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.
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 .
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.
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.
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.
Sixty BFCS singers joined together for the first time on Zoom yesterday evening. It was lovely to see familiar faces on the screen, and to laugh together.
We knew that singing together as a choir would not be possible on Zoom, due to the different internet speeds, but muting our microphones and singing alone to the conducting of David, our Music Director, with a recorded accompaniment from Kevin, was definitely the next best thing. We started with a simple piece – but who knows what we will accomplish in the future!
Choirs involve so much more than just the actually singing. We really felt that we were together again, and we look forward to more zooming in the future.
We have an impressive line-up of talented artists for our ‘Petite Messe Solennelle’ concert at the Ruddock Centre, King Edward’s School, on 28th March. It promises to be a great concert!
The Petite Messe Solennelle was written by Rossini for performance at one of his popular ‘Musical Salons’ by a small choir, two pianos and harmonium. An interesting feature of our concert is that we will be accompanied by accordion and piano, an alternative accompaniment that was suggested by Rossini himself.
A significant part of the Petite Messe Solennelle is taken by our vocal soloists. We are very fortunate to have four soloists of such a high calibre. They have won an impressive number of prizes between them, and all have successful careers singing in opera and oratorio in Britain and overseas. Individual Biographies will be given in the programme at the concert, but links are also provided here, where available.
Are you thinking of joining a choir? Come to our free Open Rehearsal next Wednesday (8th January) to enjoy a sing with us, and see if Birmingham Festival Choral Society is the choir for you!
We’ll be welcoming people to Lordswood Girls’ School from about 7pm, which will give time to have a chat, give you some music and introduce you to someone of the same voice part who can lead you through the rehearsal. There will be a chance to meet other singers over coffee and cake at the half time break.
The best part is the singing! Our Music Director, David Wynne, and accompanist, Kevin Gill, combine the achievement of high musical standards with good humour and friendliness – a winning combination!
The concert we will be leading up to this term is Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle. The poster shows that Rossini was not blessed with film star looks, but he certainly knew how to write wonderful opera and choral music!
Have a look around the rest of our website, particularly the Join us page, to find out more about our rehearsals, concerts, overseas tours and our interesting history.
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.
Saturday 16 November 2019, 7.30pm
Church of St Alban the Martyr, Stanhope St, Birmingham B12 0YF