Obituary: Joan Alexander, soprano

Joan Alexander, soprano. Born: 1 December, 1912, in Glasgow. Died: 25 December, 2010 in Glasgow, aged 98.

In the immediate post-war years, Joan Alexander was the soprano of choice for many important concerts under the leading conductors of the day, both in Scotland and London. She often sang on the Third Programme (now BBC Radio 3) and was involved in many world premieres.

She appeared in concerts with the Scottish National Orchestra, gave recitals with Sir Alexander Gibson and with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Ian Whyte and appeared seven times at the Edinburgh International Festival, making her debut at the second one in 1948 with a concert in the Freemasons Hall. She premiered on that occasion new songs by various Scottish composers and demonstrated throughout her career an ability to sing less well-known and challenging contemporary music with much vocal finesse.

Alexander attended Hyndland School in Glasgow with her sister Mary, who also showed talent as a singer. Joan, however, went on to study at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, where she studied the piano and began intensive vocal classes.

In 1943, she won a scholarship to further her piano studies at the Munich Conservatoire. She concentrated on her music and tried not to get involved in the political unrest so prevalent in the city at that time - Hitler held many of his Nazi rallies in the city. "I remember always being glad to get out of the city when the huge Nazi rallies were taking place" she recalled years later. "I hated the look and sound of those rallies."

While in Munich, Alexander often accompanied fellow students at recitals. When one didn't appear, she gave the recital herself and enjoyed such a success that she decided to make singing her career. In the post-war years Alexander cemented her reputation as one of the country's leading sopranos. This was evidenced by her many acclaimed performances at thefestival.

In 1951, she joined a group of Scottish singers for a concert entitled Folk Music from Scotland, and in the same year, she performed on the Fringe with the Glasgow Grand Opera Society the seldom heard Jeanie Deans by Hamish MacCunn.

The following year, she gave a recital of music ranging from traditional Viennese lieder to contemporary songs. In 1953, she sang under Sir Malcolm Sargent in the first performance in Scotland of Vaughan Williams' seventh symphony - the Sinfonia Antarctica. In 1956, she returned, accompanied by Ernest Lush, for a recital of songs by Brahms and Schubert. For her last appearance at the festival in 1959, Alexander joined several distinguished Scottish singers and actors for a late-night show in the Lyceum Theatre devoted to the works of Robert Burns.

She gave many distinguished concerts at the Proms in London.Her first was in 1947 with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Sir Adrian Boult singing - to much critical acclaim - the hugely challenging Alban Berg's Three Fragments from Wozzeck. As if to demonstrate her versatility, in 1951 she sang the taxing bel canto aria Casta Diva from Bellini's Norma.

Several Proms followed under Sargent, culminating in 1953 when she sang a memorable account of Schubert's Shepherd on the Rock.

Alexander often championed new music by Scottish composers, giving many performances of songs by Robin Orr.

Thea Musgrave dedicated to her the song-cycle Bairnsangs, which was set to a text by Maurice Lindsay and first sung in Braemar in 1953 with Alexander and Ailie Cullen as the soloists.

Alexander first sang with the SNO in 1956 in a performance of Mozart's Mass in C in St Andrew's Hall, Glasgow and three years later at the Queen's Hall, Dunoon, when she performed a wide selection of operatic arias.

Towards the end of her career, she returned to the RSAMD to give classes in the singing and history of Scots songs. She also advised on the careers of many of the students, including such future stars as the Glasgow-born soprano Marie McLaughlin, who has sung in all the leading opera houses of the world.

Alexander was made a Fellow of the Academy in 1977 and the following year received an honorary Doctorate of Music from Glasgow University, where she often gave popular lunchtime recitals. Many of her former pupils gathered at Glasgow's City Chambers in 1992 on the occasion of her 80th birthday to celebrate her remarkable career in an evening of songs.

She continued teaching into her eighties and was a keen golfer and passionate gardener. She devoted much time and energy to helping the Soroptimist organisation and was president of the Glasgow branch in its centenary year. Away from the concert platform and studio, Alexander was married to James Christie, who had been headmaster of Knightswood School in Glasgow. He and their son Alan predeceased her and Joan Alexander is survived by their daughter Eleanor.