In an effort to save money, the professional choir at Belfast Cathedral is to be disbanded and replaced with a voluntary adult choir.

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The decision, revealed in a statement from the Dean and the honorary secretary of the Board of Belfast Cathedral, will make the full-time director of music Matthew Owens redundant owing to the cathedral's 'difficult financial circumstances.' Owens, who, in 2019, left his long-held role as organist and master of the choristers at Wells Cathedral to take up the position at Belfast, will be replaced by a part-time Cathedral Choir director – a change that will come into effect from 1 September.

Music has formed a central part of the cathedral's activities since its consecration in 1904. For the past three years, the cathedral has run two choirs: one for boys and girls aged 7-13 and a professional adult choir. Owens came to his position as music director with a wealth of experience, having served as organist and master of the music at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh prior even to his role at Wells.

Responding to the announcement, Peter Allwood, chair of the Cathedral Music Trust, described the decision to disband the choir as 'a real blow' for the cathedral, its musicians and its local community. 'Over recent years, the choir has gained a reputation for musical excellence in Northern Ireland, not only through sung cathedral services but also concerts, broadcasts and recordings,' he said in a statement. 'Experience shows that this level of musical success will be impossible to maintain under part-time leadership and voluntary singers.'

The statement from the cathedral said: 'Alongside founding and developing Belfast Cathedral Children’s Choir, Matthew’s leadership and vision have seen Belfast Cathedral Choir attain new levels of excellence in supporting the worshipping life of this place, and enjoy considerable international repute through its Resonus Classics recordings. Matthew will be greatly missed, and we wish him and his family every continued success.'

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Photo: Getty

Authors

Hannah Nepilova is a regular contributor to BBC Music Magazine. She has also written for The Financial Times, The Times, The Strad, Gramophone, Opera Now, Opera, the BBC Proms and the Philharmonia, and runs The Cusp, an online magazine exploring the boundaries between art forms. Born to Czech parents, she has a strong interest in Czech music and culture.