The founder and Artistic Director of Armonico Consort and its ground-breaking education programme AC Academy, Christopher Monks has established himself as a versatile and prolific conductor and keyboard player.
Specialising in the performance of music from the Baroque and late Renaissance, Christopher is equally at home with major and modern choral repertoire, and during his career he has conducted at many of the greatest concert halls in the UK, including the Royal Albert Hall, Barbican, Wigmore Hall and Cadogan Hall in London, Bridgewater Hall Manchester, Symphony Hall Birmingham, St David’s Hall Cardiff and the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Christopher performs regularly at major national festivals and has worked extensively abroad, including in Israel, Italy, Ireland and France. Alongside his work with Armonico Consort, he has conducted internationally renowned orchestras and ensembles such as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia and European Union Chamber Orchestra. Christopher also coaches and lectures on the MMus choral conducting course at Cambridge University and is a guest speaker on the Harvard Global Leadership Programme. Christopher is also part of a programme to role out the choir creation project and leadership programme with institutions aiming to restore street children back into main stream education in Kenya.
It was as a chorister from the age of eight that Christopher was introduced to the music of Byrd, Tallis, Bach, Monteverdi and Handel, of which today he is a highly acclaimed champion. After taking on piano at about the same age, he took his grade 5 in just 18 months as he wouldn’t otherwise have been allowed to start organ lessons, although by his own admission:
“I ignored this, and spent my spare time doing stealth practice in cold churches.”
After graduating from Cambridge University, where he was organ scholar at Gonville and Caius College, Christopher went on as an organist under David Hill at Winchester Cathedral. Through David’s inspiration, he developed a passion and a talent for choral conducting.
“David Hill taught me the importance of performances being live and crafted ‘in’ the performance rather than a sanitised replication of hours of careful preparation. At school, I used to gather together musicians and singers, and perform pieces like Monteverdi’s Beatus Vir, and that sort of passion never stopped. But it was David Hill, the single biggest influence of those early years, who made me want to be a professional conductor”.
Although he admits to being cautious of much contemporary music, Christopher has commissioned many new works, including the ambitious Prodigal Son by Girling, premiered with Dame Evelyn Glennie, and Beowulf, an epic drama by Toby Young, premiered during Armonico Consort’s 2017 season.
Christopher records regularly under the Signum Classics label and his recordings, including Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas, have earned him several five star reviews in The Times, The Independent and The Guardian. Amongst recent projects are the first of a unique 3-disc set of complete recordings of Bach’s Cantatas for solo soprano with Gillian Keith (2017) and Supersize Polyphony, a recording of 40- and 60-part masses by Tallis and Striggio (2019) on Signum Classics.
A passionate advocate of reaching out to children of all backgrounds through the creation of youth choirs, Christopher founded and developed AC Academy, a music education programme
“which is unique in the UK, highly effective in its legacy and absolutely brilliant in quality. I never cease to feel proud of it.”
A founding principle of the Academy is that the children learn all genres of music and perform regularly alongside professional orchestras and bands. They do everything from Bach to Jazz, folk to pop, ethnic music to musicals.
“I think it is vital that young people have the opportunity to perform all genres of music. As a chorister in a church, I only knew that repertoire, and I think this held me back as a musician in so many ways.”
When not conducting, Christopher loves fine cooking. After a long day of music preparation, he often enjoys going for a cycle to process everything he has worked on, and on many occasions, this is where he feels that the real music learning takes place.
To anybody who asked him whether he has ever thought to give up his musical career, Christopher would bluntly reply:
“No, it feels bizarre when I talk to other people about their jobs for which they struggle to get out of bed, and I have never felt like a have a job. I just wake up and do a hobby.”