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After a substantial career in the choirs of English cathedrals and schools, conductor Benjamin Nicholas was appointed as chief conductor of the Oxford Bach Choir in 2018. Within the essentially conservative milieu of cathedral choral music, Nicholas has been unusually supportive of contemporary music.
Nicholas was born in 1976. Like so many other English choir directors, he started out as a chorister himself, with the Choir of Norwich Cathedral. He is an "Old Norvicensian," a former student at the Norwich School. He became an organ scholar at Chichester Cathedral in 1994, and the following year went on in the same capacity to Lincoln College, Oxford, where, as an undergraduate, he directed the school's Chapel Choir on an Italian tour and on two Guild Music recordings. He took up the conductorship of the Oxford Chamber Choir in 1997, and the following year he received the organ scholarship at St. Paul's Cathedral, a plum post. His teacher at St. Paul's was John Scott, and he also taught at the London Oratory School, conducted the Yateley Choral Society, and served as director of St. Luke's Church in London's Chelsea area. Even during these student days, Nicholas was championing contemporary music: he directed the premiere of the opera Good Friday, by John Caldwell, and led further performances of the work, including a recording that became the Classic FM radio network's opera recording of the month in August 2000. The following month, Nicholas was named director of Tewkesbury Cathedral's Schola Cantorum and Choir of the Abbey, leading daily singing at that venerable structure. Nicholas became director of music at Merton College, Oxford, in 2008, and there he began to gain international visibility leading choir tours in Italy, France, Sweden, and the U.S. Again, he emphasized contemporary music, leading world premieres of works by such composers as James MacMillan, Bob Chilcott, and Harrison Birtwistle.
Nicholas has also given solo organ recitals at most of the major British cathedrals. With both the Tewkesbury Cathedral choirs and the Choir of Merton College, Oxford, Nicholas made critically well-received albums for the Delphian label, including a 2019 reading of The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by composer Gabriel Jackson. Assuming the leadership of the Oxford Bach Choir, he took up the leadership of a popular amateur organization with 120 members.