Peter Aston: Composer, conductor and UEA music professor

Peter Aston

Peter Aston - Credit: Archant

Composer, conductor and professor of music at the University of East Anglia, Peter Aston died peacefully, aged 74, at his south Norfolk home.

A funeral service at Norwich Cathedral today will feature a selection of his compositions including several which will be sung by the whole choir.

His 75th year was marked by an entire programme earlier this spring at St Peter Mancroft of sacred choral works, which he had composed over four decades. His compositions include instrumental chamber music and choral works, including a children's opera, and was probably best known around the world for his church music.

Peter George Aston, who studied at the Birmingham School of Music, specialised in composition and conducting. After completing his doctorate at the University of York, he took up the UEA's chair of music on April 1, 1974. He was professor of music for almost a quarter of a century until 1998 and was then made emeritus professor in 2001.

When plans were announced to scrap the UEA's music school in February 1987, partly because of a 15pc cut in central funding for the university, he led from the front. At a public meeting at City Hall, he highlighted the regional appeal of just one aspect of the department, the popular University Choir.


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With the department reprieved, to mark the university's silver jubilee in 1989, he led fundraising efforts to establish a fund of £150,000 for scholarships.

In November 1991, he was made an honorary member of the Royal College of Music and the award was conferred by the president, the Queen Mother. His contribution to musical education was also recognised four years earlier when he was elected a Fellow of the Curwen Institute.

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A further rare honour followed in 1995. He was made an honorary fellow of the Guild of Church Musicians, which was jointly conferred by the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

He was known around the world as a conductor and composer and also on his doorstep with the Aldeburgh Festival Singers for 14 years until 1988.

For eight years until 2001, he was principal guest conductor at the Sacramento Bach Festival and he was invited to preside in Italy and Poland among many commissions. He was permanent conductor of groups including the Tudor Consort and the English Baroque Ensemble, both of which he founded,

He was joint artistic director of the Norwich Festival of Contemporary Church Music for more than 30 years with former cathedral organist Dr Michael Nicholas, and was involved with a host of organisations in Norfolk and further afield.

A season ticket holder at Carrow Road for 40 years, he shared his passion for Norwich City with his son, David, but always resisted the temptation of composing an anthem for the Canaries. He did play jazz piano and enjoy chess and bridge.

His many books on composers from the 16th to 19th century, concentrating principally on Baroque music, also included Sound & Silence, 1970, with John Paynter, and The Music of York Minster, 1972.

Married to Elaine in 1960, he also leaves a son, David.

A funeral service will be held at Norwich Cathedral (October 1) at noon.

Michael Pollitt

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