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George Vass


Described by BBC Radio 3 as ‘the saviour of contemporary classical music’, respected English conductor George Vass studied at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and the Royal Academy of Music, London. He was appointed Artistic Director of the internationally renowned Presteigne Festival in 1992, having served the Hampstead and Highgate Festival in a similar capacity from 2004 until 2009. Vass made his professional conducting debut at St John’s Smith Square in 1979 and, as Artistic Director of the Regent Sinfonia of London and later Orchestra Nova, has appeared at many of the UK’s major concert halls and festivals.

As a guest conductor he has worked with ensembles including the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the Bournemouth Symphony, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Royal Scottish National and Ulster orchestras, Amsterdams Promenade Orkest, Konzertensemble Salzburg, London Mozart Players, Malmö Opera Orchestra, the choirs of Royal Holloway, Merton College Oxford and Schola Cantorum Oxford. He has broadcast for BBC Radio 3 and Channel 4 television.

Vass has made over thirty commercial recordings for Dutton, Champs Hill, Guild, Lyrita, Naxos, Resonus Classics, SOMM and Toccata Classics. His discography encompasses the music of Alwyn, Rodney Bennett, James Francis Brown, Elgar, Delius, Dodgson, Handel, Holbrooke, Holst, Hurd, Thomas Hyde, John Joubert, Leighton, Maconchy, Mathias, David Matthews, McCabe, Cecilia McDowall, Stephen McNeff, Paul Patterson, Joseph Phibbs, Purcell, Tovey, Sibelius, Vaughan Williams and Warlock.

Founder Artistic Director of Nova Music Opera, he premiered Thomas Hyde’s That Man Stephen Ward (Hampstead and Highgate Festival, 2008; revival for Nova Music Opera, 2015) and, for Nova Music Opera, Sally Beamish Hagar in the Wilderness (2013), Stephen McNeff Prometheus Drown’d (2014), Cecilia McDowall Airborne (2014), Charlotte Bray Entanglement (2015), Joseph Phibbs Juliana (2018), Britten/Luke Styles Awakening Shadow (2021) and Julian Philips Looking West (2022). He has also conducted Britten Curlew River (Hampstead and Highgate Springfest, 2009; Nova Music, 2013) and Holst Savitri (Nova Music, English Music Festival, 2010).

Over the last thirty years he has commissioned and premiered new work from such eminent composers as Sally Beamish, Martin Butler, Gabriel Jackson, Paweł Łukaszewski, David Matthews, John McCabe, Cecilia McDowall, Paul Patterson, Joseph Phibbs, Robert Saxton, Peter Sculthorpe, Huw Watkins and Hugh Wood; in 2017 he was given a BASCA Gold Badge Award marking his support for the UK songwriting and composing community.

A great advocate of community music-making, Vass is music director of Bushey Symphony Orchestra and St Albans Choral Society, also enjoying relationships with the Blaze Ensemble and the Royal Tunbridge Wells Symphony Orchestra, he has conducted at the Dartington International Summer School.

Recent highlights include a critically acclaimed recording of the Sibelius Violin Concerto accompanying Fenella Humphreys with the BBC NOW, a disc of ‘Presteigne Premieres’ recorded during the 2020 lockdown with the Presteigne Festival Orchestra, a recording of Joseph Phibbs’ chamber opera Juliana, and the world premiere recordings of Huw Watkins’ Little Symphony and Concertino, all for the Resonus label. In 2023 he conducted the BBC NOW on the Lyrita label’s recording of British Piano Concertos with Simon Callaghan.

George Vass is an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music, was chair of the British Arts Festivals Association from 2014-18, being presented with the 2018 BAFA Exceptional Service Award for his outstanding contribution to the festival sector and serves the Royal Society of Musicians of Great Britain as a governor.

George Vass rehearsing Orchestra Nova at St John’s Smith Square – Photograph by Liz Isles

Last updated: 24 Jun 24
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