For our Carol Concerts this year it was a great pleasure to welcome back our former accompanist, Michael Papadopoulos on the organ. Apart from accompanying some of the carols, he showed off the full power and range of the organ with the Toccata-prelude 'Vom Himmel hoch' by Edmundson.
From my place in the front row of the tenors, his became a very familiar face during rehearsals and I not infrequently I found myself catching his friendly eye over the top of the piano. So I managed to button-hole him between the concerts and grabbed a brief interview.
It's great to have you back, Michael. As an introduction, could you tell us a little about your background before you came to St Albans?
I wasn't a chorister or anything, I kinda fell into church music when I was at school, and I ended up playing the organ for the chapel choir at my school in the 6th form. After that I got an organ scholarship to Oxford (Trinity College) and there I took lessons and did more music. After that I came here as Organ Scholar.
What was your role, exactly, here at St Albans?
I was the Organ Scholar from 2013 - 2015. I was the accompanist of the girls' choir, playing two evensongs a week for them, and I also played one evensong a week for the boys. I accompanied the Parish Singers during the 9am Sunday Eucharist, made booklets for big services, assisted Tom [Tom Winpenny - Assistant Master of the Music], and did various other things, as well as being the accompanist for the Bach Choir.
So how did you enjoy it?
I loved it! Both because I got on with both Tom and Andrew [Andrew Lucas - Master of the Music] really well, which made a huge difference and also because the instrument is such a joy to play on - so colourful but also incredibly exciting. The level of training I received is also something I am immensely grateful for, and which has stood me in very good stead since.
Accompanying the Bach Choir, I think you had to transpose at sight for something we did, didn't you?
Not quite at sight, as I had practised the music in advance, but yes we did two things down a semitone, the St Matthew Passion and the Christmas Oratorio. As an organist, you’re trained to be able to transpose at sight, but with Bach it’s never straightforward!
Was there anything particularly memorable about your time accompanying the Bach Choir?
One Christmas I had bought a toy megaphone for Andrew. The next Bach Choir rehearsal he brought it with him and at the first opportunity, when I hadn’t quite heard one of his instructions, he took it out and repeated it loudly on this ridiculous, but quite effective, toy. I think everyone enjoyed that…
So what is your most enduring memory of your time here in St Albans?
There are quite a few things that are stuck in my mind. The concerts I did with the Bach Choir when I was playing continuo were quite special - doing my first St Matthew Passion, my first Christmas Oratorio - that kind of thing is fantastic. I did a CD here with the girls' choir, which was really fun. We did loads of big services - seeing this massive nave full, kind of inspires you.
Finally, what are you doing now, having left the Abbey, and what are your plans for the future?
Immediately after the Abbey I went to Clare College Cambridge as their assistant organist for a year, and at the same time I was appointed Assistant Director of Music at St Paul's Church in Knightsbridge where I am still today - that's a Sunday morning and they have quite a busy music schedule outside of that as well. During the week I'm an opera répétiteur. I did a year's training at Guildhall before becoming a Conducting Fellow in their opera department. My last project with them is as assistant conductor for Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, and I'm working with Opera Holland Park this Summer as a Young Artist. Playing for the Bach Choir, having to support so many singers, was very good training for me in terms of being an accompanist for opera singers and having to produce an orchestral body of sound from the piano.
Thank you Michael, and it's been great talking to you. Let me just finish by wishing you every success in the future!