Birmingham Festival Choral Society is the longest established chorus in Birmingham. It was formed in 1843 to supply the majority of the singers for the Triennial Musical Festivals, the proceeds of which went towards building and maintaining Birmingham’s first General Hospital. The Society provided the majority of the chorus not only for the première of Mendelssohn’s Elijah at the 1846 Festival, but also all future Musical Festivals. It gave many premières including Dvorak’s Requiem (1891) conducted by the composer, and Sir Edward Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius (1900) and The Music Makers (1912).
The first three BFCS conductors (James Stimpson, William C Stockley and Dr Charles Swinnerton Heap) were also Chorus Masters of the Triennial Musical Festivals and so BFCS concerts often included second performances of works that had been premièred at the Festivals. BFCS thus has a long history in promoting and performing new choral music, a tradition which has continued in modern times. Since 1975 BFCS has premièred twenty one choral works.
For a period after the Second World War BFCS struggled to survive, but in 1962 Madam Aird-Briscoe, an experienced choral director/singing teacher and the only woman to be Conductor/Music Director of BFCS, took over a chorus of less than 30 members. She began recruiting and gave BFCS a new lease of life. In 1969 she handed over the baton to Jeremy Patterson, who developed and strengthened the choir over a period of 25 years, retiring in 2004, to be replaced by Patrick Larley.