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News > Featured Old Queenians > Featured OQs - David Ponsford

Featured OQs - David Ponsford

David Ponsford, OQ, is a professional musician, academic and Professor at the Royal Academy of Music. Read about his career and life at Queen's in this article by Alumni Officer, Geoff Bisson.
30 Aug 2022
Written by Geoff Bisson
United Kingdom
Featured Old Queenians


Music, Arts

David Ponsford (OQ, 1961-67) is a professional musician and academic. Currently, he is Professor in the organ department of the Royal Academy of Music. As a boy of 13 in 1961, he was hugely impressed by the inspirational playing of Bach’s and Liszt’s organ music by the Director of Music, Sidney Lawton. Though organ music is David’s specialism, at Queen’s he became an accomplished pianist and trombonist, with lessons from Gerard Trevett and Terry Ravenor respectively. He performed in school concerts with all three instruments. Besides the classics, David enjoyed jazz and was a member of the Jazz Club.

Elected Greenwood Exhibitioner in Music at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, he graduated in 1971, after which he began his professional career as the Assistant Organist at Wells Cathedral. Here, he took a full part in conducting choral rehearsals and performances, and playing the organ for the daily liturgical services. He also formed the Wells Cathedral Chamber Choir and Orchestra, specialising in works by Bach, Handel and Monteverdi.

In the early 1980s, David decided to become a freelance organist, harpsichordist and conductor, often playing harpsichord with some wonderful orchestras, with soloists such as Yehudi Menuhin and Nigel Kennedy, and conducting the Cheltenham Bach Choir in concerts both in the UK and abroad. He also taught organ and harpsichord at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and was invited to become harpsichord teacher to specialist musicians at Wells Cathedral School.

In the mid-1990s, David opted to study for a PhD with international Bach scholar, Professor Peter Williams, on the subject of French Baroque organ music – a repertory that he felt was misunderstood and undervalued. His research proved fruitful and culminated in the publication of his book, French Organ Music in the Reign of Louis XIV (Cambridge University Press, 2011; paperback edition, 2016). On receiving his PhD David was appointed Associate Lecturer at Cardiff University where, from 2000-17, he directed courses in Performance Practices, and Notation and Editing, conducted the University Chamber Orchestra and the large University Choir, as well as supervising some MA and PhD students.

In that time, encouraged by Nimbus Records, David began a series of CD recordings of French Baroque organ music played on French historical instruments. Seven projects have been released since 2013, with more planned. In all, David has made over two dozen solo recordings on both organ and harpsichord, together with the complete Bach violin sonatas with American violinist Jacqueline Ross, and the Handel recorder sonatas with Alan Davis. Further publications include editions of Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s Mystery Sonatas (c. 1676) and Nicolas de Grigny’s Premier livre d’orgue (1699), both published by Ut Orpheus, Bologna, and several chapters in edited volumes published by both Oxford and Cambridge University Presses.

In addition, David is an examiner for the ABRSM, for whom he has undertaken over 20 extended tours in the Far East, particularly to Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. At his home in Oxfordshire, he has a collection of keyboard instruments including an organ and five harpsichords (one of which is the 1766 Kirckman harpsichord). Another treasured item is the Chappell upright piano that used to be in the Great Hall (now the Wyvern Hall) at Queen’s – a reminder to him of the potential impact that inspirational teachers like Sidney Lawton can have on their pupils.

David’s main contact with Queen’s nowadays is as a trustee of the Sidney Lawton Trust, which gives financial help to musical pupils at the school.

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