Category Archives: Choral

Our first virtual performance !

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.

BFCS Concert Cancelled

We’re very sorry to announce that our ‘Petite Messe Solennelle’ concert has been cancelled, due to the current coronavirus situation.

Our singers have loved learning Rossini’s beautiful work, and we hope to reschedule the concert at a later date.

This concert was to have involved seven freelance musicians, all of whom are facing an uncertain financial future as this, and other concerts are cancelled. We would like to invite those who have bought concert tickets to consider this as a donation, to enable us to make the musicians a reasonable settlement. If, however, you would like a refund, please contact us to make arrangements.

We look forward to future music making.

Rossini – our next concert.

Come and hear BFCS sing Rossini’s lovely Petite Messe Solennelle on Saturday 28th March, at the Ruddock Performing Arts Centre, King Edward’s School.

The Petite Messe Solennelle was written for performance at one of the very popular weekly musical salons held by Rossini and his wife at their Paris home. As such, it was originally scored for a small choir, accompanied by two pianos, with harmonium or accordion. We are looking forward to singing with piano and accordion accompaniment.

Our soloists:

Caroline Modiba, soprano, Rachel Gilmore, mezzo soprano,

Joseph Kennedy, baritone, Richard Hansen, tenor.

Kevin Gill, piano, Ben De Souza, accordion

Rossini achieved superstar status early in life, having written over 40 operas by the age of 37. The William Tell Overture is one of the pieces for which he is best known in popular culture today. There followed a period of 25 years of ill health, during which he didn’t compose any new music.

In 1855 Rossini ‘returned to life’ on moving to Paris with his second wife, and their musical salons became internationally famous. These salons included music by many composers, and they inspired Rossini to write over 150 small works for performance by different soloists and ensembles.

The Petite Messe Solennelle was Rossini’s last major work , written in 1863. The opera composer’s beautiful melodies , colour and drama make this one of the most popular works in the choral repertoire. We love singing it, and we’re sure that you will enjoy listening to it!

Click here for tickets to Petite Messe Solennelle

MESSIAH in pictures

Our Messiah concert on 16th November was a wonderful occasion for both performers and audience. So many people came to hear the concert that the conductor and performers had to be turned back five times, as people were still arriving and more chairs had to be found! Eventually we were all settled and that wonderful music began…

Handel certainly knew how to write music that is a pleasure to sing! We received many compliments from members of the audience on our diction, phrasing, dynamics and energy. One ordained listener said that the concert was an inspiring spiritual experience for him.

Please click the arrows to see photos from all sections of the choir.

The Musical and Amicable Society were a perfect balance to the choir. They played beautifully and effortlessly.

” The trumpet shall sound”

What did our concert have in common with the royal wedding of Harry and Meghan? David Blackadder, the trumpeter! At the royal wedding he played Handel’s beautiful ‘Eternal Source of Light Divine, with the soprano Elin Manahan Thomas.

He is on the right of this photo, with Matthew Frost.

Our wonderful soloists: James Williams, baritone, Phillipa Thomas, Mezzo, Penelope Appleyard, soprano and Xavier Hetherington, tenor.

The man who brought it all together: our talented Music Director David Wynne. His wardrobe of shoes is a constant source of fascination!

We were delighted with the standing ovation and long applause at the end of the concert . A memorable concert from start to finish!

Many thanks to Alfred White for this wonderful gallery of photographs. Thank you also to Mary Keating for the picture of ‘the shoes’ and one other from her seat in the audience.

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

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.

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.

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!

Summer concert in beautiful Warwick

Join us in the beautiful town of Warwick on 6th July for our summer concert, ‘The English Choral Tradition’. We will be singing in the magnificent church of St Mary, visible for miles around due to its tall tower. A church has a great history, having been on this site for 1000 years, and housing the splendid tombs of three Earls in its gothic Beauchamp Chapel. Our concert will take place in the 17th century nave, with its tall pillars creating a wonderful space for choral music.

Our concert comprises a beautiful selection of sacred and secular English choral music:

Elgar, Give Unto the Lord
Elgar, Songs from the Bavarian Highlands
Bairstow, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
Stanford, Blue Bird
Parry, Blest Pair of Sirens
Tallis, O Lord, give thy Holy Spirit
Tallis, If ye love me
Purcell, Hear My Prayer
Chilcott, Londonderry Air
Chilcott, Irish Blessing

A selection of Folk Songs:
Afton Water (arranged by Willcocks),
The Oak and the Ash (arranged by Bairstow),
The Turtle Dove (arr Vaughan Williams),
Keel Row (arr Byrt),
Ca’ The Yowes (arr Vaughan Williams)

Piano/organ: Kevin Gill
Conductor: David Wynne

Click here for tickets to ‘The English Choral Tradition’.