Category Archives: choral society

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!

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

Singing for all ages in Bucharest.

Bucharest day 2 started with a free morning! Some singers set off bright and early for sight-seeing, but others took the opportunity to rest, communicate with home, write a tour blog (!) and just have a quiet stroll around and a bite to eat.

The University of Music was a 20 minute walk from the hotel, and soon identified by the graduating music students in cap and gown, and the BFCS poster on the notice board outside.

Inside, we had our first glimpse of the youth choir, Cor cu Dor, who were to share our concert that evening. As they rehearsed we were bowled over by their perfect performance of popular songs in English from memory. Their ages ranged from about 7 to 18 years of age,and they were led by an inspirational lady who communicated exactly what she wanted through her gestures, rather than a strict beat.

In the concert later we also heard them give an interesting representation of the dawn chorus, and other difficult rhythmic songs, but the star piece was a full version of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ with choreography.

We learnt afterwards that they practise 3 times a week, and practise every day when they have a performance coming up.

Our performance provided a contrast, but we hope that the young people and the rest of the audience were inspired by hearing a full SATB choir from the English choral tradition, plus our soprano soloist Alexandra Wynne. They certainly responded to every song with whoops and cheers!

Solo lines in our folk songs were taken by David Wynne and Mitch Holland, and Geoff Evans and Barry Jones sang the solo lines in ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence’.

This choir tour had been moved to May (instead of the usual July / August) in the hope of finding lower temperatures. However, the concert on the enclosed stage at the University of Music provided the full tour experience we remember so well from the past, with high temperatures exacerbated by us all standing so close together, resulting in sweat dripping into our eyes and onto the music, and running down our backs. Such is the lot of a touring musician!

The concert ended with the Cor cu Dor joining us again in stage to sing the Romanian song ‘Corborai din deal in vale’ together. The joint choir included singers covering an age span of 80 years, united by a love of singing. It was a good ending to a great concert!

This blog is being written on the coach to Brasov, Transylvania, for the second half of our tour. We look forward to posting about our experiences there.

BFCS on tour in Romania!

Greetings from Bucharest, where Birmingham Festival Choral Society are on tour!

We here travelled here on Monday, courtesy of Johnson’s coaches and Wizzair, arriving in our rooms at 9pm Romanian time. The first choice was whether to venture out into Bucharest to find food, or whether to settle for a packet of pretzels in the hotel bar and prioritise sleep!

We hit the ground running on Tuesday, with a rehearsal at 9am (following the logistics of 63 singers descending for breakfast at the same time). Concert clothes had been loaded onto the coach, and music had to be sorted into concert order.

The next challenge was to locate a bookstore in the centre of town for our first short performance. Singers set off on foot, or by metro or taxi, clutching maps, or phones with Google maps. Some did unexpected detours, others actually got there in time to have a drink beforehand!

We gathered in the beautiful Carturesti bookshop at midday, and spaced ourselves throughout the store. When Kevin stuck up the intro on the keyboard, we all burst into song with the first movement of Vivaldi’s Gloria! It made a big impact on the shoppers in the store, and they were soon filming us on their phones. We gathered together on the steps and did the remainder of our 20 minute performance. The store streamed the whole performance on Facebook- you can see it shared on our choir Facebook page.

It was lovely to have a few hours afterwards to enjoy lunch with other singers, before gathering again to be taken to the Titu Maiorescu University for our next rehearsal and concert. It was wonderful to be greated with dozens of posters for our concert on every door and wall space! Our hosts said that they were honoured that we had come, and provided us with welcome refreshments.

The concert took place in a modern auditorium, with a very appreciative audience. The choir rose to the occasion, despite the heat and a long stand with lots of heavy music. The Parry and Elgar were sung with gusto, and the folk songs and Stanford’s Blue Bird made a lovely contrast. The star of the show was our soloist Alexandra, with her amazing performance of Mozart’s Laudate Dominum and Alleluia. The audience rose to their feet at the end – so we sang them an encore and got a second standing ovation!

You can see that we squeezed a lot into our first 24 hours! Being on tour is not for the faint hearted, but the experiences will stay in the memory for years to come. We look forward to more Romanian adventures to come… watch this space!

Choir tour to Romania

Going on tour is one of the highlights of singing in Birmingham Festival Choral Society! In the past 30 years we have been to many places, the tours to Eastern European countries being particularly interesting and well received. We are really looking forward to keeping up this tradition when we visit Romania between 27th May and 2 June.

The choir and family supporters will stay 3 nights in the capital, Bucharest, followed by 3 nights in Brasov, Transylvania. Our plans include a flash mob in a bookshop, an informal sing in “Dracula’s Castle” (Bran Castle) and four main concerts.

Bran Castle

Our programme will include well known choral classics, a selection of music by English composers, and some arrangements of folk songs from the British Isles. Kevin Gill will provide organ and piano accompaniment , and David Wynne will be the Music director. It is a special treat to have David’s wife, Alexandra, as our soprano soloist, and family support will be provided by their baby Sidney and his grandparents!

One of the more interesting aspects of touring abroad is meeting local people. In Bucharest we look forward to sharing a concert with the Youth Choir Cor cu Dor, and in Brasov we will visit the charity Asociata Nevazatorilov for the blind and visually impaired, to give them the money that was donated by Birmingham singers and supporters at our last concert. We look forward to learning more about the valuable work they do.

Biserica Manastirii Sighisoara, venue for our last concert.

Finally, no tour would be complete without the informal concert party, at which singers show a full range of musical and comedy talents! Much fun is had on tour, and friendships made. We’re not known as the Big Friendly Choral Society for nothing!