All posts by christinewright55

I sing in the Birmingham Festival Choral Society and help run their website.

Music for Christmas

Our Christmas concert on Sunday 5th December will be a real treat! It will include Christmas music, ranging from sacred to popular, from an adult choir, a children’s choir and a brass ensemble. It is also rumoured that a certain gentleman in red might make an appearance!

The adult choir is, of course, Birmingham Festival Choral Society, and the children’s choir is Eversfield Preparatory Singers – both led by David Wynne and accompanied by Kevin Gill. A dash of sparkle will be added by the Midland Brass Ensemble. With families in mind, the concert will start at 4.30pm and will be no longer than 75 minutes long. Christmassy refreshments will be provided after the concert.

We are looking forward to singing the lovely carol ‘From the Stable Floor’ in the presence of the local composer, EA Walker.

There will be an opportunity to donate to Zoe’s Place Baby Hospice, the very worthwhile charity chosen by the singers of Eversfield School.

The Christmas concert will also take place in a new venue – Our Lady of the Wayside Church, 566 Stratford Road, Shirley, B90 4AY. Click for map. The church is noteworthy for its architecture and works of art. Details of the church, the artworks and their symbolism can be found in this article on their website.

We look forward to sharing the best of the Christmas season with you!

BFCS performs live again!

Our Rossini concert on 30th October was a great occasion. It was wonderful to be performing live again – the first concert for 2 years.

BFCS had been ready to perform Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle in March 2020 when the pandemic caused the cancellation of the concert. We’ve been keeping it going during our Zoom rehearsals, so it was very well prepared! It was really enjoyable to sing it with such talented professionals – our soloists, Mimi Doulton, Rachel Gilmore, Ed Harrisson and Joe Kennedy, our accompanists, Ben de Souza and Kevin Gill, and our conductor, David Wynne. We were also very pleased to see so many of our friends and family in the audience.

Thank you to Alfred White for these lovely photos – a great souvenir of a wonderful evening.

Birmingham Festival Choral Society singers. Click the arrows to see all four photos.

Our loyal audience.

Introducing our talented soloists.

Birmingham Festival Choral Society’s performance of Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle on 30th October has an impressive line up of first class performers taking part! We hope that you will be able to come to hear them.

Of special note is that one of the two instruments providing the accompaniment is an accordion – not an instrument usually seen in choral society concerts. Rossini wrote the work for performance at his musical salons, accompanied by either piano and accordion, or piano and harmonium.

Ben de Souza – Accordion

Our accordion player at the concert will be Ben de Souza, one of Britain’s top young accordion players who is at the forefront of promoting the instrument in this country. Ben is a regular recitalist and has performed extensively throughout England. He is also an active chamber musician, notably with violinist Chloë Meade.

Away from performing Ben works as an accordion teacher, an accordion repairer for ZZ Music and is the leader of the Cumberland Ceilidh Band.

In addition to his work as an accordionist Ben is choir director at Clare Hall, Cambridge and also works with choirs at Finchley Children’s Music Group and the John Lewis Partnership. He holds a Masters degree in Choral Studies from Cambridge University.

Kevin Gill – Piano

Kevin Gill is a freelance musician and teacher of Piano, Organ and Music Theory in Birmingham.

Kevin has been the regular rehearsal accompanist for the Birmingham Festival Choral Society since 1998. He has accompanied concert performances for BFCS and various other choral societies in many British venues, and on BFCS tours in Europe.

Over the years, Kevin has worked with many prestigious groups, including the the CBSO, its adult and youth choruses, Birmingham Opera Company, and the BBC. He has frequently given organ recitals and Piano duet recitals in and around Birmingham.

Kevin was appointed Musical Director of Atherstone Choral Society since 2008, and regularly deputises at BFCS rehearsals when the Music Director is away. He was the conductor for the BFCS tour to Slovakia in 2010.

Mimi Doulton – Soprano

British-Pakistani soprano Mimi Doulton is fast developing a reputation as an acclaimed interpreter of contemporary opera and song. Recent engagements include her professional debut at Wigmore Hall, and creating a work by Rakhi Singh in the Royal Opera House’s digital project 8-bit. She made her professional stage debut in 2018, in Birmingham Opera Company’s world premiere of Wake directed by the late Sir Graham Vick.

Alongside her performing work, Mimi is a passionate advocate for the rights of every child to access the arts as part of their education, and is proud to be connected to the charities Action for Children’s Arts, Songbound, Eye Music Trust and Voices of London Festival.

Ed Harrisson – Tenor

Ed Harrisson has performed a varied repertoire of oratorio and full roles with opera companies and choral societies, as well as professional choral singing. His recent oratorio work includes performances of Bach’s Mass in B minor, Verdi’s Requiem and the Evangelist in Bach’s St John Passion. He has worked with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the Midland Opera Company, Birmingham Opera, Ex Cathedra, British Youth Opera and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Ed’s musical talents include conducting a local choir and orchestra, acting as music director for an amateur dramatic production, teaching double bass and music composition. He has composed choral works for Paul Spicer’s Conservatoire Chamber Choir, the Crescent Theatre and a fanfare for use at Birmingham University’s Graduation ceremonies.

Rachel Gilmore – Mezzo soprano.

Rachel Gilmore sings with English Voices and Kantos, and is a clerk at the Manchester Oratory. She has sung many roles in Britain and abroad.  Rachel’s solo oratorio performances have included Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with the Festival Ensemble Berlin; the premiere of Kleiberg’s Requiem in Leipzig’s Nikolaikirche; Haydn’s Creation with the BBC Philharmonic, Vivaldi’s Gloria with the Royal Northern Sinfonia, and Jenkin’s Mass for Peace in Mumbai, India. She also has a passion for performing contemporary works.

Rachel teaches singing to pupils of all ages and abilities in the Manchester area.

Joseph Kennedy – Bass

A prize winning graduate of Birmingham Conservatoire and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Joseph Kennedy has performed in many concerts and operas over his career.

Performance highlights include; Footman in Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier (CBSO-Symphony Hall); a live broadcast on BBC Radio 3 ‘In Tune’ singing operatic excerpts; Haydn Creation (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra). Most recently, Joseph performed in the World Premiere of Brendan Ashe’s Magnificat

Bringing the whole concert together will be David Wynne.

David has been the Music Director of Birmingham Festival Choral Society since 2017. During that time he has directed a wide range of music, from Baroque works to larger-scale
twentieth-century choral works and even to jazz. David is also the Music Director of the Warwick and Kenilworth Choral Society

As a visiting lecturer at the Royal Birmingham Junior Conservatoire, David works as choral director of the Senior Chorus and the Vocal Ensemble. He is head of choral conducting, teaches singing and musicianship, and is also vocal coordinator for the department.

Until recently David was a bass lay-clerk at St Chad’s Cathedral, and is still a regular deputy. He still runs the cathedral’s junior choir and choral outreach programme. He has worked with some of the country’s leading music education organisations, including Opera North, Welsh National Opera, the Armonico Consort, and Leicester and Leeds Cathedral’s education departments.

David is a busy freelance baritone soloist, as well as an occasional performer as a musician of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

At last – a live BFCS concert!

After a break of nearly two years, Birmingham Festival Choral Society is delighted to invite you to a live concert! On 30th October 2021 we will be performing Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle – the concert we were about to perform when everything was stopped by the pandemic.

Our venue is the Ruddock Performing Arts Centre at Kings Edward’s School, Edgbaston. The Centre is following Covid-19 protocols to provide a safe environment. Tickets will be online only, so that the spacing of the seating can be controlled.

The Petite Messe Solennelle was written for performance at one of the very popular weekly musical salons held by Rossini and his wife at their Paris home. As such, it was originally scored for a small choir, accompanied by two pianos, with harmonium or accordion. We are looking forward to singing with piano and accordion accompaniment.

Our performers:

Ben de Souza, Accordion. Kevin Gill, Piano

Mimi Doulton, Soprano. Rachel Gilmore, Mezzo-soprano

Edward Harrisson, Tenor. Joe Kennedy, Baritone

Birmingham Festival Choral Society,

David Wynne, Conductor

Rossini achieved superstar status early in life, having written over 40 operas by the age of 37. The William Tell Overture is one of the pieces for which he is best known in popular culture today. There followed a period of 25 years of ill health, during which he didn’t compose any new music.

In 1855 Rossini ‘returned to life’ on moving to Paris with his second wife, and their musical salons became internationally famous. These salons included music by many composers, and they inspired Rossini to write over 150 small works for performance by different soloists and ensembles.

The Petite Messe Solennelle was Rossini’s last major work , written in 1863. The opera composer’s beautiful melodies , colour and drama make this one of the most popular works in the choral repertoire. We love singing it, and we’re sure that you will enjoy listening to it too!

BFCS virtual double choir sings Rheinberger’s Kyrie.

Click above to listen to BFCS singing Rheinberger’s Kyrie .

We hope that you will enjoy listening to the beautiful Kyrie by Josef Gabriel Rheinberger, sung by the Birmingham Festival Choral Society virtual double choir.

The Kyrie is the first movement of Rheinberger’s most famous choral work, the Mass for double choir in E flat, (Cantus Missae) Op 109. Written in 1878, it recalls the old compositional style of alternating unaccompanied choirs , as used in late Renaissance Venice. Listening through stereo headphones is the best way to appreciate the full double choir effect .

Music Director: David Wynne

Rehearsal accompanist: Kevin Gill

Video Editor: Michael Cullen

Audio Editor: Gareth Howell

View from the lantern, Ely Cathedral.

Ring the Bells

Ring the Bells.

We hope that you will enjoy the images and music on this recording of Paul Fincham’s ‘Ring the Bells’, from the BFCS virtual choir. Hear the swinging bells in the different voice parts!

The composer wrote this Christmas piece in 2019 to raise money for ‘Crisis’, the charity for homeless people. Birmingham Festival Choral Society sang it at last year’s Crisis Carol Service in St Martin’s in the Bull Ring, and this year we’ve sent them this recording for their use.

“Ring the Bells for Christmas”!

Virtual BFCS sings Faure’s Cantique

Birmingham Festival Choral Society is pleased to present our recording of the beautiful ‘Cantique de Jean Racine’, by Gabriel Faure.

This composition won the 19 year old Faure first prize in a competition at his school of Church music in Paris, in 1865. The French text, “Verbe égal au Très-Haut” (Word, one with the Highest), was written by Jean Racine in 1688.

We hope that you will enjoy the Paris connection through images of the medieval stained glass in Sainte Chapelle.

This virtual performance was put together by Gareth Howell, using individual recordings sent from home by our singers. We look forward to a time when the pandemic is over and we can sing together in real life.

Wikipedia photo credits: Sam67Fr, Javi Masa, Oldmanisold, Grunt XIII.

Singing in Virtual Harmony

Did you see the article about our online rehearsing and performing in the Birmingham Post yesterday? We were very pleased to have such a big spread in the paper to show how BFCS has been responding to the challenges of the lockdown. Mary Keating, the author and BFCS soprano, has provided the text below to enable you to read it easily online.

Carry on singing –

Birmingham prides itself on being a cultural oasis so it is tragic that theatre and live music have been so badly affected by Covid-19 with no end yet in sight. What has been overlooked, in the concern over the continuation of professional performances, are the consequences for the many community choirs across the city who support and give purpose to so many lives.

The Birmingham Festival Choral Society (BFCS) is one such choir and it is special because it is the oldest choir still operating in Birmingham. Founded in 1845, this year marks the 175th anniversary.  Having weathered many historical upheavals, will this be the final curtain?

 Music Director, David Wynne, is determined that this will not be the case. The choir continues to sing and has even produced a performance recording of Mozart’s Ave Verum that can be seen on the BFCS website.   While concern about infection remains so high the intention is to continue producing these performance recordings. Indeed there is an ambitious plan to produce a concert recording.

The experience of managing Zoom rehearsals is far from simple, as other choirs will confirm. The BFCS is not only the oldest choir, it is also a very large choir. For normal rehearsals and performances choir numbers are around eighty.  Imagine that number of people singing together via varying internet speeds – what a cacophony, certainly not up to the usual high standards. To manage this issue David developed an ingenious way of conducting the rehearsals and supporting each choir member to learn their parts.

One of the first things David recognised was that without the opportunity to sing together in parts and as a whole it is a strange and isolating experience for the performer and the conductor.  So much of what singers and conductors do is reliant on hearing each other. How to replicate this was the question.  Usually rehearsal recordings only have the music for each individual part, so this does not address the issue of singing in isolation.  Instead David produced recordings with all the voice parts singing but weighted in favour of each part.  As a Soprano you can listen and sing with the Soprano weighted part, and you are also singing with the rest of the choir.

 As David commented this was a huge learning curve. He had never heard of Zoom and certainly never done any audio and video editing.  Initially he sang all the male parts but what of the alto and soprano? Luckily for the choir David’s wife, Alexandra, is a professional soprano. Where the tenor part became too high even for David he managed to persuade Edward Harrison to lend his voice.

The innovation did not stop there. When it became clear that conducting live suffered from the same internet delays, the audio rehearsal recordings became videos with David conducting.

The danger for all choirs currently is that members are lost. So far the vast majority of BFCS have taken part in the Zoom rehearsals and over forty contributed to the performance recording. Initial anxiety about the technology putting many people off has not been realised.

Research on the possible dangers of spreading the virus through singing continues. Although anecdotal, there is no firm evidence that singing of itself spreads the virus through airborne transmission. Even with or without that evidence the confidence of choir members to return is doubtful.  So what does the future hold for the BFCS and others like it?  David feels that much has been learned in a very short time about how technology can support the choir to continue to work towards performance standards, albeit virtual. 

Beyond Covid many of these developments, spearheaded by David, can continue. Producing the rehearsal recordings can be maintained. These can support all the choir to work on their own to improve their practice. For those less confident about their singing and sight reading they would be invaluable as a way of encouraging a wider membership and greater inclusivity.  Importantly for a community choir, those housebound members who have been singing with the choir for years will be able to continue to enjoy singing with us.

BFCS has withstood many historical upheavals. Its future after the First World War and the 1918 flu epidemic looked very shaky. Choir members dropped to critical levels and finding male voices was understandably very difficult. Nevertheless, the choir has faced many upheavals risen to the challenges and deserves its current reputation as one of the best choral societies in Birmingham.  Covid-19, tragic as it is, holds the opportunity to improve the quality and inclusivity of the choir that prides itself on being the “friendly choir”.

If you are interested in finding out more about the BFCS or joining us, visit the website and look out for the next sets of performance recordings that show that the choir remains a vibrant entity.

Mary Keating

Our first virtual performance !

We hope that you will enjoy our performance of Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, recorded individually in our own homes, and brought together with some digital magic.

Click the symbol in the bottom right corner to make the video fill the full screen.

Our last concert was in November, when we sang Handel’s Messiah to a packed audience in St Alban’s Church. The beginning of the concert was delayed while our front of house team ran around trying to find extra chairs and spaces to fit in the people who were still arriving. Who could imagine that now!

We had great plans for 2020, our 175th Anniversary, but the Covid-19 Pandemic put an end to all of that. But nothing will stop Birmingham Festival Choral Society singing, so we are proud to present our first Virtual Choir Performance to you.

Many thanks to David Wynne for leading us through this process, to Kevin Gill the accompanist, the BFCS singers who overcame the technological obstacles to make their recordings, and to Gareth Howell for putting it all together.