Category Archives: Choral

‘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.

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.

Andrew King photo Mike Cotter 2018

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.

091 Emilia Morton

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.

 

Richard Paterson headshot

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

Christmas Carol Concert.

WINTER’S SNOW

Birmingham Festival Choral Society presents our ever popular Christmas charity concert!

Come and share Christmas music and carols, followed by festive refreshments.

A collection will be taken for the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust.

Saturday 16th December 6pm

St John’s and St Peter’s Church, Ladywood ARC, Darnley Road, Birmingham, B16 8TF

Birmingham Festival Choral Society.

Conductor: David Wynne.

Organist: Kevin Gill

 

Tickets £10 (under 18s free).  Click here for tickets.

 

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‘Mozart Requiem’ – 18th November!

We do hope that you will be able to come to hear two beautiful works of choral sacred music at the next  Birmingham Festival Choral Society concert.

Mozart’s much-loved Requiem will be performed by BFCS on 18th November, using Czerny’s beautiful, and rarely-heard, accompaniment for piano (four hands).

Mozart died at only 35 – poignantly, whilst working on his Requiem Mass. The mysterious circumstances around his last days formed the basis of the film ‘Amadeus’. The Requiem is a serene epitaph to a supremely gifted and revered composer.

In contrast, Ralph Vaughan Williams lived until his mid-80s. His Mass in G Minor, the other work in the concert, is notable for being the first Catholic Mass to be written in England since the Reformation. His experiences shortly before, as an ambulance driver in in the first World War, must surely have had some influence on the contemplative style of the piece. The Mass reflects the style of Byrd and other great Elizabethan church composers which was enjoying a revival in the early 20th century. It was first performed as a concert piece in Birmingham in 1922, and was first used as an integral part of the Mass in Westminster Cathedral in 1923.

Click here for tickets to Mozart Requiem.

MOZART REQUIEM

Saturday 18th November 7.30pm

Ladywood ARC, St John’s and St Peter’s Church.
Darnley Rd
Birmingham
West Midlands
B16 8TF

Mozart: Requiem 

Czerny’s four-hand piano accompaniment: Kevin Gill and Stephen Hargreaves.

Vaughan Williams: Mass in G minor

for unaccompanied double choir.

Vaughan Williams: Rhosymedre (organ)

Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on Greensleaves (KG and SH, piano)

Vocal soloists from the Birmingham Conservatoire: Olivia Thornber, Elise Fairley, Jack Dolan and Joseph Clayton

Birmingham Festival Choral Society.

Conductor: David Wynne.

 

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Birmingham Weekender

Birmingham was buzzing last weekend with hundreds of music and dance events happening in the ‘Birmingham Weekender’  event. There was ballet in the Bullring, an Orchestra playing in a multi storey car park, a parade through New Street led by a large mechanical elephant, and music and dance from all over the world.

[Photos: Christine Wright]

Birmingham Festival Choral Society was formed for the big Birmingham music festivals in Victorian times, so it was only right that we should be there at the big Birmingham music festival 170 years later!

We represented music of the Western Choral tradition, with pieces by Mozart, Elgar, Brahms and Chilcott.

[Photo: Jill Lampert]

[Above photos: Barry Whitehead]

It was a great experience to be a part of such an exciting event, and many of our singers took the chance to experience the performances going on over the city centre. The icing on the cake was having the chance to tour the brand new building of the newly honoured Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

Come to our Open Rehearsal on 6th September!

The first Wednesday of term is always an Open Rehearsal. Come and have a sing with us! It doesn’t matter whether it’s years since you sang at school, or whether you’re a regular singer – all are welcome to try us, with no obligation. Chat to our singers over coffee and cake in the interval.

We are a friendly choir of men and women with a wide range of ages and abilities, united by a love of singing. This term we’ll be learning the Mozart Requiem and Vaughan Williams Mass in G minor for our November concert, followed by Carols for Christmas.

You can find more details about joining BFCS here: Join our choir

As well as giving concerts in Birmingham and the Midlands, we tour abroad every 3 years – great for singing experiences, as well as strengthening choir friendships. Further information can be found on our Tours page: Tours

The Open Rehearsal starts at 7pm on Wednesday 6th September – we hope to see you there!

 

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BFCS singers sightseeing during their tour in Burgundy, France. July 2016.

Carmina! How did it sound?

From the Birmingham Post, 22nd June 2017:

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Reviews sent to our website , from members of the audience.

Superb! I’m not musically trained but I’ve been listening to 
classical music for decades 
& have heard a number of recordings of the Orff. 
A live performance is audibly preferable – even if the production 
is less to one’s taste. 
THIS was so strikingly superior and “live” to any recording I’ve 
ever heard – plus we could 
see how the less featured instruments actually perform. 

The joint choir, the juniors and the soloists were powerful, 
subtle and convincing. 
We thought it an excellent experience for the young singers to be 
there in the midst of the 
whole performance – and weren’t they mature throughout! 

The Bernstein was entirely new to us, again, convincing in its 
linguistic variety and engrossing. 

As to what can be released from a Pandora’s suitcase! And how 
they acted their parts in it! 
An astounding evening we would not have missed. 

*****

A wonderful Saturday evening at the Bramall.
A warm (very) summer’s evening, a perfect setting in the University, an audience bursting with anticipation—-and amazing performances by everyone.
The sound was quite literally stupendous—it amazed and dazzled and overwhelmed….
Everyone involved must be—and quite rightly—very proud….

*****

A brief note to say how much we enjoyed the concert on Saturday. 

The Chichester Psalms were new to us and a little challenging. The percussion was excellent and superb entertainment. Carmina Burana was magnificent. Congratulations to all who took part.

The looks on the childrens’ faces at the percussionists’ faces was almost worth the ticket price alone. 
We frequently attend your concerts – travelling from Nuneaton.
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Two cities come together in song.

 

‘Two Cities, One Voice’

The Bramall was packed for our second concert with Liverpool Welsh Choral on Saturday! 400 people in the audience, and 250 on stage were eagerly awaiting our big ‘Carmina’ concert.

In the first half was Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Chichester Psalms’, a work with beautiful melodies and contrasting discordant passages with complex rhythms. 13 year old James Corcoran was our soloist, singing the Hebrew version of ‘The Lord’s my shepherd’. The Mixed Metal Percussion Ensemble then amused us with a clever item ‘Suitcase of Sounds’.

It was a warm night, so people were pleased to spill outside into Chancellor’s Court to enjoy interval drinks and conversation in the evening sun.

 

Carmina Burana was the showpiece in the second half! Three choirs singing the famous ‘O Fortuna’ was a powerful opening to the work!

‘O Fortuna’ sings of the Wheel of Fortune – the ups and downs of life. Our posters had all used the image of a fragment of a medieval fresco in Rochester Cathedral, depicting the Wheel of Fortune. It was most interesting to meet a man in the interval who had come to the concert as a result of seeing one of our posters. This image had attracted his attention immediately, as he had been a pupil at the Cathedral School in Rochester, and looked at that fresco on the wall many, many times!

The programme used the image of a screenprint ‘O Fortuna’, made by one of our former sopranos , Norma Southwick, some years ago.

It was good to sing the whole work, as well as O Fortuna at the beginning and the end. The tenors and basses had a particularly large part to sing in the Taverna section. Sam Oram, our baritone soloist, sang the solos in the drunken scene with great conviction!

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The children’s choir in Carmina Burana, drawn from David and Alexandra Wynne’s junior choirs at St Chad’s Cathedral and the Junior Conservatoire, provided an important contribution, and sang their part with confidence.

Edward Harrisson (tenor) and Loretta Hopkins (soprano) both sang very demanding solos with ease.

Finally, the whole scene, with Kevin Gill and Stephen Hargreaves playing the two pianos, Mixed Metal Percussion Ensemble, the soloists and the three choirs, all under David Wynne’s clear and confident direction. Bravo!

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Birmingham Festival Choral Society and Liverpool Welsh Choral thoroughly enjoyed singing these choral works, and the visits to each others cities has led to warm friendships between the two choirs. It has taken a lot of work for the organisers over two years, but it was definitely worth it! Here’s to the next time!

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Message from the MD of Liverpool Welsh Choral, Keith Orrell

Well done everyone last night. Two great concerts and many happy friendships and musical highs. All the best BFCS.

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