Messiah – our professional performers.

We are delighted to to tell you about the top class soloists and baroque orchestra who will be performing ‘Messiah’ with us on 16th November! The concert will take place in the gothic church of St Alban the Martyr, Highgate, Birmingham, known for its beautiful acoustics.

THE BAROQUE ORCHESTRA

The Musical and Amicable Society society last performed with Birmingham Festival Choral Society in Bach’s St John Passion, in 2018. They are a collective of professional period-instrument specialists, performing in combinations ranging from small ensembles to full orchestra all over the country. Their presence will add a touch of Baroque magic to our performance!

Penelope Appleyard , Soprano.

Known for her clear and agile voice, Penelope Appleyard enjoys a busy freelance career as a soloist and ensemble singer, predominantly in the field of early music.

Penelope studied with Christine Cairns and Andrew King at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and in 2019 was awarded Honorary Membership of the Conservatoire for notable success since graduation. She has performed and recorded throughout the UK and internationally.

Xavier Hetherington, Tenor.

After graduating from St John’s College, Cambridge, and a brief period of study in Moscow, Xavier returned to the UK to study privately with Christine Cairns. He won a prestigious scholarshiop to the Royal College of Music, London, where he learns with Russell Smythe.

As a concert soloist Xavier has sung in Cathedrals and churches throughout England and in halls such as St John’s Smith Square and Wigmore Hall. He supported by Opera Prelude and has taken part in Operas in many places including the Royal College of Music, Dartington Festival and in the chorus at Glyndebourne.

Phillipa Thomas, Mezzo.

Phillipa Thomas began her studies at the University of York, where she was awarded the Concerto Prize, before continuing to further success, winning first place in the Birmingham Conservatoire Singing Prize. Since then, she has performed many operatic roles.

On the oratorio platform, Phillipa has been fortunate to work as a soloist with renowned choral societies and orchestras across the UK. Her extensive knowledge of and passion for sacred music has led to frequent performances of works from a variety of periods.

Phillipa has also recorded numerous oratorio solos as part of a project with the professional ensemble Blossom Street Singers. Phillipa is currently working at Oper Köln in their production of Brett Dean’s Hamlet and future projects include a follow-up album to the widely acclaimed Blossom Street recording, This Day.

James Willams, Baritone.

James Williams studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London, during which time he received training from eminent figures, such as Richard Bonynge, Simon Keenlyside and John Shirley-Quirk. Since graduating, he has enjoyed an active performing career throughout the UK, Europe and Asia.

James served as Musical Director for Brent Opera during their productions of Macbeth, Martha, and Nabucco, while having worked as a répétiteur for various London-based opera companies. As a composer, he recently witnessed the premiere of his Mass for St. Helen, as well as his commemorative cycle of war songs for baritone and piano, performed to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armistice.

Handel’s MESSIAH

Saturday 16 November 2019, 7.30pm

Church of St Alban the Martyr, Stanhope St, Birmingham B12 0YF

Our 2019/20 programme – save the dates!

We are delighted to present the flyers for our four main concerts in the 2019/20 season. They cover a wide range of choral music, including works by the Baroque composer, Handel, the 19th Century Operatic composer, Rossini and 20th and 21st century composers inspired by Jazz and Blues.

Make sure that you save the dates – not forgetting the very popular Christmas concert.

Whether singing or listening, we hope that you will enjoy them all!

Walking for Alan.

UPDATE: They did it! The sponsored walk to raise money in memory of Alan Clawley took place on Saturday 5th October. To date, about £1700 has been raised. Scroll down to read all about it!

Barry, one of our tenors, is doing a sponsored walk on Saturday 5th October in memory of our friend and fellow tenor Alan Clawley, who died in April 2018. The money raised will be split 50/50 between the Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue CIO, a charity supported by Alan, his widow Hazel and family, and Birmingham Festival Choral Society, of which both Hazel and Alan have been longstanding members. Click here if you would like to donate.

Alan was an architect who was a passionate champion of Birmingham’s post-war architecture. As a Green Party activist he wanted to see buildings reused in a sustainable way rather than cast aside. He was very active in the community, and was described as ‘a “quiet colossus”; a thoroughly dependable man, the sort of person who just took care of the things that others wouldn’t volunteer for’.

 Read the full Birmingham Live tribute to Alan here.

Barry’s Walk will take place on Saturday 5 October and is about 15 miles. He will be joined by a number of fellow singers. They plan to walk to venues in Birmingham where our choir has performed. They’ll start at Grand Central Station, then to Carrs Lane Church, St Martin’s in the Bull Ring, St Alban’s Highgate, Trefoil House, St George’s Edgbaston, Edgbaston High School, King Edward’s School, Bramall Music Building at Birmingham University, Lordswood Girls School Harborne, St Augustine’s Edgbaston, The Oratory, Ladywood ARC, St Paul’s in the Jewellery Quarter, St Philip’s Cathedral and back to Grand Central. Please support Barry and his friends and know that your donation will be split equally between two worthwhile, but very different charities

If you would prefer to give in cash, rather than donating online, please speak to a choir member, or E mail fundraising@bfcs.org.

Join us for a year of choral contrasts!

September is nearly here, and that means that we’ll be singing together again! If you’re considering joining a choral society like ours, why not come along and give us a try at our Open Rehearsals on the 4th and 11th September? All new singers will be given a warm welcome, and will be introduced to others of the same voice part to guide them through the rehearsal. David Wynne, our Music Director, has the magic talent of bringing the best out of the choir with lots of humour on the way.

Details of our rehearsals, subs, voice test and expression of interest form can be found on our ‘Join our Choir’ page here.

The programme this year is very varied, ranging from the choral favourite’ Messiah’ in an Anglo Catholic church renowned for its acoustics, to a summer concert of choral jazz and blues in an informal setting. Come along and share these wonderful choral experiences with us!

Bucharest Memories – singing with Cor cu Dor.

We are pleased to share some of the lovely photos and videos from our concert with the excellent Cor cu Dor youth choir during our Romania Choir tour. 29th May 2019.

An account of that day can be found in our tour blog: ‘Singing for all ages in Bucharest.’

The concert took place at the Music University in Bucharest. As we arrived for our rehearsal, graduation ceremonies were just coming to an end.

[Where you see dots below the picture, please click the arrows to see the full slide show.]

BFCS singers gathering in the auditorium:

Cor cu Dor sang in the first half of the concert, including an excellent performance of Bohemian Rhapsody and many other songs in English (from memory too!).

The two choirs came together to perform a Romanian folk song. We were glad that Cor cu Dor were able to keep up with the Romanian words at that pace – we couldn’t!

In the second half BFCS performed a programme of folk songs from the British Isles, music by English composers and choral classics. Alexandra Wynne was our soprano soloist, Kevin Gill our accompanist, and David Wynne our music director.

Taking the applause.

One member of the youth choir said “I hope that I can sing as well as you when I am old” (!)

Here’s the last verse of the lovely setting of Irish Blessing by Bob Chilcott, sung as an encore.

Many thanks to our photographers Alfred White and Marilyn Kent, for taking the photographs in such difficult conditions of extreme light and dark. Thanks also to Marilyn and Sandra Smith for the videos. We are grateful to Cor cu Dor for giving permission to use the photographs taken by their photographer Andra Aron.

English music in an English market town.

St Mary’s Church, Warwick.

Our summer concert of English choral music was held in the historic Collegiate church of St Mary, Warwick last Saturday, 6th July. It was a special day out for our singers and supporters, and it also introduced the choir to a new audience in Warwickshire.

The rehearsal gave us the chance to get used to singing in that big, airy space, accompanied by the grand piano, or the magnificent organ. Our gentlemen stood in the church’s semicircular choir stalls, and the sopranos and altos filled in the semicircle in front of the stalls.

BFCS rehearsal, in front of the large stained glass window.
Our basses standing in the curved choir stalls
View from the back of the choir, towards the golden organ pipes.
Kevin Gill at the organ console.
Choir and conductor in informal clothes, singing ‘Blest Pair of Sirens’.

The break between rehearsal and concert gave some the chance to explore the medieval Beauchamp chapel, with the magnificent tombs of three Earls.

The concert showed the full range of English choral music, from the purity of Stanford’s Blue Bird and folk song arrangements with piano, to the grand sound of Parry and Elgar with full choir and organ.

We sang music written by Tallis in the 16th Century and Purcell in the 17th century, right through to Bob Chilcott’s 21st century pieces.

Elgar’s Songs from the Bavarian Highlands showed a lighter side to the composer we thought we knew so well. A holiday souvenir with a difference!

Solo verses in the folk songs were sung by Mitch Holland and David Wynne, and Kevin Gill treated us to an organ solo: Stanford’s Postlude in D minor.

Finally, we sang Chilcott’s Irish Blessing as an encore. Singing it from memory made it feel extra special – a fitting end to our 2018/19 BFCS season.

BFCS in black, singing in front of the large stained glass window.
Kevin Gill at the piano, with the sopranos singing behind.
Sopranos and tenors.
Altos and basses.
View from behind the choir.
View of the choir and audience, from the back of the church.

Thanks to Peter Wright for the photographs of the choir.

Romania tour – looking back.

We’d like to share with you some of the photos and videos that are coming though from our tour to Romania, particularly for those who have not been able to see the posts on our social media accounts. This blog just covers our first , very busy, day in Bucharest:

Birmingham Festival Choral Society announced its presence in Bucharest by doing a ‘Flash mob’ rendition of Vivaldi’s Gloria in the big bookshop Carturesti Carusel! We were delighted with this high quality video , sent to us by our Romanian hosts.

Carturesti Carusel bookshop.

Following the flash mob, we gathered on the stairs and gave a 20 minute performance, which was shown live on the bookshop’s Facebook page.

BFCS perform in the Carturesti Carusel bookshop, Bucharest

Our first performance over, singers had a couple of hours to relax in Bucharest, before being taken to the University for the next rehearsal and concert.

The Titu Maiorescu University building was covered with our posters, and we performed to a very appreciative audience.

Alexandra Wynne, our soloist on tour, performed Mozart’s Laudate Dominum and Stanford’s ‘Blue Bird’ with the choir, and Mozart’s virtuoso ‘Alleluia’.

David Wynne (baritone) sang the solo verse in ‘The Turtle Dove’ and Mitch Holland (tenor) sang the solo verse in ‘Ca’ the Yowes’, both arranged by Vaughan Williams.

Many thanks to Alfred White and Marilyn Kent for taking such great photos of BFCS on tour.

The tour blog written on the first day can be read here.

We look forward to sharing more photos and videos from the tour in future blogs.

A 19th century castle and 21st century technology.

Romania choir tour blog no 6.

After our wonderful concert in Sighisoara, and our big meal together, it seemed as if the choir tour was over. Sunday was the day for packing up and travelling home.

Our Romanian guide and our tour committee had one more trick up their sleeves, however. They decided that we should leave 4 hours earlier than planned, as big delays were possible through some road works. If we were not delayed, we would have time to visit Peles Castle.

Fortunately, there were no delays so we found ourselves with a lovely long break to enjoy the castle and surrounds in glorious sunshine.

Google told us that ‘Peleș Castle is a Neo-Renaissance castle in the Carpathian Mountains, near Sinaia, in Prahova County, Romania, on an existing medieval route linking Transylvania and Wallachia, built between 1873 and 1914. Its inauguration was held in 1883. It was constructed for King Carol I.’

The coach journey to the airport gave a chance to write the blog about the day before. Technology has improved so much since our last tour, 3 years ago. Reliable WiFi in the hotel and on the coach, and a good smartphone meant that the blog could be done on the go. Smartphone photos taken while sightseeing could be added easily. As a singer, it has previously been complicated to get pictures when we were singing, but this time our photographer, Alfred White, sent smartphone pictures of our concerts by Email, in addition to the pictures he’s been taking on his DSLR camera for later delivery. This has also been the first tour where the conductor has conducted from a tablet, instead of numerous music books and pieces of paper.

Another big change since the last tour has been the growth of social media, particularly for our concerts in Bucharest. We have had a big response to our Facebook events and posts, and we have gained a lot of new followers from the concerts. A number of people from our audiences, and the Youth Choir sent messages of congratulation. The bookshop Facebook page carried a 20 minute live video of our flashmob and performance, and the Bran Castle Facebook page posted a video of our singing in the courtyard. The Youth Choir Cor cu Dor posted some excellent photos and a video on Facebook. A Russian tourist posted a 1 minute video of us singing in Bran Castle on Instagram, and sent the original video when requested.

BFCS singers at home, and our families were enjoying the blogs, and posts on Social media, and sent messages of support. BFCS singers on tour were sharing them on their own social media, spreading the word about BFCS and the wonderful experiences we were having. It all made a very exiting buzz – but it was hard to squeeze it all in to the very limited free time!

Our energy started to sag when we reached the airport and saw that our flight was delayed. In the end, we took off 45 minutes late, but this was compounded when we had to wait just under an hour for our luggage at Luton.

Eventually we were on our way, only to encounter big traffic jams at the point where the M1 was reduced to one lane only. We eventually arrived at our Birmingham destination at 2.50 am.

Some singers had to be up early for work, and we were all very weary – but it was all worth it! We’d like to thank our wonderful tour committee for all the hard work they’ve put in to give us such a wonderful experience.

We hope to share photos and videos as they come in, in our post-tour blogs.

Christine Wright

On top of the world.

Romania choir tour blog no 5.

The last concert of our tour was to be in the World Heritage Citadel, on the hill above Sighisoara. What a treat!

We arrived late morning and climbed the steep steps to the Citadel. This beautiful spot gives great views over the city. It’s very popular for wedding photos.

We had several hours to relax and explore the little streets and the beautiful clock tower. We even saw a plaque on the house where Vlad Dracul lived – the father of Vlad the Impaler and, presumably, the inspiration for the choice of the name ‘Dracula’ for the fictional character. (see blog 4).

At 3pm we gathered for our rehearsal in the Lutheran Church, formerly the church of the Monastery. This was to be the only concert in a church for this tour, and we were looking forward to singing in this lovely space.

The concert followed at 4.30pm and we were delighted to find a full church, with some people having to stand at the back! What a difference to the night before! We always try to sing our best, but we have to admit that singing to a big, appreciative audience always brings out the best in us. It was a splendid finale, and we all felt on a high. The Pastor of the church came forward to thank us and invite each person to join him in the Lord’s Prayer in their own language. He said that “when I heard your beautiful singing I found it hard to believe in Brexit. ”

The evening sun was coming out when we gathered after the concert, and the sun was glinting on the copper tiles of the clock tower.

We all walked down the steps to the town, and across the road to where a lovely meal was waiting for us to share all together, as this was the last night of the tour.

Following the food, our chair, Liz Collins, gave a speech thanking all the people who had been involved in the success of the tour…

Our tour committee, Tim, Mary, Nick, Alistair and Sue…

Arald, our Romanian guide who accompanied us from when we arrived at the airport to when we departed…

Kevin, our unflappable accompanist on piano and organ…

and David, our MD, who combines the uncompromising quest for high standards with a big sense of humour. Liz had planned to get him a Dracula cloak, but David beat her to it. He was given a Bran Castle baseball cap instead!

There was a 2 hour drive back to the hotel, followed by packing the next morning. The tour wasn’t quite finished, though, as you will discover in the next blog.

Vlad the Impaler, Dracula and the Archduke.

Romania choir blog no 4.

Friday – the day of our visit to Bran Castle aka Dracula’s Castle!

Firstly – why “Dracula’s Castle? Bram Stokes heard many of the gruesome tales around the infamous 15th century local hero who became known as ‘Vlad the Impaler’ due to his terrible cruelty.

It’s probable that Vlad the Impaler stayed at Bran Castle at some point, and this castle is definitely the only one that fits the description in the Dracula stories. During the communist period, the Dracula connection was not mentioned, but since the fall of communism and the restoration of the castle to its former owners, the Dracula connection is encouraged, bringing in the tourists in big numbers and spawning a lot of shops around, selling Dracula tat. Our conductor entered into the spirit by putting on his black cape and fangs to conduct us in the castle. Dracula didn’t ever have to blow a tuning device, however. The fangs had to be removed to get the correct note!

By far the most moving history was that of the fortunes of the recent owners of the castle, particularly after we were met at the entrance by the present owner, introduced as His Imperial Highness Dominic Habsburg – Lothringen.

We heard about how his grandmother Queen Maria (granddaughter of Queen Victoria) had been a very important influence in WW1 and the subsequent creation of Romania in 1918. In gratitude, she was given Bran Castle, and spent a lot of money restoring it. The Archduke told us that he had lived there for 10 years as a child.

Our young tour guide went bright red and looked very embarrassed when the Archduke popped up later in the tour and listened! We learnt that the royal family and relatives had been forced to flee by the communists after the 2nd World War and spent 60 years in exile, before eventually returning to the castle in 2006.

Our 20 minute performance took place inside the castle, as it was raining outside. Dozens of tourists trooped through the room as we sang. We were ‘singing for our supper’ as all 62 of us had been given free entry in return for the performance.

The Archduke listened to it all. He said that he felt very emotional as, when his family had returned to the castle after all those years in exile, he had a wish for the castle to be ‘filled with song’.

As a final farewell, we sang our Romanian song in the courtyard, so that the song would rise up to all the levels of the castle. The castle posted a Facebook video, which has been shared on our Facebook page.

Unfortunately, Facebook videos can’t be shared here, but you might enjoy this recording we’ve been sent of us singing the same song with the Youth choir Cor cu Dor on Wednesday.

The coaches took as back to Brasov for a few hours rest and recuperation in the afternoon. Most of us sought out restaurants for a mid afternoon lunch / dinner.

Then it was back on the coaches to the Sala Patria in Brasov for our rehearsal and evening concert, having carried our choir clothes and music around all day. We were very relieved that chairs were found, so that the weary singers didn’t have to stand throughout the concert, holding folders of heavy music.

It was a lovely hall with a beautiful grand piano for Kevin to play (in contrast to the piano – keyboard we’ve been taking round with us). We now know the works well and are enjoying singing them. However, the small audience was rather disappointing. We were pleased to see some visually impaired people in the audience from the charity we had collected for at our last concert in Birmingham. Liz Collins, our chair, went to speak to them after the performance. Once again, our Romanian song went down well, with murmurs of approval when it was announced, and clapping along as we sang. Our small but appreciative audience rose to its feet as they applauded, bringing a long day to a good conclusion!

The friendly Birmingham choir singing the world's best choral music.