Birmingham Festival Choral Society celebrates its 175th anniversary this year! Our choir was formed to provide the chorus for the Birmingham Triennial Festivals (hence the ‘Festival’ in our name), and gave its first concert in 1845. It sang at all the Triennial Festivals until they came to an end in 1912.
One of the highlights of singing in the Festivals was the premiere of Elijah in 1846, conducted by Mendelssohn himself in the new Birmingham Town Hall. The audience loved the work, and it is still much loved by choral societies and audiences today.
Click here for a newly published account of the premiere of Mendelssohn’s Elijah, written by Robert Hugill in his Classical Music Blog. The premiere of Elijah also features in this recent blog from the Library of Birmingham’s Music Librarian, as well as the information about another of the premieres from the Festivals – Elgar’s Dream of Gerontious. Both of these works are now firmly established in the choral repertoire.
Update 3.6.20. The scheme below was great for keeping us going, but we are now starting to do Wednesday rehearsals by zoom. Watch this space!
March 2020. To keep our voices in use, and for a bit of fun, we are suggesting a different piece from our repertoire each week for BFCS singers to practise. We will provide a link to the music on You Tube, and make the suggestion that we all sing it in our own homes at 7.30pm on a Wednesday, the time that BFCS would normally be meeting for rehearsal. We hope that it will help our choir to feel connected during these weeks when we can’t meet together. Some photos of singers joining in from home can be seen below.
Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens is our sing-along work for Wednesday 27th May. We loved singing this English choral favourite in our concert ‘The English Choral Tradition’ in Warwick last July.
The rousing Dies Irae from Mozart’s Requiem is the piece we will be singing at 7.30pm next Wednesday, 20th March. We really enjoyed singing Mozart’s Requiem in St John’s and St Peter’s Church Ladywood in November 2017. We were accompanied by Kevin Gill and Stephen Hargreaves on the piano.
Stanford’s Beati Quorum Via is the work we will be singing on Wednesday 13th May 7.30pm. This beautiful work beings back lots of memories for BFCS singers, including singing it on tour in Romania in 2019 and in Slovenia in 2006.
Wednesday 6th May 7.30pm. The piece for this week is Bairstow’s ‘Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence’, which we sang last July at our concert in the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick. We also sang it on tour in Romania: in Bucharest, in Sighisoara, in Brasov and, most memorably, in the courtyard of Dracula’s Castle in Transylvannia!
The first piece of music is the Kyrie from Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle, which we’ve enjoyed singing so much in the first term of 2020, and planned to sing on 28th March 2020. We also have happy memories of singing it in the Adrian Boult Hall in 2010. If you wish to join in, we will sing it in our homes at 7.30pm on Wednesday 29th April.
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 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.
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.
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!
Last Saturday, 14th December, David Wynne put on his Christmas Suit (!) and led the singers of Birmingham Festival Choral Society and their friends and family in an evening of Christmas music and readings.
It’s hard to imagine a Carol Concert without music by Rutter! Our audience was treated to three of Rutter’s carols, as well as Christmas music by Tchaikovsky, Joubert, and many arrangements by David Willcocks. One highlight was The Three Kings, by Cornelius, with the baritone solo sung beautifully by Barry Jones , standing in at short notice for a croaky David Wynne. David’s voice was good enough, though to read out Christmas cracker jokes between the items!
We also heard readings from A Christmas Carol, (Dickens), The Oxen (Hardy) and Journey of the Magi (Rust)
We were pleased to have a chance to sing Ring the Bells by Paul Fincham once more. We were one of 15 choirs singing this new carol in performances on Saturday 14th December – the listing on the London Philharmonic website showed many performances during December, with all proceeds from the sale of the music going to the charity Crisis.
Our charity for this year was The Cameron Grant Memorial Trust, set up after Cameron took his own life in 2014. Cameron’s father told us how the charity aims to support young people with mental health difficulties, and to encourage them to seek help and talk about how they feel. Our generous audience and singers put £600 in the collecting buckets.
Our concert finished with an enthusiastic rendition of Jingle Bells, with members of the audience invited to join in by shaking their keys! Then it was time for the mulled wine and mince pies and a chance to chat to friends and family.
Our Christmas Concert is nearly here! It’s one of our favourite times of the year – Christmas music, mince pies and mulled wine in the warm and attractive venue of Ladywood ARC. We do hope that many friends, new and old, will be able to join us.
We will be supporting a charity that has grown out of great personal sadness. The Cameron Grant Memorial Trust has been founded to raise awareness and support mental health in young people. Please give generously.
Birmingham Festival Choral Society are pleased to be supporting Crisis, the charity fighting to end homelessness, at their Christmas Carol Service in St Martin’s in the Bullring.
To quote from their website:
Join us for Crisis Skylight Birmingham’s Carol Service at St Martin in the Bull Ring for an evening of carols, mince-pies and drinks as we gather together to kick-start our Season of Wellbeing and Celebration, honouring our achievements of the past and looking forward to a future without homelessness.
Tuesday 3rd December 2019 St Martin in the Bull Ring, Edgbaston St, Birmingham B5 5BB
Carol Service: 6pm – 7:00pm Refreshments: 7:00pm – 7:30pm
This is a free, public event but please click here to reserve a ticket so we can make sure we have enough mince pies for everyone!
To learn more about this worthwhile cause, please have a look at the Crisis website.
BFCS, and many other choirs across the country, will be singing the new carol ‘Ring the Bells for Christmas’. The composer, Paul Fincham, is donating all of his royalties from the purchase of the sheet music to ‘Crisis’. We are very pleased to support this fund raising venture.
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.
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