Shakespeare and the Latin Mass – jazz style.

A full hall for 'Choral Jazz and Blues' (Photo by David Jones)

Trefoil House was full for our ‘Choral Jazz and Blues’ concert on a hot night in July. Our guests relaxed at tables, sipping their drinks and eating their snacks as they listened to a style of choral music that was very different to the usual BFCS repertoire.

It was a treat for the singers to be accompanied by such skilful Jazz musicians. Chris Corcoran on piano, Dave Wilkes on drums and Mike Green on upright bass gave us a rhythmic accompaniment that really boosted our singing!

Photo by David Jones.BFCS accompanied by the Jazz trio Photo by David Jones)

The first half of the programme consisted of George Shearing’s ‘Songs and Sonnets from Shakespeare’, and the ‘Birthday Madrigals’ that John Rutter wrote for Shearing’s 75th birthday. Both works fuse traditional choral music with American Jazz influences. The Jazz Trio then entertained us, while people refilled their glasses or stepped outside to cool down.

The highlight of the evening came after the interval. ‘Mass in Blue’, Will Todd’s popular setting of the Latin Mass, combines his background in sacred choral music with his love of jazz. Although the style had seemed unfamiliar at the beginning of term, the BFCS singers had soon come to love the beauty of the Kyrie and Sanctus, the fun of the Benedictus, and the excitement of the Credo and Agnus Dei! Our soprano soloist Hannah Davey was just awesome, effortlessly moving between the loudest sections, with top Cs, and the spine-tingling beauty of the ‘Et incarnatus est’.

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What a lovely surprise to find out that the concert had been recorded from the audience! Thank you to Alex Botten for sending this to us:

This concert was very popular with both singers and audience, and we hope to explore some other choral jazz works in the future. Watch this space!

 

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Many thanks to David Jones and Mandy Hart for taking these pictures from the audience.

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Our professional jazz performers for ‘Mass in Blue’

We have an exciting line up of professional jazz musicians for our performance of Will Todd’s Mass in Blue on Saturday 14th July!

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Hannah Davey, sings the soprano solo, which is a major part of the work and has great moments of interplay with the choir. Hannah has the rare talent of being equally at home singing classical and jazz music. As well as professional singing, Hannah works with the charity ‘Music for Autism’which provides high calibre performance for children and adults with special needs.

Our Jazz Trio consists of Chris Corcoran, piano, Mike Green on upright bass and Dave Wilkes on drums.

Chris is well known in the Birmingham area as a director or accompanist for musical theatre. He enjoys arranging and composing jazz music, and has played and toured with many bands.

Mike’s experience varies from small intimate Jazz Clubs to appearing on national TV. In recent years he has been touring and recording with Gypsy jazz guitarist Remi Harris.

Dave was playing in the junior section of the Midlands Jazz Orchestra as young as 6 years of age! In more recent years he’s played with many bands on tour, and in theatre for shows such as ‘Legally Blonde’ and ‘Back to the 80s’ in Birmingham.

We can’t wait to perform ‘Mass in Blue’ with such  exciting musicians!

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‘Magic mushrooms’ and other singing tips

Thanks to the Birmingham Music Library for this lovely Blog about BFCS!

In Concert

The music’s live! again, and this time we’re in the company of a local choir, the Birmingham Festival Choral Society (BFCS, for short).

A Bit of history

BFCS has a long history, stretching way back into the nineteenth century. Its history is intertwined with that of the Birmingham Triennial Music Festivals. The Festivals were held every three years to raise money for the Birmingham General Hospital. As the nineteenth century progressed, the Festival administrators spent a lot of time and effort attracting the best musical talent to compose and perform new choral music. These commissions composed by Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Sullivan, Gounod, Stanford, and later, Elgar, represented some of the best music of the time, and the BFCS was there, right at the centre. BFCS singers formed the core of each chorus used at the Festivals.

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Choral Jazz and Blues

 

CHORAL JAZZ & BLUES

If you regularly attend performances by the Birmingham Festival Choral Society (which we sincerely hope you do!) you will find next month’s event something of a contrast.  All of the works are British, contemporary, in the jazz idiom – and, by all accounts, highly popular with audiences. The concert is called CHORAL JAZZ & BLUES: the lighter side of choral music.  Moreover, it will take place not at our normal church or concert hall venues but in the Informal setting of Trefoil House in central Birmingham, with food and drink at your table while you soak up the music.

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What of the music itself?  The main item, Mass in Blue, written by Will Todd, is a remarkable fusion of two very different musical traditions: the sung Mass (whose European origins date from medieval times) and the Blues (of African-American 19th century origin, a forerunner of jazz).  This reflects the Durham-born composer’s “double life”, on the one hand an experienced chorister and classically-trained pianist, and on the other a jazz musician in his ‘down time’.

The work, accompanied by a small jazz ensemble (piano, upright bass, drums – and a virtuoso soprano soloist) features the traditional sections of the sung Catholic Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, Angus Dei).  For those familiar to conventional Mass settings, there will be much to recognise: plainchants and Latin rhythms interwoven with Blues-style syncopation, improvisation and melodies.  First  performed in 2003, Mass in Blue was an immediate success, and is an increasingly popular item of the choral repertoire.

Two further works in the jazz idiom feature in the programme. Songs and Sonnets is a cycle of seven familiar Shakespeare verses (including  It was a lover and his lass and Who is Sylvia?) by the revered British jazz pianist and composer Sir George Shearing, who died in 2011.  The concert will also include Birthday Madrigals by the popular choral composer John Rutter, who was commissioned to write this collection of songs on the occasion of Shearing’s 75th birthday.

CHORAL JAZZ & BLUES, with the Birmingham Festival Choral Society conducted by Kevin Gill, takes place at Trefoil House, Blucher Street B1 1QL, on Saturday 14 July at 6.30pm.  You are welcome to bring some supper to enjoy at your own table.  There will be a bar available from the start of the concert for wine and soft drinks.

St John Passion on the eve of Holy Week.

An audience of 200 people came to St Augustine’s. Edgbaston on Saturday to hear Birmingham Festival Choral Society sing Bach’s St John Passion. They were held spellbound by the story of the events of Holy week told in recitative form by the Evangelist (Andrew King) and Jesus (Andrew Tipple). The story was interspersed with exciting choruses and reflective chorales from the choir. Emilia Morton, Matthew Venner, Robert Jenkins and Richard Patterson each sang beautiful arias reflecting on the vents of the story.

The Musical and Amicable Society provided the accompaniment at Baroque pitch on period instruments, some familiar and some unfamiliar to 21st century eyes.

St Augustine’s church seemed a very appropriate setting for such moving sacred music, the covering of all church decoration for Passiontide adding to the atmosphere.

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Here is some of the audience feedback from Social Media:

This stunning church (our first visit) provided just the right kind of backdrop for this awesome performance. It was all such a moving and memorable experience. Thank you and congratulations to all those involved.

Thoroughly enjoyed it! Well done!

We were there and thought it was amazing. St Augustine’s church was a beautiful venue for this incredibly moving performance.

What a wonderful, moving evening. A long journey for us and worth every moment.

Watching Andrew was beautiful – so sensitive and really illuminated the story. The choir were beautifully balanced in sound!

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Thank you to Alfred White for these lovely photographs of the concert, and to St Augustine’s for the cover photo.

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West window, St Augustine’s Church Edgbaston. (Photo by Christine Wright)

 

Bach’s St John Passion, with specialist early music performers.

BACH: ST JOHN PASSION. Saturday 24th March 7.30pm. St Augustine’s Church, Edgbaston, Birmingham B16 9JN

On 24th March Birmingham Festival Choral Society will be singing with some very talented and highly regarded instrumentalists and vocal soloists who specialise in early music. We hope that you will be able to share this special occasion with us.

The Musical and Amicable Society Baroque Orchestra

The original Musical and Amicable Society was founded in 1762 by James Kempson, who directed the choir at St Bartholomew’s Chapel, Birmingham. Together with fellow musicians from St Philip’s Church (now Birmingham Cathedral), Kempson and his singers gathered on a regular basis at Cooke’s tavern in the Cherry Orchard “for practice and recreation”. In 2003, Kate Fawcett and Martin Perkins decided to revive this historic society as a collective of professional period-instrument specialists. Their presiding ethos is one of chamber music – however large or small the formation – where each and every performer has a significant role to play. Individually, their members maintain successful freelance careers with some of Europe’s most prestigious period-instrument ensembles.

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Andrew King – Evangelist

Andrew King is known mostly as a singer specialising in Renaissance and Baroque music. In his early career he sang with The Tallis Scholars, BBC Singers and as a founder member of The Sixteen. Apart from his solo appearances in oratorio and baroque operas he has always enjoyed small ensemble work. As Evangelist in the Bach St. John and St. Matthew Passions he has performed in many concerts at home and abroad.

Andrew teaches at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and also at the University of Birmingham

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Andrew Tipple – Christus

Andrew has appeared in many operatic performances. He also regularly appears in concert, singing a large variety of repertoire including Bach’s St John Passion at Arundel Cathedral.

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Emilia Morton Soprano

As a member of The Sixteen Emilia has made a number of recordings and performed concerts around the world. She is also a member of Tenebrae, with whom she has made many recordings and performed solos in Bach’s Mass in B minor.

Matthew Venner

Matthew Venner Alto

Matthew is a member of the internationally renowned Orlando Consort, an ensemble specialising in medieval and early renaissance music. He has performed with many of today’s leading vocal ensembles including The Cardinall’s Musick, The King’s Consort, The Monteverdi Choir, The Sixteen and The Tallis Scholars.

Matthew has become increasingly in demand as a soloist, and has sung on many recordings.

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Robert Jenkins – Tenor

Robert completed his Bachelor in Music (Honours) degree at Birmingham Conservatoire in 2012, studying under Professor Julian Pike. During his time in Birmingham, Robert was Tenor Lay Clark at Birmingham Cathedral. Robert now follows a freelance career and sings with many professional ensembles, including the BBC Singers, Ex-Cathedra, Polyphony, Philharmonia Voices and Siglo de Oro.

 

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Richard Paterson – Bass

Richard Paterson studied with Julian Pike and Gordon Sandison at the Birmingham Conservatoire, where he sang as part of the Conservatoire Chamber Choir, under the direction of Paul Spicer. Richard sang for the Reinterment of King Richard III in Leicester Cathedral in 2015 before taking up a position later that year as Bass Lay Vicar at Chichester Cathedral, where he sings for regular services and concerts.

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J S Bach: St John Passion

BACH: ST JOHN PASSION

During the holy season of Lent it is hard to imagine a spiritually more uplifting experience than listening to, or performing, one of the magnificent settings by J.S. Bach of the Passion of Jesus Christ.

One of the greatest choral works of all time, the St John Passion has been described as a deeply human, intensely dramatic telling of Christ’s betrayal, suffering and death set to music of heartbreaking beauty. It was first heard in St Thomas’s Church, Leipzig, in 1724 as one of the Good Friday liturgies; how fitting, therefore, that a performance by one of the Midlands’ premier choirs, the Birmingham Festival Choral Society, will be held on the eve of Holy Week, Saturday March 24th.

The choir’s Music Director David Wynne regards Bach’s St John Passion as “a remarkable work, combining large-scale chorus movements, congregational chorales and solo movements. It was written three years before the same composer’s St Matthew Passion and, being on a smaller scale, is often considered more intimate.”

Adding to the authenticity of the performance will be the participating orchestra, “The Musical & Amicable Society”, a renowned baroque ensemble, together with a team of distinguished international soloists led by Andrew King (The Evangelist). Moreover, for many who prefer sacred works to be heard in an ecclesiastical setting rather a concert hall, the Passion will be held in the one of the city’s most beautiful churches, St Augustine’s, Edgbaston.

The Birmingham Festival Choral Society’s performance of Bach’s St John Passion at St Augustine’s Church, Lyttleton Road, Birmingham B16 9NJ will take place on Saturday March 24th at 7.30pm.

Click here for tickets to Bach’s St John Passion

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St Augustine’s Church, Edgbaston B16 9JN

Bach at the Sesquicentenary Festival

The singers of Birmingham Festival Choral Society are looking forward to singing Bach’s St John Passion at the Sesquicentenary celebrations of the church of St Augustine of Hippo, Edgbaston. Apparently , this is the name for 150 years – which means that the church opened just 22 years after our choir’s first performance, in the Birmingham Triennial Festival.

The church has a notable choral tradition, and was the first Anglican church in Birmingham to have a surpliced choir. The composer Herbert Howells wrote his ‘St Augustine’s Service’ for the choir in 1967. The church sits in the middle of the beautiful St Augustine’s conservation area.

We hope that you’ll be able to join us for our concert here on 24th March. Click here for further details of the concert Bach: St John Passion

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Christmas cheer at Ladywood ARC!

When the title ‘Winter’s Snow’ was chosen for our Carol concert, we could not have foreseen that deep snow would fall on the Midlands the week before! Fortunately, the roads were clear by the time of our Carol concert in Ladywood ARC on 16th December.

Our guests were welcomed by the lovely music of a recorder quartet, played by Margaret, Judy, Barry and Margund.

The choir, in their bright Christmas colours, started the concert with ‘See amid the winter’s snow‘ followed by some well loved traditional carols.  Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without some John Rutter favourites, and they contrasted with the more complex rhthyms of Sir Christemus (William Mathias) and Ceremonies (written by Patrick Larley for the ‘special birthday’ of one of our sopranos a few years ago). The hauntingly beautiful ‘O magnum mysterium’ by Morten Lauridsen was a highlight for many of the singers and audience.

 

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The Christmas music was broken up by Liz’s  dramatic reading of the humorous  Twelve thank you notes of Christmas (John Julius Norwich), and John Betjeman’s poem Christmas, read by David.

Our guests from the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust told us of their valuable work, and we were very pleased to find out later that our concert had raised £960 for the Trust.

 

We were a little surprised to find that an organ solo – Bach’s Wachet auf – had been programmed near the end of the concert, and even more surprised when our Music Director, David Wynne, disappeared – but all was explained when he came back, wearing a very dazzling Christmas suit! The concert ended with many smiling faces in the choir, as ‘the suit’ conducted us in Rutter’s Twelve days of Christmas!

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The evening ended with lots of happy chatter as we shared mulled wine and mince pies with our guests in the audience.

Happy Christmas everyone!

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Carol Festival at the Cube. 

Intrepid singers from Birmingham Festival Choral Society braved the snow and ice on Tuesday to sing carols at the Cube, the distinctive Birmingham landmark containing offices, shops, apartments and restaurants. The ‘Carol Festival’ was to raise money for the Birmingham Children’s Hospital, the Cube’s chosen charity.

The atrium of the Cube is open to the elements and if you’re wondering whether it was cold, take a look at our two Music Directors for the evening, Alexandra and David Wynne!

The atrium looked very pretty though, with the huge Christmas tree.

BFCS started the evening with a selection of Christmas music, then we were followed by the children of the St Chad’s Children’s choir, led by both David and Alexandra. Finally, we heard from two of Alexandra’s workplace choirs made up of singers from firms based in the Cube.

We hope that all those workers, shoppers and diners passing through the Cube enjoyed the Christmas music, and dropped a generous donation in the collecting buckets for the Birmingham Children’s Hospital. Birmingham Festival Choral Society was pleased to support such a worthwhile cause.

Happy Christmas!

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