James O’Donnell secures role at Yale University

Tuesday, 26th April 2022

James O’Donnell secures role at Yale University

James O’Donnell, Organist and Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey, has been appointed as Professor in the Yale School of Music and Yale Institute of Sacred Music. He will leave the Abbey this Christmas.

As the Abbey’s Director of Music he has been the head of the Abbey music department and overseen all musical aspects of the Abbey’s work, including directing the celebrated Choir of Westminster Abbey.

Since its foundation in the fourteenth century, the Choir has sung daily services in the Abbey and today has a worldwide reputation for its work, which includes concerts, broadcasts, and a critically acclaimed series of recordings for Hyperion Records.

During his time at the Abbey James O’Donnell has been responsible for the music at royal, state and national occasions, including the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on 29th April 2011, and the funeral of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother on 9th April 2002.

“Profound admiration”

The Dean of Westminster, The Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, said:

“In Westminster Abbey we strive for excellence. That is a difficult thing to deliver; it is a hard discipline. Yet, for 23 years, it is precisely what James O’Donnell has given us. Those who have worked with him know about his focus, his grip, his deep understanding. Those who have listened to our music know of his talent (though he would be quick to direct our attention to those who make music with him).
Many of us would note his warmth, humour and learning. It is my job now to record inadequate thanks and express profound admiration for a breath-taking and sustained achievement. We have been privileged to listen to the music he has made. Yale have chosen well. He has given glory to God.”

"An immense privilege"

James O’Donnell, Organist and Master of the Choristers said:

“It has been an immense privilege to have held the responsibility for the music at Westminster Abbey since January 2000. It has been hugely inspiring to make music day by day with the Abbey’s outstanding choristers, lay vicars, and organists and to have played a part in so many great occasions in this extraordinary place. I am grateful to the three supportive Deans with whom I have worked, and to so many talented colleagues among the Abbey clergy and staff.
While it will be very difficult to leave when the time comes, I am fortunate to have been offered this unparalleled opportunity at one of the world’s great universities, which will allow me to draw fully on my skills and experience in a very different but equally stimulating setting. I much look forward to all that lies ahead.”

"Significance for the entire discipline of music"

Robert Blocker, Dean of Yale School of Music, said:

“The appointment holds significance for the entire discipline of music, for James O'Donnell's extraordinary talent and experience will now be directed deeply to a new generation of young artists connected to the church and society. In him, we have a colleague whose humility embraces his musical gifts and whose very presence will enrich our community.”

“A world-class reputation”

Martin Jean, Director of the Institute for Sacred Music, said:

“James O’Donnell brings a combination of gifts that seem unmatched in our field: command of a vast range of organ and choral repertoire; a deep engagement with multiple ecclesial and liturgical traditions, and a world-class reputation as an artist in multiple mediums. We are all excited to welcome him to Yale.”

About James O'Donnell

Internationally recognised as a conductor and organ recitalist, James O’Donnell has performed all over the world, including the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and throughout Europe. As soloist and director James O’Donnell has worked with many of Britain’s leading ensembles.

He is Music Director of St James’ Baroque and appears regularly with the BBC Singers. He is Visiting Professor of Organ and of Choral Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music and was President of the Royal College of Organists from 2011–13. He is an Honorary Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge and Doctor of Music honoris causa of the University of Aberdeen.

Before taking up his appointment at Westminster Abbey in January 2000, James O’ Donnell was a junior exhibitioner at the Royal College of Music and then Organ Scholar of Jesus College, Cambridge.

His first professional appointments were at Westminster Cathedral, where he was for five years Assistant and subsequently, for twelve years, Master of Music. Under his direction the Choir of Westminster Cathedral won the Gramophone ‘Record of the Year’ award for its Hyperion disc of masses by Frank Martin and Pizzetti and a Royal Philharmonic Society award, both unprecedented for a cathedral choir.

Recruitment for the role of Organist and Master of the Choristers will begin shortly, with the successful candidate expected to take up the post in January.

Picture: Suzanne Bosman