The Principal's Blog

Richard Lewis at 100

Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood CBE, Principal - Posted on 10.05.2014

The British tenor Richard Lewis (1914–1990) would have been 100 today.

Our collective memories of even the very greatest performers tend to fade over subsequent decades. Perhaps it’s an inevitable consequence of modern life, with everyone seeming to be driving ever-onwards towards the newest talent. But Richard’s widow, Elizabeth Muir-Lewis, has been utterly indefatigable in making sure that his name remains very much alive.

Here at the Academy we are very proud of this marvellous British tenor. We have a spacious teaching room bearing the Richard Lewis name, on the first floor of our York Gate building, which is a daily reminder of his legacy. Of course, the annual Richard Lewis/Jean Shanks Award is our most important prize for singers. The 2014 winner was Céline Forrest: ‘a very worthy winner from a set of young singers, all of whom could have won’, was the comment on the Richard Lewis Trust’s own website. www.richardlewis-tenor.co.uk includes a lot of fascinating biographical information about the man whose voice became the key to an international career, taking him from a working-class childhood as Thomas Thomas, son of Thomas Thomas in Manchester’s Moss Side to singing with the world’s greatest orchestras and conductors. Looking to the future, there are yet further ways in which Richard Lewis and the Academy will become even more entwined. Watch this space!

Today, I’ll be listening yet again to the greatest Gerontius ever — in his famous 1964 recording with Janet Baker and the Hallé Orchestra and Choir under the Academy’s very own Sir John Barbirolli. In my Principal’s Interview with Dame Janet Baker the year before last, she spoke warmly of Richard Lewis as a senior colleague who made a younger one feel like a 10-foot angel.