By Luke Coppen and Joe Jenkins
WESTMINSTER CATHEDRAL revealed this week the steps it is taking to find a successor to James O'Donnell, its acclaimed Master of Music who is leaving the Cathedral to become organist at Westminster Abbey.
Mgr George Stack, administrator at Westminster Cathedral, said that a team of church music experts had been put together to draw up a profile of the ideal candidate to succeed Mr O'Donnell.
The team will include Stephen Cleobury, organist and director of music at King's College, Cambridge.
The job will be advertised nationally in July and candidates will be interviewed in September to allow them to offer three months' notice to their existing employer. The successful candidate will begin work in January 2000, when Mr O'Donnell becomes the Abbey's organist and choir master.
Mgr Stack said that while he was not sufficiently well-versed in music to make the appointment, his team would find the right candidate. "The world of church music is very well informed," he said.
Asked if the Cathedral would consider appointing Martin Baker, a Catholic musician, currently acting organist at Westminster Abbey, Mgr Stack said Mr Baker would fit the profile of the candidate that the Cathedral is looking for.
James O'Donnell told The Catholic Herald this week that he believed the Cathedral would have little difficulty finding an adequate replacement for him. "I'm sure they will get somebody excellent who will do wonderful work," he said. "I'm sure it will be different. But that will be no bad thing.
"Some people will emerge as being possible replacements for me." But he was unwilling to speculate on who his successor might be. Mr O'Donnell said that he would feel sad to leave the Cathedral after almost two decades. "After 17 years you do build up a huge amount of rapport and you become immensely committed to a place and you build up very close working and friendly relationships with people.
"Of course, I'll be very sorry to leave those.
"On the other hand I know that it is right to move on. I think that I've now reached a stage where I would like to have a new challenge. I'm very much looking forward to working with the Dean and Chapter. Over the years I've met the Dean and members of the chapter and I know a lot of the people already because of our long-standing close and friendly relations between the Abbey and the Cathedral. I've got absolutely no qualms about it."
Mr O'Donnell will be the first Catholic to lead the Abbey's choir since the Reformation. But he stressed that he would be employed "as a musician, not as a Catholic".
He said: "For me and for the Abbey authorities it's not an issue, or I wouldn't have accepted the appointment and they wouldn't have offered it to me. We're all fine about it and I just hope everyone else will be.
"But the essential business is my responsibility for the music in the Abbey. That is why I'm going to be there."
He said that he would keep in touch with the Cathedral, which he felt had a bright future.
"I'm very optimistic for the future of the Cathedral and its music.
"I'm determined to keep in touch with it as closely as I can, while also being completely committed to the Abbey from January."