Birmingham Festival Choral Society singers and supporters always love ‘Out of Town’ concerts. Our summer concert this year was extra special, as it was the first time we had given a concert in the lovely Pershore Abbey.
Our concert, ‘And all the people rejoiced’, included many choral favourites. The two halves of the concert each began with stirring works which had been heard recently in the Coronation of King Charles: I was Glad and Zadok the Priest (from which the title of the concert was taken). There was another royal connection through Tavener’s Song for Athene, which had made such an impact on worldwide audiences in 1997 when it was sung as the coffin of Diana, Princess of Wales, was taken out of Westminster Abbey.
Three of the lovely works we sang were pieces that had kept us going through zoom rehearsals during the lockdown, culminating in ‘virtual choir’ recordings. How much better it was to sing Faure’s Cantique de Jean Racine, Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus and Rheinberger’s Kyrie to a live audience in such a beautiful setting!
The concert also included works which were new to us: The joyful Jubilate Deo by Peeters and Laudate Dominum by Dupre, the sublime Ave Verum Corpus by Mawby, and Evening Hymn by Gardiner.
Alexandra Eve Wynne, our soprano soloist, sang beautifully as always. She sang Mozart’s Alleluia and Laudate Dominum (the latter with the choir). Alexandra and the choir also sang Mendelssohn’s Hear my Prayer/O for the wings of a dove, which we had recently performed together on tour in the Rhineland of Germany.
One of the exciting things about this concert was that the abbey organ was brand new. It had been installed at a cost of £800,000 just a couple of months before. Kevin Gill showed it off to its fullest splendor in his two magnificent organ solos – the 1st movement from Rheinberger’s Organ sonata in F minor, and the Toccata in F minor by Widor.
The final credit must go to the maestro who planned the concert, rehearsed the choir and introduced all the items at the concert – David Wynne. His high standards produced a marvellous concert, enjoyed by the choir and the capacity audience in the Abbey.
We would like to thank Michael Whitefoot for this fabulous set of photographs of our Pershore Abbey concert. You can see more photos from our rehearsal and concert in Pershore and Lichfield last year on Michael’s website.
Birmingham Festival Choral Society is delighted to be joined by a constellation of musical stars to lift our performance of ‘The Creation’ to the heavens.
Alexandra Eve Wynne enjoys a busy freelance music career, singing regularly as an oratorio soloist. For BFCS, she stepped in at very short notice as soprano soloist in Mendelssohn’s Elijah last November. She joined the choir as soloist on their last tour to Romania in 2019, and is looking forward to doing so again in Germany in May 2023.
Alexandra is a dedicated teacher, holding posts at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Junior Department, King Edward VI Five Ways, and Elmhurst Ballet School (in association with Birmingham Royal Ballet). She is the founder of Choirs at Work Ltd, an award-winning company providing choral training for wellbeing and team building to organisations across the UK. As a choral director at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Junior Department, she works with the intermediate choir, for 8-14 year olds.
Dale Harris (tenor) has been freelance singing for 10 years and performing both at home and abroad, notably with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The most recent production, The Comedy of Errors, spanned the majority of 2021. Dale spends much of his remaining time performing in Opera and Operetta, including an array of Gilbert and Sullivan shows and recently in Mozart’s Magic Flute, La Traviatta (Gaston) and Puccini’s Tosca (Spoletta). His 2023, diary is filling fast, with Carmen, Don Giovanni, and Dvorak’s Stabat Mater of particular note.
Midlands-born baritone, Edward Robinson, has a passion for opera which has led to performances in a number of innovative productions during his career. He also has a busy schedule on the concert platform, singing as guest soloist in many choral works.
Over the last 5 years Edward has become increasingly sought after as a Vocal Animateur and Workshop Facilitator. Through his work with Pimlico Opera’s scheme “Primary Robins”, Edward delivers 16 sessions a week introducing opera, folk and musical theatre to inner city students from Manchester schools in areas of high deprivation. Edward has also led both primary and secondary projects for Leeds Lieder Festival, working alongside musicians and poets to present Art Song to new audiences. Alongside pianist Rachel Fright, he is an associate artist for the organisations Live Music Now and SoundUp Arts, leading performances and workshops at special schools as well as for people living with dementia across the North East.
Kevin Gill (chamber organ) is BFCS’s regular accompanist. As well as running a private teaching practice he has frequently given organ recitals in and around Birmingham, as well as piano duet recitals. Kevin has accompanied BFCS concerts in many churches, cathedrals and concert halls in Birmingham and the wider Midlands, and on tours of Belgium, Holland, Slovenia, Estonia, Slovakia, Ireland, Burgundy, and most recently Romania.
Kevin has accompanied various choral societies in a wide range of choral works, and in January 2008 was appointed Musical Director of Atherstone Choral Society.
David Wynne enjoys a hugely varied career as a freelance musician. As a conductor, David is Music Director of Birmingham Festival Choral Society, Coventry Philharmonic Society and Warwick and Kenilworth Choral Society.
David holds a masters degree in Vocal and Operatic performance from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and is a busy freelance baritone soloist. David is a visiting lecturer at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Junior Department teaching singing, conducting and musicianship, and is Choral Director of the senior chorus and the vocal ensemble.
David and his wife Alexandra co-founded the St Chad’s Cathedral Junior Choir and the extensive Choral Outreach Programme which sees them teaching choral singing to approximately 500 children a year across Birmingham.
Central England Camerata, founded by freelance violinist Anna Downes in 2013, has become one of the most sought-after chamber orchestras in the central region of the UK. It now works regularly with Hereford Cathedral Chamber Choir, Ledbury Choral Society, Derby Choral Union, Warwick and Kenilworth Choral Society, Birmingham Festival Choral Society, the Choirs of Southwell Minster, and Cantores Chamber Choir.
CEC is made up of professional musicians who freelance in many top orchestras. It has appeared at music festivals across the UK, touring with Andrew Downes’ Ballad of St Kenelm. In August 2017 CEC performed a series of film music concerts at Moseley’s Lord of the Rings Festival. In 2020/21, CEC made several professional recordings of the music of Andrew Downes: Festival Overture to St Cere, Toccata for Small Orchestra, Symphony no 6, and the Christmas Cantata. In August 2022, the orchestra recorded Downes’ brand new Violin Concerto with soloist Rupert Marshall-Luck, and the live première is planned for Spring 2024.
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 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.
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
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!
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.
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.
Thanks to Peter Wright for the photographs of the choir.
The last concert of our tour was to be in the World Heritage Citadel, on the hill above Sighisoara. What a treat!
We arrived late morning and climbed the steep steps to the Citadel. This beautiful spot gives great views over the city. It’s very popular for wedding photos.
We had several hours to relax and explore the little streets and the beautiful clock tower. We even saw a plaque on the house where Vlad Dracul lived – the father of Vlad the Impaler and, presumably, the inspiration for the choice of the name ‘Dracula’ for the fictional character. (see blog 4).
At 3pm we gathered for our rehearsal in the Lutheran Church, formerly the church of the Monastery. This was to be the only concert in a church for this tour, and we were looking forward to singing in this lovely space.
The concert followed at 4.30pm and we were delighted to find a full church, with some people having to stand at the back! What a difference to the night before! We always try to sing our best, but we have to admit that singing to a big, appreciative audience always brings out the best in us. It was a splendid finale, and we all felt on a high. The Pastor of the church came forward to thank us and invite each person to join him in the Lord’s Prayer in their own language. He said that “when I heard your beautiful singing I found it hard to believe in Brexit. ”
The evening sun was coming out when we gathered after the concert, and the sun was glinting on the copper tiles of the clock tower.
We all walked down the steps to the town, and across the road to where a lovely meal was waiting for us to share all together, as this was the last night of the tour.
Following the food, our chair, Liz Collins, gave a speech thanking all the people who had been involved in the success of the tour…
Our tour committee, Tim, Mary, Nick, Alistair and Sue…
Arald, our Romanian guide who accompanied us from when we arrived at the airport to when we departed…
Kevin, our unflappable accompanist on piano and organ…
and David, our MD, who combines the uncompromising quest for high standards with a big sense of humour. Liz had planned to get him a Dracula cloak, but David beat her to it. He was given a Bran Castle baseball cap instead!
There was a 2 hour drive back to the hotel, followed by packing the next morning. The tour wasn’t quite finished, though, as you will discover in the next blog.
The friendly Birmingham choir singing the world's best choral music.
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