Category Archives: news

Choir tour to Romania

Going on tour is one of the highlights of singing in Birmingham Festival Choral Society! In the past 30 years we have been to many places, the tours to Eastern European countries being particularly interesting and well received. We are really looking forward to keeping up this tradition when we visit Romania between 27th May and 2 June.

The choir and family supporters will stay 3 nights in the capital, Bucharest, followed by 3 nights in Brasov, Transylvania. Our plans include a flash mob in a bookshop, an informal sing in “Dracula’s Castle” (Bran Castle) and four main concerts.

Bran Castle

Our programme will include well known choral classics, a selection of music by English composers, and some arrangements of folk songs from the British Isles. Kevin Gill will provide organ and piano accompaniment , and David Wynne will be the Music director. It is a special treat to have David’s wife, Alexandra, as our soprano soloist, and family support will be provided by their baby Sidney and his grandparents!

One of the more interesting aspects of touring abroad is meeting local people. In Bucharest we look forward to sharing a concert with the Youth Choir Cor cu Dor, and in Brasov we will visit the charity Asociata Nevazatorilov for the blind and visually impaired, to give them the money that was donated by Birmingham singers and supporters at our last concert. We look forward to learning more about the valuable work they do.

Biserica Manastirii Sighisoara, venue for our last concert.

Finally, no tour would be complete without the informal concert party, at which singers show a full range of musical and comedy talents! Much fun is had on tour, and friendships made. We’re not known as the Big Friendly Choral Society for nothing!

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.

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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

New Year’s Resolution? Join a Choir!

Do you, or someone you know, fancy joining a choir – but aren’t quite sure? Why not come along to our Open Rehearsal on Wednesday 9th January? We’re a friendly group of men and women of all ages, united by a love of singing.

Come along to Lordswood Girls School  at 7pm to have time to be welcomed, and introduced to someone in your voice part who will help guide you through the rehearsal. We’ll have a break for refreshments and socialising half way through. The rehearsal finishes at 9.30pm.

Click here for more information about joining our choir. We’d be grateful if you would pass this information on to anyone you think might be interested in our Open Rehearsal.

This is the concert we’ll be working towards this term. It includes some lovely choral classics , and some new works too. All wonderful to sing and enjoy!

Gloria Full flyer

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.

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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’. Reflections on war and peace.

The ‘Grant us Peace’ at St George’s Church, Edgbaston, on Saturday November 17 at 7.30pm brings together two choral societies who share David Wynne as their Music Director: Birmingham Festival Choral Society (BFCS) and Ryton Chorale in Worksop.

Pieces chosen give much food for thought about the tragedy of the lives lost and the effect on those left behind. Music includes Ralph Vaughan Williams’ 1936 cantata Dona Nobis Pacem, and Howard Goodall’s Requiem Mass, Eternal Light, first performed on the 90th anniversary of the Armistice in 2008.

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Dona Nobis Pacem meaning Grant Us Peace was written in the vanguard of the Second Word War by a composer deeply affected by his earlier experience as a stretcher bearer in the Great War.

The cantata opens with a prayer from the Catholic requiem mass, which gives the work its title, and also quotes liturgical and scriptural texts along with secular poems; notably by the 19th Century American poet Walt Whitman, who himself had served as a medic during the Civil War.

In comparison, composer Howard Goodall was known in his early career for his film and television themes. But his piece Eternal Light: A Requiem aims for a mood of solace for the grieving. He even described his work as being “a requiem for the living, addressing their suffering and endurance…focussing on the consequences of interrupted lives”. The work ends with Cardinal Newman’s poem “Lead Kindly Light”.

The concert on November 17 features soloists, who are all current or recent award-winning students from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. These include Holly Teague (Soprano), Miles Taylor (Baritone), Vera Khait (Harp), Kevin Gill (Piano) and Darren Hogg (Organ).

Tickets can be bought in advance here or on the door and cost £14 adults (£7 under 16, students, and escorts for disabled people)

The full Grant Us Peace concert programme is:

Saturday 17 November 2018, 7.30pm

St George’s Church, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 3DQ

Howard Goodall, Eternal Light

Vaughan Williams, Dona Nobis Pacem

Birmingham Festival Choral Society and Ryton Chorale.

Holly Teague, Soprano

Miles Taylor, Baritone

Kevin Gill Darren Hogg, Piano and organ.

Vera Khait, harp

Conductor: David Wynne

From concert entry in ‘Weekend Notes’ by Alison Brinkworth, taken from press release by Tom Dance (BFCS Bass singer). Link to original article here.

 

 

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