John Wells was born in Stamford, England in 1948. He won an organ scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge in 1965, where he studied with Hugh Macdonald, Philip Radcliffe and Roger Smalley, and worked with David Willcocks and the world-famous Chapel Choir. He accompanied the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in 1967 and 1968, broadcast live to several million viewers.
He came to Wanganui Collegiate School (New Zealand) in 1969 as Director of Music and moved to Auckland in 1971, where he established a free-lance career as a performer, composer and broadcaster. He was involved with the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity at that time with their musical director, Peter Godfrey. He was appointed Auckland City Organist for the first time in 1972.
In 1978 he moved to Indiana University at Bloomington, Indiana where he entered the doctoral programme for organ studies under Dr Oswald Ragatz. He graduated with high distinction in 1978 and returned to England the same year.
He spent the next eight years back in Cambridge where he was organist and choirmaster at Little St Mary’s Church, tutored at the University School of Music and was acting Director of Studies at St Catharine’s College. In 1979 he began the Cambridge Summer Recitals and in 1999 was privileged to play in the series 20 years later, by which time it had become one of England’s leading summer organ festivals.
Returning to New Zealand with his NZ-born wife Anne and their three daughters in 1986, John Wells continued free-lance work. He was Deputy Conductor of the NZ National Youth Choir under Prof. Peter Godfrey and Dr Karen Grylls. He took up part-time work at the University School of Music as tutor in organ and aural skills, and was appointed Organist to the University of Auckland in 1994. During that year, he worked as Organist at Holy Trinity Cathedral, Parnell withPeter Watts. He has played for more graduation ceremonies than he can remember and publishes under the newmusic/newzealand imprint. He also works as an examiner and adjudicator, and was pianist for The Tasman Trio for many years. His compositions are performed and broadcast regularly (see John Wells: Composer).
In 1998, he was appointed Auckland City Organist for the second time and played a key role in the successful campaign to rebuild the Town Hall organ. The inauguration of the new organ took place in March, 2010. He is a past-President of the New Zealand Association of Organists, who made him an honorary Fellow in 2002 in recognition of his services to NZ organ music. He has toured abroad frequently and given concerts in Australia, France, Poland, the USA and Canada. He uses Pacific elements in his compositions; Maori melodies, haka and paatere rhythms can be found in works such as the Piano Trio and the Horn Trio. He was responsible for the decision to base two of the stops in the new Auckland Town Hall organ on Maori instruments.
In 1989, he recorded NZ’s first organ CD This is Alkan and has produced six more, all of which have received favourable reviews both nationally and internationally. These include the entire Well-Tempered Clavier of Bach. The CD of the Inauguration (featuring his Organ Symphony) has now been released and his own solo CD of the new Klais instrument is planned for release at the 2011 NZAO Congress next June, when he will be one of the featured recitalists. His Organ Concertowas performed by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra in April and will be performed again in May 2011 by the St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra, who gave its first performance in 1996.
John Wells is the doyen of New Zealand organists and is the only such player in the history of NZ music to forge a successful freelance career.