Department: team

Francis Lambert

Fran Lambert began his musical life at the piano, quickly switching to the clarinet after a particularly poor performance of a Clementi Rondo at a school concert.  His first public performance, still in short trousers, with the Billy Munn band at a 21st birthday dance at the Imperial Hotel, Torquay, led to private tuition with Sidney Fell professor of clarinet at the Royal College of Music.

Despite the classical training, traditional jazz was his first love and he was soon he was sitting in with most of the revivalist jazz bands of the late 1950s and early 1960s. A decade or so later he could be found in New Merlin’s Cave, Islington, with John Chilton and what was to become the Feetwarmers, George Melly’s backing band.

He was taught to sing by Christopher Bishop, then a schoolmaster but to become EMI’s chief record producer responsible, inter alia, for many of Sir David Willcocks’ recordings with the choir of Kings College Cambridge.

The financial necessity of becoming a Chartered Accountant and then a banker rather put an end to Fran’s musical ambitions and he only returned to singing in the 1990’s, the clarinet, sadly, making increasingly infrequent appearances.

To-day he sings bass with Saffron Walden Choral Society and, together with now retired director Paul Garland, became a founder of SOG when conductor Michael Thorne announced his intention to perform Die Meistersinger having been stunned by the acoustic of Saffron Hall at the hall’s opening concert.

He is now principally responsible for all of SOG’s business and administrative arrangements.

Jeff Thomson

Jeff Thomson has varied musical interests.  He started learning the piano aged 9 and was first taught by his father.  He later studied at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire under Mary-Louise Taylor, attaining a music degree and an ABRSM Diploma.  Currently, he teaches the piano in north-west Essex and is a member of the Saffron Walden Choral Society.  He is also an accompanist, and plays chamber music with colleagues, giving regular concerts in the area.

His concert management experience was gained with SWCS.  This included many concerts at St. Mary’s Church in Saffron Walden, choir tours to Europe, and the transfer to Saffron Hall, its current venue for concerts.  He joined Saffron Opera Group as concert manager for its first Wagner Opera, Die Meistersinger, and later managed its acclaimed Ring Cycle, completed last September.

He succeeds Paul Garland as a director.

Elaine McKrill

During her successful international career as a dramatic soprano, Elaine McKrill has worked alongside the top Wagnerian singers of our age. Her colleagues have included household names such as Nina Stemme, Susan Bullock, Christine Goerke, Linda Watson, Irene Theorin, Catherine Foster, Heidi Melton, John Tomlinson, Placido Domingo, Simon O’Neill, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Ian Storey, Karen Cargill, Christopher Ventris, Petra Lang, Bryn Terfel, Waltraud Meier, Willard White, Kurt Rydl and many more. It is safe to say that she knows a lot about what makes a good Wagnerian singer!

Elaine’s Wagner repertoire encompasses all the Ring Cycle roles for her voice type as well as Isolde, Kundry, Adriano, Ortrud and Venus.

Having worked with Elaine numerous times at Edinburgh Opera Players, conductor Michael Thorne was well aware of her credentials and had no hesitation in recommending her to Paul Garland and Francis Lambert of Saffron Opera Group as the Casting Advisor for their new company. The rest, as they say, is history! It has been – and continues to be – a successful partnership, with reviews including:

“I cannot comment on everyone but you are unlikely ever to hear an ensemble to better SOG’s Gods, Goddesses, Nibelungs, Giants, and Rhinemaidens” (Jim Pritchard – Seen and Heard International- reviewing Das Rheingold in 2015)

“As for the cast, I have to reach back to memories of Karajan’s days at Vienna, with Vickers and Nilsson and Hotter, for a Die Walküre that was overall as well sung as this.” (Paul Dawson-Bowling in Wagner News reviewing Die Walküre in 2016).

Jennifer Wigram

Jennifer read music at Bristol University, where she led all the orchestras and performed Vaughan William’s The Lark Ascending in the new Roman Catholic Cathedral. As a postgraduate student at the Royal College of Music she studied violin with Raymond Cohen. She was appointed leader of the St Albans Symphony Orchestra in 1981. She often takes a solo role, including a performance of Max Bruch’s 1st Violin Concerto in St Albans Abbey. She had led the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of St Albans since the mid-1990s and often gives recitals, both as a soloist and as a chamber musician.

She teaches violin and viola, and conducts junior orchestras for whom she often arranges music.

Jennifer has been leader of the Saffron Opera Group orchestra since its inception.

Michael Thorne

Years ago, Michael Thorne earned money playing and teaching the bassoon. He spent the 1980s conducting the Cardiff Chamber Orchestra and the City of Cardiff Symphony Orchestra as well as playing in the Spinosus Wind Quintet. In the 1990s he conducted the New Tyneside Orchestra and the Tynedale Symphony Orchestra. He is Musical Director of the Ellesmere Orchestral Society’s residential course – which he has conducted since 1992 – where he explores the modern symphonic repertoire including in the last few years Rautavaara’s Symphony No.8, Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra, Messaien’s Turangalila Symphony and Panufnik’s Symphony No.5.  Between 2001 and 2013 he conducted a Wagner opera a year with the Edinburgh Players Opera group, including two complete Ring Cycles, Tristan und Isolde (twice), Parsifal (twice) and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg followed by Der Rosenkavalier in 2014, Die Frau Ohne Schatten in 2015 and Tannhauser in 2016 (with Elektra following later in 2017). For Palace Opera he conducted Ariadne auf Naxos in July 2017 and for the Saffron Opera Group he has conducted Die Meistersinger (2014), Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress (2015), Das Rheingold and Die Walküre (2016) and Siegfried (2017) to critical acclaim (‘totally at one with the dramatic spirit and architecture’ – Seen and Heard International; ‘sure-footed conducting …meticulous preparation’ **** – The Guardian).  He retired as a full time academic in 2016.