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End of an era – RIP Donald Hunt

Categories: Stories

Dr Donald Hunt OBE, a musician who attained equal distinction as Choirmaster, Conductor, Composer, Organist, Author and Elgar specialist, died peacefully at his home in Worcester on Saturday 4 August 2018 after a short illness.

He was with the “Phil” as Chorus Master and Associate Conductor between 1961 and 1975, when he moved to Worcester as Cathedral Organist and where he went on to direct eight highly successful Three Choirs’ Festivals. His programming was always visionary, enterprising and forward-looking; Leeds Phil Secretary, Chairman and benefactor, the unique John Brodwell, served on Donald’s Three Choirs’ committee for a number of years.

Dr Hunt’s extra-mural work for the Phil included the direction of its Centenary Service at the Parish Church in 1970 with new settings by Francis Jackson and Donald himself contributed a fine Te Deum in celebration of the Phil’s anniversary with a brilliant treble part especially composed for Paul Dutton.

Donald’s commitments in the West Riding were numerous; he was also Chorus Master to the Leeds Festivals between 1961 and 1974 and sustained close associations with Huddersfield Glee and Madrigal Society, now the Huddersfield Singers, conducting the inaugural concert [The Dream of Gerontius in Wakefield Cathedral] for Wakefield Festival Chorus as well as in more recent years with Overgate Hospice Choir, Halifax where he appeared as a regular guest conductor. The University of Leeds conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Music, honoris causa, in 1975 and he received in addition an MA from the University of Worcester in 2010 and the Fellowship of the Royal School of Church Music in 2011.

He was very active in the founding of the Yorkshire Sinfonia which flourished in the 1970s as well as for 31 seasons being Conductor of Halifax Choral Society between 1957 and 1988 with his Parish Church successor, Simon Lindley, acting as chorus master for his last twelve years.

Besides being one of Britain’s leading choral and orchestral conductors, Donald was widely acknowledged as a hugely distinguished interpreter of the music of Elgar, publishing collections of the composer’s music following his retirement from Cathedral work some two decades or so ago, the most recent being the Complete Part Songs for the Elgar Edition from Novello and a volume of early Church Music issued by Cramer as recently as 2017. His love of Elgar’s music was surely nurtured not only by his great enthusiasm and devotion for it but also as a result of his famous mentor, Dr Herbert Sumsion, who had known Elgar since boyhood in the early years of the last century as Gloucester chorister and pupil of Sir Herbert Brewer as well as in the final years of the composer’s life after Sumsion’s appointment as Gloucester Cathedral organist on Brewer’s sudden death in 1928.

He leaves Jo, his wife of over sixty years, and children Jacqueline, still resident here in Leeds, Tom Hunt a professional baritone and singing teacher of repute – Nicholas, who runs the best restaurant in Worcester, and Jane; each was a valued member of Team Hunt at numerous Three Choirs and musical social events.

All involved with the Phil send special wishes to his family at this time.