The English choral conductor and organist, Martin Neary, was in his youth he was a chorister at the Chapel Royal and later studied organ and theology at Cambridge University (Gonville and Caius Colleges). Among his most important teachers were organist/conductor Geraint Jones and conductor Adrian Boult. He later studied conducting at Tanglewood under Erich Leinsdorf, and organ with André Marchal in Paris. He first captured attention when he was awarded a prize at the 1963 St. Albans International Organ Festival.
In 1965 Martin Neary began a six-year stint at St. Margaret's, Westminster, as organist and choirmaster. From 1972 to 1987 he served as Organist and Master of the Choristers at Winchester Cathedral and held the same post at Westminster Abbey from 1988 to 1999. By the time he took his post at Westminster Abbey, Neary was recognized as one of England's finest organists and choral conductors. In 1994 Neary led the Westminster Abbey Choir in concert at the Kremlin, becoming the first foreign ensemble to perform there.
Martin Neary has developed a reputation both as a leading exponent of contemporary British church music and as an imaginative interpreter of keyboard works by J.S. Bach and Purcell. In 1978 Neary directed the first complete performance in England of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) with period instruments. In 1995, apart from conducting two televised programs marking the tercentenary of the death of Henry Purcell, his CD with the Westminster Abbey Choir and the New London Consort, Music for Queen Mary, was nominated for a Grammy. Neary is particularly associated with contemporar British composers Jonathan Harvey and John Tavener, with over thirty commissions and premieres. Among them was Harvey’s church opera, Passion and Resurrection, which he has also recorded, and Tavener’s seven-hour long Veil of the Temple, which he conducted at the 2005 Holland Festival. Neary has also been an exponent of the works of Olivier Messiaen.
As the organist at Westminster Abbey, Martin Neary was the musical director of the 1997 funeral service for Diana, Princess of Wales, an event for which he is most remembered by large segments of the British public. He has been particularly active in the promotion of the music of John Tavener, whose "Song for Athene" was performed by the choir of the Abbey as Diana's coffin was borne out by the pallbearers.
On April 22, 1998, The Dean of Westminster Abbey, the Very Rev Dr Wesley Carr, dismissed Martin Neary from his position at Westminster Abbey on the grounds of gross misconduct. Neary petitioned Her Majesty The Queen, as Visitor of the Abbey, to resolve the dispute. The Queen appointed Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle to be her Commissioner, and he determined that the summary dismissal was justified. The report also stated that Dr Neary’s well recognised musical abilities and the hard work which he and Mrs Neary had done on behalf of the Abbey and the choir were not in question.
After leaving his Westminster post, Martin Neary has continued his career as organist, guest conductor, occasional composer, and writer. While he has composed church music, it is not frequently encountered, even though some of his works have received major attention. He has been active as an organ recitalist and choral conductor throughout Europe and the USA. As organist, he has also programmed many new works, not least in his recitals at the Royal Festival Hall in London. He is the only second person to have been elected twice as president of the Royal College of Organists. He has performed several times at the BBC proms, including directing the Bach Magnificat (BWV 243), a Benjamin Britten program, and he was the organ soloist on the first night of the 2004 season, playing J.S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor.
Martin Neary is a frequent visitor to the USA; with the Winchester Cathedral Choir he appeared at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, and with the Westminster Abbey Choir at Alice Tully Hall. In 1984 he spent a semester at UC Davis as artist-in-residence, during which time he led the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Chorus in a performance of George Frideric Handel’s Dixit Dominus. Neary’s works were performed at the 2002 Festival of Church Music in Tucson, Arizona. He is currently in California for performances in Los Angeles and San Diego, marking the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart.
Martin Neary has led or participated in many highly praised recordings, among them Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem, Francis Poulenc's Mass, and Maurice Duruflé's Two Motets, reissued on EMI Classics in 2007. His considerable discography is spread over a variety of labels, including Sony Classical, EMI, ASV, and Gaudeamus.
Martin Neary has received numerous awards. Among them are an honorary doctorate of music from the University of Southampton, and his appointment as Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order (LVO) by the Queen, in recognition of his services for choosing and directing the music at the funeral of Princess Diana.