Singing in a choir brings many benefits for body and mind, as Birmingham Festival Choral Society singers will confirm. We all look forward to singing on a Wednesday evening – and the feeling after giving a concert is tremendous! Added to that, it’s a great place to make friends, through sharing Wednesday rehearsals, weekend workshops and tours abroad.
Would you like to give us a try? Come along to our Open Rehearsal on Wednesday 6th September, where you will find a friendly welcome. If you come at 7pm there will be enough time to meet you and introduce you to a singing buddy who can guide you through the rehearsal. This is a ‘taster session’ to see if you feel this is the choir for you – there is no obligation.
If you’re not able to make it to the Open Rehearsal, you will still be welcome at any of our other Wednesday rehearsals.
40 singers and 15 supporters set off on our choir tour to the Rhineland at the end of May. This was the 12th Birmingham Festival Choral Society tour abroad. This tour had been delayed by a year by Covid and had indeed been planned while we were still experiencing restrictions, so it seemed extra special when it finally happened.
This video really gives the feel of the tour experience! The music, ‘El Grillo’ by des Prez, is one of the pieces we sang on tour.
(When playing, click on the symbol on the bottom right to open the video up on full computer screen)
Video credit: Martha Davis.
We travelled by executive coach through the Eurotunnel on the way out, and by ferry on the way back. The long journey was made much less tiring both times by an overnight stop in the lovely city of Ghent. We arrived mid to late afternoon, so had plenty of time to get the tram into the city centre and have a leisurely walk round the historic buildings and eat in one of the many cafes and restaurants.
The next day we drove on to our main base in Mainz, on the river Rhine, where we stayed for five nights at Novotel Mainz.
Our concerts, on three successive days, were in attractive locations beside the river Rhine: Mainz (the capital of the region), Koblenz and Bingen.
Sightseeing tour. (click photos to open)
Evening concert in the Christuskirche, Maintz
Evening concert at the 1200 year old Basilika St Kastor, the setting for many historic events over the centuries.
Some of our party enjoyed a wine tasting tour in the morning, followed by a walk into Bingen.
Evening concert at Rheintal-Kongress-Centrum
Our final day in the Rhineland was a free day. The great majority opted for a short Rhine cruise from the wine-making town of Rüdesheim to Sankt-Goar, part of the Rhine Gorge which features legendary small towns and castles and vineyards along its course. That day was capped with our customary group supper and soirée at our hotel.
This tour had a great balance between ‘work and play’. The sightseeing was great, but the real highlights, which could never be experienced on a standard package holiday, were the concerts. The publicity had been sent in advance, but it was wonderful (and a great relief!) to see so many people coming through the doors, and to hear the generous applause and see the standing ovations at the end.
We were so lucky to have a trio of great professionals, helping to raise our concerts to such high standards – David Wynne our Music Director, Kevin Gill our accompanist and organ soloist, and Alexandra Wynne, our soprano soloist.
The choir had learnt a large amount of music for the tour and it was great to sing in those wonderful venues. But more than that – tours give a great opportunity for people to get to know each other better, and for strong friendships to be formed. We were particularly pleased that there were singers on tour who have joined the choir since the lockdown, as well as singers who have been on many previous BFCS tours.
Many thanks go to our wonderful BFCS tour committee, who organised the entire tour, without using a tour company.
Tim Davis Nick Lampert Alistair Main Eve Smylie Sue Thomas Liz Vick
It was hard work for them, but it was a great team effort and it paid off. To judge by the very positive feedback, on the concerts, the locations, the hotels, the balance of performance and leisure, Rhineland 2023 was a great success.
Thanks to the photographers whose photos were used in this blog: Alfred White, Christine Wright, Peter Wright and Geoff Evans.
Tuesday 6th December was an important date in the BFCS calendar – the Carol Service for Crisis, the charity for the homeless. This event, held at St Martin’s in the Bull Ring, has become a regular fixture for our choir, and we are pleased to help to swell the congregational singing, and to perform a couple of Christmas carols too.
The stories of the Crisis members are very moving, reminding us how homelessness can affect people from all walks of life. It is sobering to reflect on how the situation is still as bad as ever, and the charity’s initial aim to end homelessness is as far away as ever. It is, however, inspiring to hear how Crisis can help people with training to get back into work, as well as help with benefits and finding accommodation.
Thanks to the staff of Crisis for sharing photos and these two videos – one from the service and one from their Christmas Hamper distribution project (both with a background of BFCS singing ‘Ding dong merrily on high’.)
The Birmingham Festival Choral Society performance of Elijah on 5th November was a thrilling occasion, with many audience members saying that it was the best BFCS concert they had ever heard! The choir, orchestra and soloists were all on top form, performing to a full house at the Ruddock Performing Arts Centre.
Many thanks also to Alfred White for the photos of a concert to remember.
The role of Elijah was sung with great dramatic effect by opera baritone Byron Jackson. A star performance! Our reviewer said that Byron’s singing of Elijah’s song of despair: ‘It is enough’ was one of the most moving performances that he had ever heard. Byron’s position high above the choir and orchestra increased the drama.
Molly Barker (Jezebel, an angel), Alexandra Wynne (widow, angel), Polly Stirland (youth, angel) and Peter Davoren (Obadiah, Ahab) were also first class. Alexandra’s performance was even more impressive when people realised that she had stepped in at 24 hours notice!
An E mail sent by a member of the audience said that The soloists were ALL superb – and I was brought up on Isobel Baillie and Kathleen Ferrier, spent some of my earliest wages on the recording with Janet Baker, Nicolai Gedda, and Fischer-Dieskau, and have since acquired the Renee Fleming / Bryn Terfel version! The trio and quartets were exquisite, and it was such a good idea to bring the soloists in for the last few bars of the final chorus, not least for the tenors, who will I’m sure have been grateful for the help with that sustained top A after an evening of very hard work.
The trio of angels singing ‘Lift thine eyes to the mountains’ was another highlight of the concert, as shown by the comments on social media below this photo:
Voices from heaven (TP), Spine tingling, absolutely incredible beauty (MF), Beautiful (NW), This was so movingly sung. Absolutely superb. Thank you to the three of you. (JA). A truly wonderful evening. Our friends who attended were ‘blown away’ by the performance with one saying it was the best concert of BFCS’s that he’s attended….(DM)
It was wonderful to sing those big choruses accompanied by the Central England Camerata and Kevin Gill on the organ. The individual instruments brought so much depth to the arias and slow movements too.
Don’t forget the choir, who sang their hearts out, just as their predecessors had done at the Premiere in 1846. We can see why this marvellous work has been such a favourite with choral societies to this day.
Another extract from that Email sent by a member of the audience…
Fantastic performance of Elijah on Saturday night. It’s a work I know well and love greatly, and the trip over from Coventry proved more than worth the effort.
The choir was excellent, and certainly enacted that great rule of performance – make sure you start and end well! That first cry for help and the triumphant final Amen were both exhilarating.
(Click on photos to open in full.)
Finally, a special mention goes to David Wynne, who prepared the choir so well, and brought such a wonderful collection of musicians together to perform under his leadership. Thank you David!
Will Todd’s Mass in Blue and Passion Music are very different from our usual repertoire, but we’re really loving those jazz rhythms and blues harmonies! Listen to our singers and Music Director talking about the Will Todd music we’re learning for the concert at the Ruddock Performing Arts Centre on 26th March.
One of the thrills of performing works by a living composer is that it’s possible to actually meet them, and discover their views on the way they’d like their music to sound. For this reason, we were delighted that Will Todd was able to join in our choir workshop on Sunday 27th February, and share his thoughts on his Mass in Blue and Passion Music as we prepare for our concert on 26th March.
We all warmed to Will straight away, and soon we found ourselves doing something we would not have believed possible – improvising in Dorian mode! That put us in the right frame of mind to study Passion Music before the break and, fortified by tea and cake, Mass in Blue afterwards.
David (Wynne), our Music Director, led us in singing each section, and then Will made encouraging and helpful comments on the style and tempo of the music. He was not dogmatic – in fact, one of the features of jazz and blues style is that there is room for interpretation.
Click to enlarge photos
Kevin (Gill), accompanied us with those complex jazzy rhythms and unfamiliar blues harmonies on the piano. It is a source of amazement how Kevin can play complex accompaniments to works as diverse as Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle, Brahm’s German Requiem and Will Todd’s Choral Jazz works without being fazed at all.
As always, there was plenty of time for humour!
Will Todd introduces Passion Music: In this video Will Todd describes how he chose the texts and set the music, illustrated with lots of excerpts from rehearsals and performances.
We’re delighted that Will Todd is coming to our choir workshop on Sunday. We’ll be rehearsing ‘Passion Music’ and ‘Mass in Blue’ , and it will be a real treat to hear insights from the composer of these wonderful pieces. They are challenging to learn, but it’s so rewarding to sing those complex rhythms and gorgeous blues harmonies.
In this 25 minute video, Will Todd gives us an insight into choosing the words for ‘Passion music’ and setting them to music. His fusion of choral, jazz and blues styles brings out the meaning of the story of Christ’s passion with spiritual sensitivity.
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 .
A fun setting of the ever popular “Jingle Bells”, in pictures and music. Sing along with the Birmingham Festival Choral Society virtual choir!
Happy Christmas from BFCS.
The friendly Birmingham choir singing the world's best choral music.
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