Kenneth Bowen 1932-2018

-Posted on 03.09.2018

Kenneth Bowen, Welsh tenor and Professor of Singing at the Academy, has died in Cheltenham at the age of 86. Bowen’s singing career spanned 30 years until the mid-1980s when he became Head of Vocal Studies at the Royal Academy of Music, having taught there since the late 1960s. Students there included the broadcaster Aled Jones, and several opera singers, including Neal Davies, Mark le Brocq, Huw Rhys-Evans and Brindley Sherratt.

A prolific oratorio singer, he also sang a wide range of opera roles – from Mozart’s Tamino and Don Ottavio to Hermes in Tippett’s King Priam – for the Royal Opera House, Welsh National Opera, Sadler’s Wells and Glyndebourne on tour. He performed with many great conductors of that era, including Adrian Boult, Malcolm Sargent, John Pritchard, Colin Davis, Charles Mackerras, Raymond Leppard, Pierre Boulez and Leopold Stokowski. His recordings include Britten’s Death in Venice, Tippett’s King Priam, Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder and Jakobsleiter (Boulez), Messiah (Stokowski), Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music (Boult), and Vivaldi and Schubert with St John’s College Choir, Cambridge – where he had been a choral scholar with fellow Welshman George Guest from 1953 to 1957. 

Born in Llanelli in 1932, he was educated at Llanelli Grammar School and at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth, before heading to Cambridge. A first-language Welsh speaker, Bowen’s commitment to Wales and to Welsh music was passionate and unerring. Composers such as Dilys Elwyn-Edwards, Alun Hoddinott, William Mathias and Grace Williams wrote a number of works for his distinctively warm and fearlessly high tenor voice. He performed at the Investiture of Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle in 1969 and in the opening concert of St David’s Hall, Cardiff, in 1983. He adjudicated at numerous National Eisteddfods, was founder conductor of the London Welsh Chorale from 1983 to 2008, and was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Music from the University of Wales in 2003. 

Kenneth Bowen’s voice and alert musicianship enabled an unusually broad range of repertoire, spanning opera, oratorio and recital work. He was as comfortable evangelising in Bach’s Passions or performing Handel’s Messiah (which he sang 17 times one December alone) as he was singing Gilbert & Sullivan for Radio 2’s ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ or Janacek’s The Diary of a One Who Disappeared in recital. He particularly relished singing Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, something he did over 200 times, including at the BBC Proms with Malcolm Sargent in 1966.

He is survived by his two sons, Geraint and Meurig, their mother Angela (the couple separated in 1995), and grandchildren Gwilym, Ruairi and Raffaella. Geraint Bowen is Director of Music at Hereford Cathedral and co-Artistic Director of the Three Choirs Festival; Meurig Bowen is Head of Artistic Planning at BBC National Orchestra of Wales, following ten years as Director of the Cheltenham Music Festival; and Gwilym and Ruairi Bowen are already establishing themselves in the profession as fine young tenors. 

The Academy’s Principal, Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, said: ‘Ken was a marvellously infectious man, musician and teacher. He was a devoted colleague who gave a huge amount to students and the Royal Academy of Music. He was wonderfully (and amusingly) informed about almost everything and, most importantly, Ken was genuinely enthusiastic about other people’s interests and success. He was generous to a fault, and always played up to a kind of default pessimism which was immediately released by a mischievous twinkle and beaming smile. As one of the younger guard arriving at the Academy in the late 1980s, I remember how his warmth and receptiveness to new ideas encouraged us all. It meant something because we knew he was inherently wise.’ 

Search news articles

Please use the selection menu below or the text field to filter your results: