English organist 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. Beside introducing and championing many new church compositions by British composers, particularly John Tavener and Jonathan Harvey, he has also been an exponent of the works of Olivier Messiaen. Neary has been active as an organ recitalist and choral conductor throughout Europe and the United States, appearing at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Royal Festival Hall, the BBC Proms, and other major concert venues. Neary has a considerable discography spread over a variety of labels, including Sony Classical, EMI, ASV, and Gaudeamus.
Martin Neary was born in London on March 28, 1940. 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, organist André Marchal, and conductors Adrian Boult and Erich Leinsdorf.
Neary first captured attention when he was awarded a prize at the 1963 St. Albans International Organ Festival. In 1965 he began a six-year stint at St. Margaret's, Westminster, as organist and choirmaster. From 1972-1987 he served as organist and master of the choristers at Winchester Cathedral and held the same post at Westminster Abbey from 1988-1999.
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. A year later he appeared on two BBC television programs leading live performances to mark the tercentenary of Purcell's death.
Neary is most remembered by large segments of the British public for his work in selecting and directing the music at the 1997 funeral of Princess Diana. After leaving his Westminster post, Neary continued to make frequent concert appearances as a freelance artist. While he has composed church music, it is not frequently encountered, even though some of his works have received major attention (i.e., at the 2002 Festival of Church Music in Tucson, AZ). As suggested earlier, Neary has led or participated in many highly praised recordings, among them the Fauré Requiem, Poulenc's Mass, and Duruflé's Two Motets, reissued on EMI Classics in 2007.