgh Festival, and pieces for leading recitalists and chamber music groups. He was awarded his Cambridge MusD on the strength of his Symphony in Two Movements, Sonata for 21, and One-act Opera Tom Cree. He has often conducted performances of his music, including his Sonata for 8 with the Nash Ensemble at a Round House Prom in 1979. He has continued to compose for ensemble, for recitalists, and for choir, including two settings for Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, of the Evening Canticles - 'absolutely masterly' (Organists' Review). Among works recorded on CD are Triple Canon for trumpet and digital delays (1988) and commissions for Bristol and Ely Cathedrals. Significant among more recent works are String Quartet No. 4 and Sonata-Rondo for piano.

Source: University of Surrey Website (1999)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (August 2001)

Sebastian Forbes: Short Biography | Aeolian Singers | Recordings of Vocal Works

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Music Department: Sebastian Forbes (University of Surrey)

 

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