Maurice Alfred Till, 1926-2011

Maurice Till was a renowned New Zealand concert pianist and teacher. This page has brief details of his life and work and links to further reading.

Early life

Maurice Till, solo pianist, renowned accompanist and teacher, was born 22 October 1926 in Christchurch. Educated at St Andrew’s College, he went on to study music and maths at the University of Canterbury where he graduated with a Master of Arts in mathematics.

He was one of the first New Zealand pianists to study only in New Zealand and to sustain a performing career whilst staying in this country. The son of a talented self-taught musician, he started learning piano early, taking lessons from Miss Clarice Bell from the age of five to seventeen. He was later tutored by Ernest Empson.

Career

His first professional musical employment came when he joined a newly formed University Trio at Otago University in 1948, a part-time position that allowed him to accept other musical engagements. His first major concert engagement was with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in 1951, and his first international appearance as concert soloist in 1967, with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. He established his reputation as a soloist in the 1960s when he toured New Zealand extensively. He also toured the United States and Europe in 1964 on a New Zealand Arts Council grant.

In 1959 soprano Victoria de los Angeles extended her tour of New Zealand to include Christchurch and Till was selected to accompany her. Recognition of his performance turned him into a sought-after accompanist. He was known for his sensitivity to the soloist and he is often described as having a sixth sense in anticipating their moods and musical direction. Over his career he accompanied such luminaries as Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Kiri Te Kanawa, Gerald Souzay and cellist Pierre Fournier.

Teaching career

His tertiary teaching career spanned over 30 years and was split between the University of Canterbury and Otago University. He became a lecturer at the University of Canterbury in 1959, a post he held until 1970. In 1971 he went to Otago University to become a senior lecturer and then in 1981 he returned to the University of Canterbury, where he went on to become dean of music and fine arts in 1985. He retired in 1991 and received an honorary doctorate of music from the University of Canterbury in 2000.

Maurice Till was known for his dedication and excellent teaching. Pupils who went onto successful careers include Michael Houston, Richard Mapp, Sharon Joy Vogan, Terence Dennis and Sarah Watkins.

He was the first chairman of the Southern Regional Council of Arts and was actively involved with both the Chamber Music Federation and the Christchurch Civic Music Council.

Honours

In 2009 his name was given to the Concert Hall at the Christchurch Music Centre, which was originally the Chapel of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions and designed by Samuel Hurst Seager and Cecil Woods.

He received the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 1999.

Maurice Till died on March 26, 2011, aged 84.

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