The University of Essex Choir had its origins as the Wyvern Singers, around 1977/8. When the University of Essex was founded in 1963 with no music department (as is the case now) there was considerable interest in starting up musical activities within the University and the choir started life.
Bryan Barnes resigned. The choir committee and members decided that they wanted his successor to have seriously exacting standards and a more classical approach to music.
Richard Cooke was appointed as Graham Barber’s successor in 1981 and set exacting standards for the choir, conducting his first concert in December 1981 which was Haydn’s Creation.
Richard brought ambition to the choir’s musical programmes, energy, and humour to the rehearsals together with musical integrity and uncompromising standards to performances. Having developed his craft as music director for several prestigious London choirs and orchestras, this wealth of experience made him a highly regarded professional amongst singers in the choir and the professional soloists and orchestras who played with them.
Richard Cooke had an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Law conferred on him by the University of Essex in 1996 in recognition of his work for the musical life of the University. He was similarly honoured in 2010 by the University of Kent (Doctor of Music) in Canterbury Cathedral.
2020 marked Richard’s last year as Music Director with the University of Essex Choir. His final performance with the choir was to have been Bach’s Mass in B Minor accompanied by the London Handel Orchestra at Snape Maltings in May 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic this did not take place.
Highlights of Richard’s time with the Choir have been many, but particularly notable were the performances of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, in collaboration with the Royal Choral Society and Canterbury Choral Society (both directed by Richard Cooke) in Canterbury Cathedral, the Royal Albert Hall and also in Lille.