Mr Graham R Clark

Chancellor, Honoured Guests, Graduands, Ladies and Gentlemen

The New Oxford Dictionary notes that the word "University" originates from the Latin "Universum" meaning "combined into one". This Universal mission of a University is an important one, even in these days of commercial pressure and rising fees. A University worthy of its name must endeavour to provide experiences for its students beyond their narrow specialisms. Thus Loughborough University, with its heavy emphasis on Engineering and Sport, still supports musical activity and encourages promising musicians to continue their studies, even though there is no Department of Music here.

Extra-curricular activities are supported because students often learn much about life from just being at University, experiences which may influence their futures. Graham Clark, whom we honour to-day, is an example of a Loughborough student whose side interests at University eventually defined his professional career, a career very different from the subjects he originally studied here.

Graham Ronald Clark was born in Preston, Lancashire. He attended Kirkham Grammar School where he was Captain of Harriers, Captain of School and won prizes for Rugby and Athletics. In 1961 he came to Loughborough College of Education, where, in 1964, he obtained a Loughborough Colleges Diploma, and a Distinction in Physical Education. He was Vice President of the Union, Chair of the Sports Committee, a keen Rugby player, and won the Sibley Prize for Sport. A successful career in Sports Education seemed assured.

In parallel with these sporting achievements, Graham discovered, however, that he also had a talent for singing. At school, he was Secretary of the Music Society, and at Loughborough he formed and developed a Male Voice Choir. He discovered at this time that he was almost unique in the known Universe — he was a Rugby Player who could sing — in tune.

We can imagine him, in Quorn Hall where he resided, honing and developing his distinctive voice. Great tenor arias would ring out late into the evening, and we can imagine his fellow students instinctively understanding the true meaning of such great arias as Nessun Dorma — "no man shall sleep".

On leaving Loughborough he entered teaching. However, in 1969 he returned to Loughborough University of Technology to read a Masters degree in Recreational Management. With this degree he was appointed, in 1970, Senior Regional Officer with The Sports Council. All his spare time, however, was spent in singing. He would perform in amateur performances and at large choir festivals throughout the country.

In 1974, he sought professional advice on the potential of his singing voice. He approached Tom Hammond, Music Consultant at Sadlers Wells, and asked him if singing lessons would improve his voice. Hammond replied, "Why not, you are doing everything wrong at the moment, so you can’t possibly lose." He took singing lessons in parallel with his post at the Sports Council, and by 1975 he decided to risk a professional singing career. The Sports Council far-sightedly gave him a one year sabbatical.

The rest is almost a fairy tale. In 1975, he was appointed principal in the Scottish Opera, and between 1977 and 1985 was principal with the English National Opera, undertaking many leading tenor roles. In 1985, he became a Freelance Tenor.

Fame and a rich variety of roles rapidly followed. He has undertaken such diverse and difficult roles as Loge and Mime in Wagner’s Ring, Herodes in Strauss’s Salome, Alexei in Prokofiev’s The Gambler, Captain Vere in Britten’s Billy Budd, Gregor in Janacek’s The Macro-pulos Case, and Hauptman in Berg’s Wozzek.

He has appeared at all the major Opera Houses since 1984 — including Royal Opera House Covent Garden, The Met in New York, Vienna, Munich, Hamburg, Salzburg, Berlin, Paris, Madrid, San Francisco, Rome, and Chicago.

Nominated three times for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Opera, he was nominated in 1983 by the Society of West End Theatre. In 1986 he was nominated for, and was awarded, the Lawrence Oliver Award for his role as Mephistopheles in Dr Faustus. In 1993 he was nominated for an American EMMY award.

It is difficult to give justice to his huge and diverse output. When I met Graham in London recently, he told me that he had taken part in 860 operatic performances. Last week he wrote to me pointing out he had made an error. The total number of performances was not 860 — it was 859. He wrote, "I hope the Physicist in you is impressed with my precision!" Impressed? I had to tear up my speech and start again! Of these performances, he has taken part in 179 productions of the Ring, many at Bayreuth.

He has performed in Oratorios and Symphonies — Beethoven’s Ninth, Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass, Handel’s Messiah, Verdi’s Requiem, Stravinsky’s Les Noces and Schonberg’s Gurrelieder. He has many recordings and videos.

Graham Clark has come a long way since, as a sideline he built a male voice choir at Loughborough. His plans in the near future include Berg’s Lulu in Paris…and more.

Chancellor, I began emphasising the importance of the university’s support for extra-subject activities such as its musical activities, as part of its "universal" mission. Graham Ronald Clark is an example of why such efforts are so important.

Chancellor, it is an honour and a privilege to present to you Graham Ronald Clark for the degree of Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa, in recognition of his international career in opera.

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