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Britain's Dame Gillian Weir is one of the world's foremost musical artists. Her unique career as an internationally acclaimed concert organist, performing worldwide at the great festivals and with leading orchestras and conductors, has established her as a distinguished musician. She is known for her virtuosity, integrity and outstanding musicianship, which combined with a notable personal charisma, have placed her in the forefront of her profession and won her the admiration of audiences and critics alike.
Born in New Zealand and brought up in Wanganui, Gillian Weir was a co-winner of the Auckland Star Piano Competition at 19, playing Mozart. A year later she won a scholarship of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music in London. There she studied with the concert pianist Cyril Smith and the renowned organist Ralph Downes, and in her second year (1964) won the prestigious St. Albans International Organ Competition.
Her performance on this occasion of a work by Messiaen at a time when his music was little-known outside France, stunned the audience and jury alike, and she became particularly associated with this composer; she has several time performed the complete works in series, and her recording for Collins Classics has been hailed as 'one of the major recording triumphs of the century'.
Gillian Weir made her début at the Royal Albert Hall while still a student, as soloist in the Poulenc Organ Concerto, on the opening night of the 1965 season of the Promenade Concerts, and in the same year at the Royal Festival Hall in recital, then the youngest organist to have played there. Since then she has engaged in a dazzling career as an internationally acclaimed concert organist, taking up residence in England and the USA along the way.
Her fame as a performer, which has stimulated numerous young players to follow her, is backed by her scholarly reputation; she is in constant demand as an adjudicator for the leading international competitions and as lecturer, broadcaster, teacher and writer, while her television appearances have reached large new audiences. Her repertoire is exceptional for its breadth and variety, stretching from the Renaissance to contemporary works; she has performed the complete organ works of Bach and others, as well as of Olivier Messiaen, and her pre-eminent position as Messiaen interpreter has been further underlined by her CD release of his complete organ works to great acclaim as well as by her contribution to Faber's The Messiaen Companion and other publications. Her series of six weekly recitals in Westminster Cathedral of Messiaen's organ works in 1998, the 90th anniversary of his birth, brought huge audiences and for her performances she was awarded The Evening Standard Award for Outstanding Solo Performance, the first organist to have been so honoured. She has received a host of awards and honors worldwide, the most notable of which was presented in 1996 when she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire, the first organist to receive this accolade. She had previously been awarded a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in the Queen's Birthday Honors in 1989. Gillian Weir's six-part television series for the BBC in 1989 drew weekly audiences of two million in Britain, exceptional for an arts program, and has been repeated in many countries throughout the world.
Dame Gillian Weir's exceptional artistry was marked in 1999 by the re-issue on CD of her series of Argo recordings, and her nomination by Classic CD magazine as one of the 100 Greatest Players of the Century and by the Sunday Times as one of the 1000 Music Makers of the Millennium. In December 2000 ITV's South Bank Show chronicled her worldwide activities as performer, teacher and recording artist in a highly acclaimed documentary. She has also served as President of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, the Royal College of Organists (the first woman president) and the Incorporated Society of Organists (also the first woman president), and is also the Prince Consort Professor of Organ, Royal College of Music, London.
The new millenium has afforded the public the opportunity to savor more of her performances via new compact disc recordings. She performed the Poulenc Organ Concerto with the English Chamber Orchestra, creating yet another definitive recording; her Organ Master Series spotlights a number of magnificent organs built by her late husband Lawrence Phelps, and her legendary Messiaen recordings from Århus have been re-released again, “reclaiming its definitive status”, with enhanced audio quality and informative program notes. Ever the teacher and communicator, she shares news of current developments and events through her internet web site, gillianweir.com. Dame Gillian maintains her full performance schedule, playing a key role in music festivals and recitals in première venues around the world.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1961||Scholarship from the Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music, London|
|1962-5||Various prizes at the Royal College of Music, London|
|1964||Winner of First Prize at the St. Alban's International Organ Competition, England|
|1965||Countess of Munster Award for study|
|1975||Made Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, London (Hon. FRCO)|
|1977||First woman elected to the Council of the Royal College of Organists|
|1981||International Performer of the Year, elected by the American Guild of Organists, New York, NY|
|1981-3||First woman President of the Incorporated Association of Organists|
|1982||Elected Musician of the Year by the International Music Guide|
|1982||Elected Honorary Member of the International Music Sorority SIGMA ALPHA IOTA|
|1983||Elected Honorary Fellow of the Royal Canadian College of Organists (Hon FRCCO)|
|1983||Awarded Honorary Doctorate of Music from the University of Victoria, Wellington, New Zealand (Hon DMus)|
|1985||First musician to receive the Turnovsky Foundation Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts|
|1989||Created Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to music|
|1989||Elected Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music, London (Hon Mem.RAM)|
|1992-3||President of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, England|
|1993-||Trustee of the Eric Thompson Charitable Trust for Organists and Organ Music|
|1994-6||First woman President of the Royal College of Organists, England|
|1996||Created Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE)|
|1997-1998||Visiting Professor of the Royal Academy of Music, London|
|1997||Awarded Honorary Doctorate by the University of Huddersfield (Hon D Litt)|
|1998||Awarded Silver Medal by the Albert Schweitzer Association (Sweden)|
|1998-||President of the Soloist's Ensemble|
|1998-||Patron: The Oundle International Festival|
|1999||Appointed the Prince Consort Professor in Organ, Royal College of Music, London|
|1999 March||Winner of the Evening Standard Award for Outstanding Solo Performance in 1998|
|1999 July||Awarded Honorary Doctorate by Hull University (Hon DMus)|
|1999-||Patron: Friends of Young Artists' Platform|
|1999-||Patron: Cirencester Early Music Festival|
|2000 November||Elected Fellow of the Royal College of Music, London (FRCM)|
|2000 December||Subject of television documentary profile by The South Bank Show (ITV)|
|2001 February||Awarded Honorary Doctorate by Exeter University (Hon DMus)|
|2001||Awarded Honorary Doctorate by the University of Central England, Birmingham (Hon Doctor of the University)|
|2003||Awarded Honorary Doctorate by Leicester University (Hon D. Mus)|
|2004||Awarded Honorary Doctorate by Aberdeen University (Hon D. Mus)|
|2009||Awarded Honorary Doctorate by London University (Hon D. Mus)|
|2012||Honorary Bencher of the Middle Temple, London|
|2013||Honorary Doctor of Music, Durham University|