Mark Armstrong is one of Ireland’s most accomplished and versatile musicians. A love of choral music commenced at an early age as a boy chorister and developed through his years in Trinity College Dublin where he was invited to direct the College Singers, a sixteen voice chamber choir and Musica Sacra, a choral group specialising in works of the high Baroque. Mark is also an accomplished arranger for choir, wind band and orchestra, an award-winning published composer of choral music and producer of recordings for many of Ireland’s foremost artists.
Guest conducting engagements have included concert performances and recordings with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, RTÉ Concert Orchestra, Irish Chamber Orchestra, Opera Theatre Company, Irish Film Orchestra, RTÉ Chamber Choir, RTE Philharmonic Choir, National Chamber Choir, and RTÉ Cór na nÓg. Mark has been musical director of both Dún Laoghaire Choral Society and Tallaght Choral Society and has conducted collaborative concert performances with the Liverpool Welsh Choral Union and the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union. He has been a board member of the Association of Irish Choirs and has acted as conducting tutor on conducting courses run by AOIC.
Mark currently holds the appointment of Director of the Defence Forces School of Music in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel with responsibility for the administration, policy, planning, programming and musical direction of Ireland’s military bands. In 2014 he conducted a highly acclaimed performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana in an arrangement for choir and wind band at the Gala Opening concert of the Cork International Choral Festival featuring bands of the Defence Forces. Mark was delighted to have been invited back to Cork as an International adjudicator in this year’s Festival.
Mervyn Cousins was a Cathedral Chorister at Southwell in Nottinghamshire. He read for a Music Degree at Royal Holloway College, University of London, and was Organ Scholar there. He was a prizewinner both at University and at Royal College of Organists examinations. After posts in London, at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street and St James’, Sussex Gardens, Mervyn was appointed as Assistant Director of Music at St Edmundsbury Cathedral in 1987. He became Director of Music there in 1993 and was also Chorus Master of the Bury St Edmunds Festival Chorus. Mervyn was Director of Music at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral from 1997 until 2003, and he was also Organist to the University of Liverpool during this time. He has directed choirs and given recitals in many parts of the world as well as adjudicating at festivals in several countries.
He moved to Wales as Music Director of the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in September 2003, becoming its Executive Director in 2008. Mervyn moved from the festival in 2011, combining work for Mid Wales Opera with ABRSM examining at home and abroad. He also returns to Merseyside regularly to promote singing in primary schools. In November 2015 he was appointed as ABRSM’s Deputy Chief Examiner, working partly from the music exam board’s headquarters in London. His other interests include walking and bird-watching. He is married to Margaret, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Chester University (herself a professional singer); they live on the border of Wales and England with their three-legged cat Missie!
Maria Gamborg Helbekkmo is professor emeritus at Bergen University College, where her main subjects were choir conducting, piano and solo voice. For a number of years she was teaching ear-training as a guest-professor at The Royal Academy of Music in Oslo. She has given masterclasses in several countries, among those Canada, South-Korea, Germany and USA as well as Scandinavia.
Educated as a pianist, singer and conductor, she has gained wide recognition as a musician and teacher, and is especially known for her work with Bergen Symphony Choir and the female choir Voci Nobili. Her determination, combined with her artistic abilities and her unique musical ambience resulted in 11 International first prizes with Voci Nobili.
In 2005 she was given the Norwegian Choral Association’s annual prize with Voci Nobili; she is a member of honor in Fonoko (Norwegian Conductor’s Society), and in 2006 she was awarded H.M. The King’s Medal of Merit in Gold for her educational and artistic contribution to Norwegian music.
Zoltán Pad studied with Péter Erdei in Budapest and Michael Gläser in Munich. Teaching choir conducting at the Liszt Academy’s Kodály Institute since 2005, Zoltán won many awards during his career, including the Audience Award and a Special Prize at the 4th International Competition for Young Conductors organised by Europa Cantat. He finished his doctoral studies in 2011 with summa cum laude.
Between 2009 and 2014, Zoltán Pad was chief conductor of the Kodály Choir Debrecen, one of the few professional choirs in Hungary, and conducted over 130 concerts with them in Europe. Under his direction, the Kodály Choir was awarded Prima Award. Zoltán was also a member of the Artistic Board of Béla Bartók International Choir Competition, even assuming the role of Artistic Director of the contest in 2013 and 2014.
Since 2014, Zoltán is chief conductor of the Hungarian Radio Choir. In July 2017, Zoltán was conductor of the World Youth Choir. He is a returning jury member at international choir and conductor competitions and is a regularly invited guest at music workshops and conducting master courses worldwide.
Born in a family for which music was an important part of life, Jean-Claude Wilkens studied music as well as mathematics in Liège Royal Conservatory both in Belgium, and much later in the Luxemburg Conservatory in the choir conducting class of Pierre Cao. He has also attended choir conducting workshops, where he could listen to the advice of maestros such as Lucien Jean-Baptiste, Philippe Caillard, Fernando Eldoro or Eric Ericson.
His teaching career in secondary schools was diverted to that of cultural management, first in Jeunesses Musicales where he was director, and then in the International Federation for Choral Music where he was Secretary General for 20 years. He is presently Manager of the French National choral organisation and its publishing house “A Coeur Joie.”
His professional activities are closely linked with choir music and choir musicians, and therefore makes him well known on the international choral scene. Jean-Claude Wilkens was the conductor of the woman vocal ensemble Hodie in Belgium, group that has received awards and recognition all over the world. He has recently created a new vocal jazz group in Lyon, named Jazz’elles, which is already well acclaimed in France.