Death of a BBC conductor

Death of a BBC conductor


norman lebrecht

May 19, 2020

The death has been reported from his home in France of the former conductor of the BBC Singers, John Poole. He was 85.

A vigorous champion of new music, Poole became conductor of the BBC Symphony Chorus in 1968 and led his first Prom five years later. From 1972 to 1989 his title was director of the BBC Singers, which he made into one of the UK’s best choruses.From 1990 to 1995, he ws head of the Groupe Vocal de France, specialising in contemporary music. In 2001, he joined the conducting staff of the School of Music at the University of Indiana in Bloomington.



  • Charles says:

    A lovely man and a great musician. I’ll miss him.
    I learned a great deal from him in Indiana.
    He had a way of rehearsing his choirs — where he’d start them singing and then walk to the back of the hall and listen. Then he’d come back to the stage, make a small gesture and completely transform the sound.

  • Stephen Jackson says:

    Terribly sad news. To generations of BBC Singers (all a lot younger than him) with whom he played football he seemed immortal. John was a fine conductor and an even better teacher. He was a kind man who became a supportive friend to many of us. Laura and all his family are in our thoughts.

  • Sarah Connolly says:

    I’m so sorry to hear John has died. I spent 4 of my 5 years working with him at the helm. He was kind, witty, eccentric, relaxed and individual ie not a company man. There was no pretension or sophistry- just collaborative and easy going. I hope he had a nice retirement in France and I thank him for his good times and kindness.

  • Matt Wells says:

    He was a giant of a man and a musician. The world is dimmer today. “May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest”…rest in peace, dear Mr. Poole.

  • A musical giant, an inspirational artist, and an amazing human being. The students at Indiana University were incredibly lucky that he made the decision to come and teach there.

  • clarrieu says:

    Played many rehearsals for him when he was in charge of the GVF (Groupe Vocal de France). A very charming person.

  • will says:

    R.I.P. Maestro John Poole, for whom I was lucky enough to work, as an orchestral player, several times. Similarly RIP the wonderful Scottish choral conductor John Currie, also 85, who I will always remember, going back to 1967 when I lived and worked in Scotland.

  • TonyF says:

    R.I.P. John Poole. Inspirational and inspired man. He was my music-teacher at secondary school!

  • Helen Miles says:

    John Poole had the rare gift of being able to lift mere musical dots from the page to create wonderful, unified and flowing musical performances from any choir. I was so lucky to be directed by him at the BBC Singers. Such a kind man. My thoughts are with his family.

  • Barry Rose says:

    I am devastated to read this. A superb, instinctive and unfussy choral conductor in so many styles – and totally unflappable. I owe my BBC career of 20 years solely to John. We first met in his pre-BBC days when he was organist at St.George’s Bloomsbury and teaching at Latymer Upper School. In 1970 we renewed our friendship when he brought the BBC Symphony Chorus (of which he was then conductor) to Guildford Cathedral for a broadcast of the Duruflé Requiem. It was through performance that he recommended my appointment as Music Adviser to the Head of Religious Broadcasting. Many are the broadcasts we did together with the BBC Singers, and over our 20 years together I learned so much from him. Memories are many, ranging from Ultimos Ritos in Westminster Cathedral in 1975 to evenings at Buckettsland Farm, firstly with Anne, and later with Laura. Rest in peace dear John.

  • Armchair Bard says:

    Nihil nisi bonum

  • Roger Heath says:

    I joined the BBC Chorus ( as it was then named ) in 1970 and found John, who was assistant-conductor at the time to Peter Gellhorn, a “breath of fresh air”. John took over from Peter Gellhorn 2 years later ( on Peter’s retirement ) and went on to take the Singers to new heights: taking the group all over the world; and doubling the number of programmes ready for “output” by Radio 3 within his first year. I will never forget him for his guidance, friendliness, and brilliant capability of getting the very best out of a group of singers. I missed him so much when he left in 1989: I carried on until 2001. I send my most sincere condolences to his wife: what a wonderful time I had with him in every possible way. Roger Heath.

  • Geoff Davidson says:

    So Sorry to hear about John. He gave me the job with the BBC Singers. Changed my life. He was inspirational and I was privileged to sing solo in Sibelius’ Rakastava with him.
    Rest in peace Maestro.
    Geoff Davidson