Category Archives: concert

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.

On top of the world.

Romania choir tour blog no 5.

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.

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’.

Beautiful Brass!

 

Birmingham Festival Choral Society came together with Gemini Brass on 30th March to give a concert of glorious choral music. A full choir of 90 with brass ensemble and percussion performing grand works from royal occasions, such as ‘I was Glad’ (Parry), and ‘Coronation Te Deum’ (Walton), was a wonderful experience for both choir and audience.

Brass instruments aren’t just for loud music, however. This video clip shows Nigel Turner playing the beautiful trumpet solo in the third verse of ‘The Old Hundredth’, arranged by Vaughan Williams. It was recorded during our rehearsal by fellow trumpeter Mike Bates.

The clip above and the photo below show the choir singing ‘The Old Hundredth’ from memory. Although memory singing would not be possible in long, complex works, it is very liberating to do occasionally – and the conductor loves having all eyes watching him!

BFCS Gloria 2019 (Alf White) (20)

Brass and percussion are also an inspiring accompaniment for rhythmic choral works such as Rutter’s thrilling Gloria (which gave the title to the concert), and Vaughan Williams’ ‘O clap your hands’.

Contrast was provided in the concert by the beautiful melodic pieces of Will Todd and Jean Dattas. The sensitive piano and organ accompaniments were provided most ably, as always, by Kevin Gill.

BFCS Gloria 2019 (Alf White) (9)

The ‘Gloria’ concert included works by two composers with special links to BFCS. 2019 is the centenary of the birth of Jean Dattas, whose daughter, Sylvie, sings in BFCS and made us aware of his sacred choral compositions. Jean Dattas was a French organist, teacher and composer in Paris, then in London. It was good to have some English members of the family in the audience but, unfortunately, the French members of the Dattas family who were planning to get to the concert by Eurostar were prevented by problems both sides of the channel. We’re pleased that they were able to hear us perform Dattas’ Kyrie and Agnus Dei on tour in Burgundy three years ago.

We were also very pleased that some of John Joubert’s family were able to attend our concert to hear us perform his composition ‘O praise God in his holiness’ in his memory. John Joubert was Patron of BFCS for many years until his death in January of this year.

BFCS Gloria 2019 (Alf White) (4)

BFCS Gloria 2019 (Alf White) (5)

The dazzle of the brass instruments in the spot lights was nearly matched by the shiny gold shoes of our conductor, David Wynne!

We were delighted to have such a full audience for this concert, despite the clash with a lot of other concerts on the same evening. Their warm appreciation made all the hard work worthwhile. A great evening all round!

Many thanks to Alfred White for taking these excellent photos at the concert.

Gloria Full flyer

Gloria – a concert not to be missed!

We hope that you are looking forward to our ‘Gloria’ concert on Saturday 30th March. Here are the programme notes about the feast of music awaiting you there:

Welcome to our concert.  I trust that you weren’t expecting a quiet relaxing occasion: the title should give you a clue that this will be an evening of joyful celebration, and the presence of a brass band makes that even more obvious!  Variety is the name of the game, with no fewer than six British (and one French) composers represented, and there are links with four coronation ceremonies and several other royal occasions.  We may also note how composers often draw inspiration from the Bible, with settings of four psalms and another scripture passage on display.

By far the oldest text which we are performing is the “Old Hundredth”, an English version of Psalm 100 which first appeared in the Anglo-Genevan Psalter (1561).  The words are attributed to a Scots clergyman, William Kethe, and the tune to a Frenchman, Louis Bourgeois.  The arrangement which we are singing (which includes the instruction “all available trumpets” for the final verse!) was made by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Vaughan Williams had written a Te Deum for the coronation of George VI in 1937, and might well have hoped for a repeat performance in 1953.  Instead, however, William Walton (1902-1983) was commissioned to write a new version, which is the one we are singing tonight.  The words of the Te Deum, a translation of a fourth-century Latin hymn, describe how God is praised by many different groups.  Here they are given a dramatic setting, full of antiphonal effects and making good use of the brass – as you would expect for the pomp of a coronation.  It was first sung as the Queen left at the end of the ceremony.  Although we are not singing Vaughan Williams’ setting, we are (in compensation?!) featuring his exuberant setting of Psalm 47, O clap your hands, written in 1920.

The anthem which has been sung at every coronation since 1902 is the spectacular I was glad, by Hubert Parry (1848-1918).  As it happens, the tradition of singing Psalm 122 as the monarch enters Westminster Abbey dates all the way back to Charles I, the words having been set by a number of composers including Henry Purcell and William Boyce.  At the 1902 coronation, Parry’s setting actually had to be sung twice, as the director of music misjudged the timing and finished it before King Edward VII had even arrived!

We are also featuring pieces by two composers with special links to BFCS.  To mark the centenary of his birth, we will perform three pieces by Jean Dattas (1919-1975), former organist of Notre Dame in Paris, whose daughter is one of our sopranos.  When we first sang the two movements from his Messe cum Jubilo in 2016, on our tour of Burgundy, they excited great interest: tonight we are adding a simple but effective setting of Ave Maria.  And as a tribute to our patron John Joubert (1927-2019), who died two months ago, we are singing his exuberant setting of Psalm 150, O praise God in his holiness.

Listen to BFCS singing music by Jean Dattas on tour in Auxerre, France.

So to our youngest composer, Will Todd (born 1970), whose jazzy Mass in Blue we performed last July.  The three pieces in this concert have a more traditional feel, albeit with several syncopated episodes.  The Lord is my Shepherd, a setting of the well-known Psalm 23, is part of a Te Deum which was commissioned in 2009, and Stay with me, Lord was commissioned by the Sixteen in 2008, but then extensively rewritten for a 2012 performance by Tenebrae.  The third piece, The Call of Wisdom, has a royal connection: it was composed for the Queen’s diamond jubilee, and first performed at St Paul’s Cathedral on 5 June 2012 in her presence.  In the text, taken from the book of Proverbs, Wisdom calls on us to follow her, ignoring the lures of gold or silver.

The actual title of our concert derives from our final musical offering.  John Rutter (born 1945) has recently composed pieces for two different royal occasions; however, his setting of the Gloria is an earlier work, dating from 1974.  Rutter divides the text into three sections: the first is fast and full of verve, whereas Domine Deus is quiet and meditative, with some beautiful solos for the upper voices.  The final section, Quoniam tu solus sanctus, starts at almost breakneck speed; it finishes with a repeat of the opening Gloria, a lively fugue (Cum sancto Spiritu), and a splendid Amen.  It has been said that Rutter “writes music that people want to perform and to hear”.  We have certainly enjoyed preparing this piece, and indeed the whole repertoire – so we hope you will enjoy listening to it all!

David Fletcher

Gloria Full flyer

Gloria! Choral works with organ, brass and percussion.

Saturday 30th March 7.30pm

Glorious choral works with organ, brass and percussion. The concert includes works written for royal occasions, and music written by Jean Dattas, who was born 100 years ago.

Rutter: Gloria, 
Walton: Coronation Te Deum, 
Parry: I Was Glad,
Vaughan Williams: Old Hundredth,
Vaughan Williams: O Clap Your Hands,
Will Todd: The Lord is my Shepherd,
Will Todd: Stay with Me Lord, 
Will Todd: Call of Wisdom, 
Jean Dattas: Ave Maria, Kyrie and Sanctus.

Birmingham Festival Choral Society,
Gemini Brass,
Kevin Gill: organ,
David Wynne: conductor.

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

Click here for tickets to ‘Gloria’.

Christmas cheer!

Birmingham Festival Choral Society’s annual Christmas charity carol concert was held at Ladywood ARC last Saturday. The weather was bitter outside, but the atmosphere inside the church was warm and welcoming. 

The concert started with a welcome:  ‘Wolcom  Yule’, from Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, arranged for higher voices:

The sopranos and altos sang three more works from the much-loved ‘Ceremony of Carols’ in this concert: ‘There is no rose’, As dew in Aprille’ and ‘This little babe’.

To redress the balance, the tenors and basses sang ‘In the bleak midwinter’, arranged for men’s voices. A real treat!

 

The remainder of the concert included Joubert’s arrangement of ‘There is no rose’, and carol arrangements from ‘Carols for choirs’ – new and familiar. Christmas poetry, some amusing, some thought provoking, also added to the enjoyment of the evening. The audience joined in the well known carols, and the sopranos had fun singing the descants!

The nominated charity this year was BID Services, formerly Birmingham Institute for the Deaf. One of the representatives for the charity told us about the valuable work they do. They then provided sign language interpretation in the hymn ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’.

 

 

There was no excuse for singers not looking at the conductor as he was wearing THAT SUIT once again!!!

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The concert ended with festive refreshments- mince pies and mulled wine – and a chance to chat to our guests and put some money in the collecting buckets for BID services.

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Many thanks to Mel, Marilyn and Bryan who sent us photos from the audience.

Xmas 18 flyer web (1) - Copy

Come to our Christmas Charity carol Concert!

Take a break from the Christmas preparations, and come and enjoy an evening of Christmas music with Birmingham Festival Choral Society!

Ladywood ARC

Next Saturday the choir will be singing carols old and new, and a selection from Britten’s ‘Ceremony of Carols’. The evening will also include readings of Christmas poetry and opportunities for the audience to join in singing well-known carols. 

We hope that the concert will raise a big sum for our nominated charity: B.I.D. Services (formerly Birmingham Institute for the Deaf). A representative of the charity will tell us about the important work they do.

Last but not least, we’d love you to join us for seasonal refreshments after the concert!

Click here for tickets to our concert.

War and Peace, conveyed through music.

A term’s work came to fruition in our two ‘Grant us Peace’ concerts: on 10th November in The Crossing Church, Worksop and 17th November in St George’s Church, Birmingham. The concerts came at a time when the media had been full of programmes and events about the centenary of the ending of the First World War. ‘Eternal Light’ by Howard Goodall and ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’ by Vaughan Williams gave musical expression to the emotions around the tragedy of war and the desire for peace.

A fascinating blog about our concert programme and the background to the music can be read here. It was written by Anne Elliott, Music Librarian at the Library of Birmingham:

https://lobmusiclibrary.wordpress.com/2018/11/15/grant-us-peace/

‘Eternal Light’ by Howard Goodall was particularly well received by both choir and audience. This work was based on the Requiem Mass, with the addition of words from the war poets, set to beautiful melodies. The rhythmically challenging sections which had caused so many problems in rehearsal, were very powerful when they came together, and made an effective contrast to the slower movements. It was good to be able to communicate this to the composer on Twitter and receive a reply!

It was not possible to communicate directly with a composer who died 60 years ago, but the Vaughan Williams work ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’ was much enjoyed nonetheless. Dramatic war sections alongside lyrical hopes for peace made it a moving piece to sing and listen to.

Behind the altos was a poignant plaque to Raymond Lodge, the son of the Principal of Birmingham University, who was killed in action in 1915. At the end of the church was the main war memorial with the shocking list of all 72 young men from St George’s parish who died in the First World War.

We are indebted to Alfred White who took the following great pictures of the Birmingham concert – a night to remember!

Our performers: Holly Teague, soprano, Miles Taylor, baritone, Vera Khait, harp, Kevin Gill piano, David Wynne, conductor. Darren Hogg was hidden away, playing the organ.

The combined choir of Birmingham Festival Choral Society and Ryton Chorale singing in St George’s Church:

And finally – the conductor’s shoes!

Grant Us Peace!

Read Birmingham Music Library’s  new blog about our ‘Grant us Peace’ concert, a singer’s experience of singing the music, and some fascinating background information.

In Concert

Once again, we hand over the blog to another musical organisation. This time it’s Birmingham Festival Choral Society and their contribution to the Armistice commemorations. We met members of BFCS in an earlier post which talked about a weekend away rehearsing. As this post goes out, it falls between two concerts which BFCS and Nottinghamshire-based Ryton Chorale are presenting together on the theme of war and peace. The two works are Howard Goodall’s Eternal Light, and Ralph Vaughan William’s Dona Nobis Pacem.

Poppies in Flanders Poppies flowering in Flanders

I know the VW well, having played in two performances, but I don’t know the Goodall. Both composers take ancient Latin texts from the church liturgy and add new words. In VW’s case, more poetry from his beloved Walt Whitman, and the Old Testament; and from various sources for Goodall’s work.

Here’s a piece from one of BFCS’ singers about her experience…

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