Duncan grew up in Edinburgh. He studied piano and cello at St. Mary’s Music School, also singing as a treble in St. Mary’s Cathedral, where the training he received formed the basis for his now highly-developed musicianship. Five years spent singing seven services each week fostered his intense love for choral music. He then completed three years of high school in Maryland, US, during which he took part in the 100-strong symphony orchestra, performed onstage in My Fair Lady and in the pit for Into the Woods, and was selected for both the All-County and the All-State choirs.
In Scotland for his last year of school at Edinburgh Academy, he achieved a distinction in his ABRSM Grade 8 piano exam, was deeply involved in the school’s musical life as pianist, cellist and tenor, and won the Ernest Balfour prize for music, and the Ridland Cup for Music. While in Edinburgh he took piano lessons with Peter Evans.
In September 2007, Duncan started studying at Birmingham Conservatoire, first with Philip Martin, and later with David Quigley and Robert Birchall. He also worked with many renowned pianists such as Dr Robert Markham, John Humphreys, Jonathan French, Simon Nicholls, and Robin Bowman. From the beginning of his time in Birmingham, Duncan played for instrumental and vocal classes at the Conservatoire. He accompanied singers in two competitions, the English Song prize and the Lieder prize, reaching the final of each. He sang in the choirs of both Cathedrals in Birmingham, and sang with both chamber choirs at the Conservatoire.
Duncan started his Master’s degree in accompaniment at the Royal College of Music in September, studying with Kathron Sturrock. He has performed in many chamber and orchestral concerts within the RCM. In January 2015 he accompanied an oboe recital with music by Schumann, Ravel, and Vaughan Williams at St. Stephen’s Church, Gloucester Road.
During 2012, Duncan took part in many successful projects. At St. Philip’s Cathedral, with fellow student Rob Jenkins, he performed The Nailmaker, a song cycle composed by Robin Grant. This piece involved many extended techniques, as well as singing by the pianist. He accompanied postgraduate flautist Evelyn Liao for her final recital, including Chant de Linos by André Jolivet, a notoriously difficult transcription from the original chamber instrumentation. Duncan also accompanied baritone Themba Mvula and cellist James Douglas in a recital in St. Andrew’s Church, Handsworth. Duncan has worked with many choirs as an accompanist. He was the official accompanist on piano and organ for two local choirs, the Hampton Singers, and the Half Circle singers. He now accompanies the Collis Choral Singers, based in Teddington.
Duncan’s sympathetic accompaniment skills are rooted in his experience in ensembles. From 2009 to 2012 Duncan worked with Chi Hoe Mak in the Icarus Ensemble, a vocal group created to perform new works by student composers including performance art. The music performed by Icarus often stretched the members to the limits of their ability, requiring an extremely keen sense of pitch; at times, the compositions pushed the performers out of their comfort zones. This ensemble performed at the 2010 Sounds New Contemporary Music Festival in Canterbury, in Walsall Art Gallery, and the Royal Northern College of Music, and premiered many new works.
In October 2012, Duncan made his solo singing debut at St. Martin in the Bullring, performing Schumann’s song cycle Dichterliebe, and again in St. Andrew’s Church, Rugby. At the time he was studying with Julian Pike, head of the Vocal Department at the Conservatoire. With experience of singing in a wide range of styles, Duncan always enjoys discovering new repertoire. He joined a lutenist and a soprano to sing some songs by Landini in an early music concert at Birmingham Conservatoire. As a member of the Beorma Ensemble, he sang in a concert of Russian choral music at St. Chad’s Cathedral, including works by Chesnokov, Tchaikovsky, and Grechaninov.
A Year of Music in Edinburgh
Between Birmingham and his Master’s at the RCM, Duncan lived in Edinburgh. He spent the year working as the Director of Music and Organist at St. Ninian’s Episcopal Church. He performed a solo lunchtime recital in St. Mary’s Cathedral in the 2013 Fringe Festival, including sonatas by Beethoven and Berg. He played in the Edinburgh University String Orchestra for two of their concerts, and performed Mendelssohn’s second string quartet with other university students. He organised a concert of Liszt’s monumental piano cycle Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses at St. John’s Church, Princes Street, performing it from memory. He started singing with vocal octet Octavoce in June, 2014, performing in Loretto Senior School and the Central Library, and recording a CD. In August, Duncan accompanied soprano Ruth Hopkins in a lunchtime recital in St. Giles Cathedral performing Tippett’s notoriously difficult song cycle The Heart’s Assurance.