Simon Pettite

Conductor & Composer

Biography

Simon Pettite has been involved with Music and music-making at the highest level from a very early age. He was an Exhibitioner at the Junior Department, the Royal College of Music (RCM), London, financially supported by the London Borough of Merton. Concurrently, he joined the world-famous Temple Church Choir, London, at that time still directed by the legendary Organist and Choir Master, George Thalben-Ball. Both institutions played a major part in developing his outstanding musical gifts. His principal specializations at the Junior Department lay in Pianoforte (with John Barstow) and Composition (with John Baird and Oliver Knussen).

Whilst still a chorister, Dr. Thalben-Ball took a particular interest in Simon Pettite’s progress as a young composer, and he enjoys a unique distinction among choristers of that era in having one of his earliest compositions performed by the choir under Thalben-Ball’s direction.

Among other milestones in his early compositional career must be numbered the first performance of his Variations for Orchestra in London (1976), at a concert of the Hammersmith Symphony Orchestra/Wagner Society (conducted by John Baird) and as a prizewinner (for his Violin Sonata) at the inaugural competition for the Joan Weller Composition Prize (1976) at the Junior Department, RCM.

From 1977 – 1980 Simon Pettite studied Music on an Exhibition to Trinity Hall College, Cambridge University.

After Cambridge, Simon Pettite undertook advanced studies in Pianoforte as a private student of John Barstow leading to the award of the ARCM (Piano teaching) diploma in 1984.

For a few year’s he worked in the Editorial Department of Waterstone’s Books being a contributor to two editions of Waterstone’s Guide to Books. He returned to full-time education as a graduate student in the final year of existence of the National Centre for Orchestral Studies, Goldsmith’s College, London (NCOS). He occupied the position of Orchestral Keyboard player.  During this study year he was able to observe the work of a number of major Guest Conductors (Volker Wangenheim, Yehudi Menuhin, Charles Groves, and Diego Masson), and was given the opportunity to act as Assistant (Denys Darlow, David Angus). Having conducted a number of student ensembles at Cambridge, Simon Pettite began studying conducting seriously with Lawrence Leonard at Morley College, London and at summer courses with Norman Del Mar.

In Spring 1988 he organized his first major concert as a conductor in London, founding for this purpose the Sinfonia of Saint Cecilia.

An invitation to attend the Dartington International Summer School (1989) as a Conducting Scholar resulted from his work with Diego Masson at the NCOS. For three subsequent summers he conducted the concluding performance of the Advanced Course for Opera, led at that time by Thomas Hemsley: Ariadne auf Naxos (Richard Strauss), Die Zauberflöte (Mozart) & La Bohème (Puccini). He assisted Diego Masson in the preparation of the Summer School performance of Oedipus Rex (Stravinsky) in the training of the specially invited professional chorus.

His attendance at the Dartington Summer School 1990 was made possible by an Audi Conducting Scholarship.

Dartington Summer School 1989 Simon Pettite with Diego Masson (left) and Thomas Hemsley

The academic year 1989 – 1990 saw Simon Pettite return to the RCM as a student in Advanced Operatic Studies and Conducting at the International Opera School.  At the conclusion of his studies he was awarded the prestigious Ricordi Prize.

Among the many contacts in the London operatic scene that Simon Pettite made at this time, Victor Morris of the English National Opera gave occasion to him becoming a regular repetiteur to the vocal consultations of Josephine Veasey. After a very short time, this led to him being invited to take up the position of Trainee Repetiteur at the English National Opera for the 1990 -1991 season. During this time, he enjoyed fruitful collaborations with David Atherton (Peter Grimes), Sir Charles Mackerras (The Cunning Little Vixen) and took a major role in the preparation of Stephen Oliver’s opera Timon of Athens.

At the conclusion of this project Simon Pettite was engaged as a regular freelance member of the Music Staff at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. His first assignments consisted of conducting the stage music in Der Ring des Nibelungen and Rigoletto. Subsequent projects included his participation in productions of La Bohème, I Capuleti e I Montecchi & Der Rosenkavalier.

Concurrently a regular working relationship as Assistant Conductor developed at Opera North, Leeds. On the recommendation of his teacher Diego Masson, he prepared the première performances of Robert Saxton’s opera Caritas.  Further projects included the preparation of the Opera North productions of Wozzeck and Baa, baa black sheep (Michael Berkeley), with Paul Daniel, and Billy Budd with Elgar Howarth.

Elgar Howarth invited Simon Pettite to work with him again for the preparation of productions of King Priam (Tippett) at De Vlaamse Oper, Antwerp and Die Soldaten (Zimmermann) at English National Opera.  A collaboration with the conductor Lionel Friend came about on the occasion of the revival of Hansel and Gretel at ENO.

In 1993 and 1994 Simon Pettite assisted Sir Michael Tippett and Michael Tillett with the preparations of Tippett’s final composition The Rose Lake. This involved playing the work from the score for the composer at his home in Wiltshire.

Simon Pettite (right), with Sir Michael Tippett and Michael Tillett, Maidstone 1995

At the time of the closure of the Royal Opera House for renovation, Simon Pettite was engaged as Associate Chorus Director at Oper Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main, Germany marking the start of a highly successful twenty years during which he has been recognized as an outstanding choir trainer and choral conductor whose name stands for excellence in the field.

On being appointed subsequently Kapellmeister and Chorus Director for the season 2000 – 2001 at the Municipal Theatre of the city of Freiburg im Breisgau, his work preparing the chorus for Wagner’s opera Der Fliegende Holländer was nominated by the critics of the international trade journals as one of the highlights of that season. The Freiburg theatre chorus’ contribution to the production of Maderna’s music-theatre piece Hyperion received similar accolades.At Freiburg, in the rôle of opera conductor, Simon Pettite had the responsibility of directing the first performances in Germany of Benedetto Marcello’s opera Arianna for which he prepared his own performing edition.

With growing recognition in Germany of his outstanding musical talents, Simon Pettite received invitations as a Guest Conductor with leading Radio Choirs. He has worked with the SWR-Vokalensemble, Stuttgart (Te Deum Bruckner with Roger Norrington), the WDR Rundfunkchor , Köln, with whom he prepared Olivier Messiaen’s opera St François d’Assise and recorded the Choral Dances from Gloriana (Britten), and the Bayerischer Rundfunk-Chor, München.

Among the outstanding German musicians with whom Simon Pettite has collaborated are Hans Werner Henze, Michael Gielen, Reinhard Goebel and Bernhard Kontarsky. He has also attended the Bayreuth Festival as a Guest Observer at the invitation of Norbert Balatsch.

In October 2005 Simon Pettite joined the teaching staff at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst (HfMDK), Frankfurt am Main. As a member of the Musiktheater Department he was responsible for the choral and vocal-ensemble elements of the Bachelor and Master study programmes. He directed a number of inter-departmental projects, conducting a number of lesser performed choral works with instrumental ensemble. Taking a leading role in the collaboration between the HfMDK and the Katharinenkirche, Frankfurt and the Christophoruskirche, Wiesbaden-Schierstein, he was involved in the preparation of over one hundred of the sacred cantatas of J.S.Bach in the ongoing project (Bachvesper) to perform the complete cycle of Bach’s Church Cantatas. A further collaboration of the HfMDK with Oper Frankfurt for a production of Mozart und Salieri (Rimsky-Korsakov) for which Simon Pettite prepared a specially constituted chorus of Hochschule students resulted in further recognition (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Frankfurter Rundschau) of the excellence of his work as a choral trainer.

In 2012 Simon Pettite re-established contacts with the music scene in London on his appointment as Director of the College Choir at Morley College, London occupying the position formerly held by Gustav Holst and Michael Tippett. In this rôle he continued to develop his reputation as an expert in the music of J.S.Bach preparing a concert of Bach cantatas for which he formed a historical-instrument ensemble which included members of the OAE and the Academy of Ancient Music.

Morley Choir concert at St John’s, Waterloo, 21 June 2013

Since 2014 he has been a regular Guest Conductor of the Opera Scenes evenings at the Internationl Opera School of the RCM, London, at which he had formerly been a student. In February 2018 he prepared and conducted a concert with the RCM Chorus & ensemble as part of the celebrations inaugurating the new organ in the Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall. Currently Simon Pettite continues to work with his former colleagues at the Frankfurt Opera as Musical Director of the concert series at the Marienkirche, Offenbach am Main. As of October 2018 he is Musical Director of the Southampton University Chamber Choir.