Ronald Corp OBE was born in Wells, Somerset in 1951, and now resides in a converted watermill in rural Essex. As one of Britain’s most prolific Composer-Conductors, he has a busy schedule of concerts, rehearsals, education workshops, community projects, overseas tours and recording sessions as a foil to the many meditative hours he devotes to his life-long passion of composing.
The list of his compositions is extensive and dominated by works for voice, whether solo, for small vocal groupings, church choirs or massive choral societies. That is not the complete picture, though. There are a Symphony, a Piano Concerto, a Concerto Grosso and an orchestral triptych, Guernsey Postcards; there are several chamber works and, notably, three String Quartets; and when it comes to community projects, he not only conducts but composes the scores as well – providing accessible music that unites the performers and entertains their audiences.
He taught himself to play the piano at an early age, thus giving him a means to formulate and hear his own first compositions. He continued to write music, and put on and conducted concerts when he went up to Oxford to read music in 1970. Following graduation in 1973, he worked for nearly 14 years as Librarian to the BBC Singers, all the while providing arrangements and sometimes his own works for various choral groups to sing.
He left the BBC in order to establish himself as a freelance musician and soon after, in 1988, took on the major task of founding a completely new orchestra – namely, the New London Orchestra – an organisation which he has nurtured and developed over the years, so that today they put on around twelve concerts a year, record critically-acclaimed CDs and participate in East London community projects.
Ronald Corp is Artistic Director, too, of the New London Children’s Choir (which he also founded) and Musical Director of both the London Chorus and Highgate Choral Society. In 2011, there were tours with the latter to Budapest and with the London Chorus to South Africa.
He was ordained into the Anglican Church in 1998, an event that might be thought to have led to a concentration on purely liturgical, or other church music – anthems, masses, Christmas carols. He has, indeed, written many of these (both before and since 1998), but there are still many instances of secular works in the form of songs, song-cycles and what might be called ‘cantatas’ for children’s voices, as well as the orchestral pieces and the recent gravitation towards chamber music. Furthermore, works such as Adonai Echad (‘The Lord is One’), written two years after his ordination, deploys Psalms and other texts to establish common ground between the Jewish and Christian faiths, while Dhammapada (2010) is a setting of Buddhist sayings whose spiritual and moral concerns would seem to be universal.
He conducted the BBC Singers in their commission from him of Dover Beach in 2003, and he has been the guest conductor of various orchestras including the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, the Ulster Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Leipzig Philharmonic Orchestra. He has recorded extensively for Hyperion, Naxos and Dutton Epoch, including award-winning discs of British Light Music Classics as well as CDs devoted to the music of Prokofiev, Satie, Milhaud, Poulenc, Virgil Thomson, John Foulds, Rutland Boughton and the Polish composer, Grażyna Bacewicz.
Another side to Ronald Corp is seen in his various musical editions, including Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Choruses Vols. 1 and 2, and three volumes of partsongs published by Faber Music; and in a series of Faber educational publications, Folksongs of the British Isles, Folksongs of the Sea, Spirituals of the Deep South, Folksongs from North America and Folksongs from Ireland (1993, reprinted 2005), all providing settings for voices and keyboard. His intensive experience and expertise in choral work is crystallised in The Choral Singer’s Companion, originally from 1987, and currently available in its third edition, expanded and revised.
Ronald Corp is a Vice-President of the Sullivan Society and Patron of Bracknell Choral Society.
He was awarded an OBE in the New Years Honours List 2012: ‘I am thrilled. It is wonderful to be able to share my passion for music and to have it recognised in this way. It gives me renewed vigour to continue composing, conducting, directing children and adults and bringing increasing numbers of people closer to music.’
Recent compositions include the String Quartet No. 3, a Clarinet Quintet for Andrew Marriner inspired by the engravings of Joseph Crawhall, and The Yellow Wallpaper, an atmospheric scena with text by Francis Booth based on the short story of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Since Dhammapada, another work on Buddhist texts has been written and recorded – Songs of the Elder Sisters (from the Terigatha).