Category Archives: news

Music for Christmas

Our Christmas concert on Sunday 5th December will be a real treat! It will include Christmas music, ranging from sacred to popular, from an adult choir, a children’s choir and a brass ensemble. It is also rumoured that a certain gentleman in red might make an appearance!

The adult choir is, of course, Birmingham Festival Choral Society, and the children’s choir is Eversfield Preparatory Singers – both led by David Wynne and accompanied by Kevin Gill. A dash of sparkle will be added by the Midland Brass Ensemble. With families in mind, the concert will start at 4.30pm and will be no longer than 75 minutes long. Christmassy refreshments will be provided after the concert.

We are looking forward to singing the lovely carol ‘From the Stable Floor’ in the presence of the local composer, EA Walker.

There will be an opportunity to donate to Zoe’s Place Baby Hospice, the very worthwhile charity chosen by the singers of Eversfield School.

The Christmas concert will also take place in a new venue – Our Lady of the Wayside Church, 566 Stratford Road, Shirley, B90 4AY. Click for map. The church is noteworthy for its architecture and works of art. Details of the church, the artworks and their symbolism can be found in this article on their website.

We look forward to sharing the best of the Christmas season with you!

BFCS performs live again!

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.

Our loyal audience.

Introducing our talented soloists.

Birmingham Festival Choral Society’s performance of Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle on 30th October has an impressive line up of first class performers taking part! We hope that you will be able to come to hear them.

Of special note is that one of the two instruments providing the accompaniment is an accordion – not an instrument usually seen in choral society concerts. Rossini wrote the work for performance at his musical salons, accompanied by either piano and accordion, or piano and harmonium.

Ben de Souza – Accordion

Our accordion player at the concert will be Ben de Souza, one of Britain’s top young accordion players who is at the forefront of promoting the instrument in this country. Ben is a regular recitalist and has performed extensively throughout England. He is also an active chamber musician, notably with violinist Chloë Meade.

Away from performing Ben works as an accordion teacher, an accordion repairer for ZZ Music and is the leader of the Cumberland Ceilidh Band.

In addition to his work as an accordionist Ben is choir director at Clare Hall, Cambridge and also works with choirs at Finchley Children’s Music Group and the John Lewis Partnership. He holds a Masters degree in Choral Studies from Cambridge University.

Kevin Gill – Piano

Kevin Gill is a freelance musician and teacher of Piano, Organ and Music Theory in Birmingham.

Kevin has been the regular rehearsal accompanist for the Birmingham Festival Choral Society since 1998. He has accompanied concert performances for BFCS and various other choral societies in many British venues, and on BFCS tours in Europe.

Over the years, Kevin has worked with many prestigious groups, including the the CBSO, its adult and youth choruses, Birmingham Opera Company, and the BBC. He has frequently given organ recitals and Piano duet recitals in and around Birmingham.

Kevin was appointed Musical Director of Atherstone Choral Society since 2008, and regularly deputises at BFCS rehearsals when the Music Director is away. He was the conductor for the BFCS tour to Slovakia in 2010.

Mimi Doulton – Soprano

British-Pakistani soprano Mimi Doulton is fast developing a reputation as an acclaimed interpreter of contemporary opera and song. Recent engagements include her professional debut at Wigmore Hall, and creating a work by Rakhi Singh in the Royal Opera House’s digital project 8-bit. She made her professional stage debut in 2018, in Birmingham Opera Company’s world premiere of Wake directed by the late Sir Graham Vick.

Alongside her performing work, Mimi is a passionate advocate for the rights of every child to access the arts as part of their education, and is proud to be connected to the charities Action for Children’s Arts, Songbound, Eye Music Trust and Voices of London Festival.

Ed Harrisson – Tenor

Ed Harrisson has performed a varied repertoire of oratorio and full roles with opera companies and choral societies, as well as professional choral singing. His recent oratorio work includes performances of Bach’s Mass in B minor, Verdi’s Requiem and the Evangelist in Bach’s St John Passion. He has worked with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the Midland Opera Company, Birmingham Opera, Ex Cathedra, British Youth Opera and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Ed’s musical talents include conducting a local choir and orchestra, acting as music director for an amateur dramatic production, teaching double bass and music composition. He has composed choral works for Paul Spicer’s Conservatoire Chamber Choir, the Crescent Theatre and a fanfare for use at Birmingham University’s Graduation ceremonies.

Rachel Gilmore – Mezzo soprano.

Rachel Gilmore sings with English Voices and Kantos, and is a clerk at the Manchester Oratory. She has sung many roles in Britain and abroad.  Rachel’s solo oratorio performances have included Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with the Festival Ensemble Berlin; the premiere of Kleiberg’s Requiem in Leipzig’s Nikolaikirche; Haydn’s Creation with the BBC Philharmonic, Vivaldi’s Gloria with the Royal Northern Sinfonia, and Jenkin’s Mass for Peace in Mumbai, India. She also has a passion for performing contemporary works.

Rachel teaches singing to pupils of all ages and abilities in the Manchester area.

Joseph Kennedy – Bass

A prize winning graduate of Birmingham Conservatoire and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Joseph Kennedy has performed in many concerts and operas over his career.

Performance highlights include; Footman in Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier (CBSO-Symphony Hall); a live broadcast on BBC Radio 3 ‘In Tune’ singing operatic excerpts; Haydn Creation (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra). Most recently, Joseph performed in the World Premiere of Brendan Ashe’s Magnificat

Bringing the whole concert together will be David Wynne.

David has been the Music Director of Birmingham Festival Choral Society since 2017. During that time he has directed a wide range of music, from Baroque works to larger-scale
twentieth-century choral works and even to jazz. David is also the Music Director of the Warwick and Kenilworth Choral Society

As a visiting lecturer at the Royal Birmingham Junior Conservatoire, David works as choral director of the Senior Chorus and the Vocal Ensemble. He is head of choral conducting, teaches singing and musicianship, and is also vocal coordinator for the department.

Until recently David was a bass lay-clerk at St Chad’s Cathedral, and is still a regular deputy. He still runs the cathedral’s junior choir and choral outreach programme. He has worked with some of the country’s leading music education organisations, including Opera North, Welsh National Opera, the Armonico Consort, and Leicester and Leeds Cathedral’s education departments.

David is a busy freelance baritone soloist, as well as an occasional performer as a musician of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

At last – a live BFCS concert!

After a break of nearly two years, Birmingham Festival Choral Society is delighted to invite you to a live concert! On 30th October 2021 we will be performing Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle – the concert we were about to perform when everything was stopped by the pandemic.

Our venue is the Ruddock Performing Arts Centre at Kings Edward’s School, Edgbaston. The Centre is following Covid-19 protocols to provide a safe environment. Tickets will be online only, so that the spacing of the seating can be controlled.

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 performers:

Ben de Souza, Accordion. Kevin Gill, Piano

Mimi Doulton, Soprano. Rachel Gilmore, Mezzo-soprano

Edward Harrisson, Tenor. Joe Kennedy, Baritone

Birmingham Festival Choral Society,

David Wynne, Conductor

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 too!

BFCS virtual double choir sings Rheinberger’s Kyrie.

Click above to listen to BFCS singing Rheinberger’s Kyrie .

We hope that you will enjoy listening to the beautiful Kyrie by Josef Gabriel Rheinberger, sung by the Birmingham Festival Choral Society virtual double choir.

The Kyrie is the first movement of Rheinberger’s most famous choral work, the Mass for double choir in E flat, (Cantus Missae) Op 109. Written in 1878, it recalls the old compositional style of alternating unaccompanied choirs , as used in late Renaissance Venice. Listening through stereo headphones is the best way to appreciate the full double choir effect .

Music Director: David Wynne

Rehearsal accompanist: Kevin Gill

Video Editor: Michael Cullen

Audio Editor: Gareth Howell

View from the lantern, Ely Cathedral.

Virtual BFCS sings Faure’s Cantique

Birmingham Festival Choral Society is pleased to present our recording of the beautiful ‘Cantique de Jean Racine’, by Gabriel Faure.

This composition won the 19 year old Faure first prize in a competition at his school of Church music in Paris, in 1865. The French text, “Verbe égal au Très-Haut” (Word, one with the Highest), was written by Jean Racine in 1688.

We hope that you will enjoy the Paris connection through images of the medieval stained glass in Sainte Chapelle.

This virtual performance was put together by Gareth Howell, using individual recordings sent from home by our singers. We look forward to a time when the pandemic is over and we can sing together in real life.

Wikipedia photo credits: Sam67Fr, Javi Masa, Oldmanisold, Grunt XIII.

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.

Anniversaries and premieres.

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.

Birmingham Town Hall 1834

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.

Sing along with BFCS

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.

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.