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.
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 .
We hope that you will enjoy the images and music on this recording of Paul Fincham’s ‘Ring the Bells’, from the BFCS virtual choir. Hear the swinging bells in the different voice parts!
The composer wrote this Christmas piece in 2019 to raise money for ‘Crisis’, the charity for homeless people. Birmingham Festival Choral Society sang it at last year’s Crisis Carol Service in St Martin’s in the Bull Ring, and this year we’ve sent them this recording for their use.
Did you see the article about our online rehearsing and performing in the Birmingham Post yesterday? We were very pleased to have such a big spread in the paper to show how BFCS has been responding to the challenges of the lockdown. Mary Keating, the author and BFCS soprano, has provided the text below to enable you to read it easily online.
Carry on singing –
Birmingham prides itself on being a cultural oasis so it is tragic that theatre and live music have been so badly affected by Covid-19 with no end yet in sight. What has been overlooked, in the concern over the continuation of professional performances, are the consequences for the many community choirs across the city who support and give purpose to so many lives.
The Birmingham Festival Choral Society (BFCS) is one such choir and it is special because it is the oldest choir still operating in Birmingham. Founded in 1845, this year marks the 175th anniversary. Having weathered many historical upheavals, will this be the final curtain?
Music Director, David Wynne, is determined that this will not be the case. The choir continues to sing and has even produced a performance recording of Mozart’s Ave Verum that can be seen on the BFCS website. While concern about infection remains so high the intention is to continue producing these performance recordings. Indeed there is an ambitious plan to produce a concert recording.
The experience of managing Zoom rehearsals is far from simple, as other choirs will confirm. The BFCS is not only the oldest choir, it is also a very large choir. For normal rehearsals and performances choir numbers are around eighty. Imagine that number of people singing together via varying internet speeds – what a cacophony, certainly not up to the usual high standards. To manage this issue David developed an ingenious way of conducting the rehearsals and supporting each choir member to learn their parts.
One of the first things David recognised was that without the opportunity to sing together in parts and as a whole it is a strange and isolating experience for the performer and the conductor. So much of what singers and conductors do is reliant on hearing each other. How to replicate this was the question. Usually rehearsal recordings only have the music for each individual part, so this does not address the issue of singing in isolation. Instead David produced recordings with all the voice parts singing but weighted in favour of each part. As a Soprano you can listen and sing with the Soprano weighted part, and you are also singing with the rest of the choir.
As David commented this was a huge learning curve. He had never heard of Zoom and certainly never done any audio and video editing. Initially he sang all the male parts but what of the alto and soprano? Luckily for the choir David’s wife, Alexandra, is a professional soprano. Where the tenor part became too high even for David he managed to persuade Edward Harrison to lend his voice.
The innovation did not stop there. When it became clear that conducting live suffered from the same internet delays, the audio rehearsal recordings became videos with David conducting.
The danger for all choirs currently is that members are lost. So far the vast majority of BFCS have taken part in the Zoom rehearsals and over forty contributed to the performance recording. Initial anxiety about the technology putting many people off has not been realised.
Research on the possible dangers of spreading the virus through singing continues. Although anecdotal, there is no firm evidence that singing of itself spreads the virus through airborne transmission. Even with or without that evidence the confidence of choir members to return is doubtful. So what does the future hold for the BFCS and others like it? David feels that much has been learned in a very short time about how technology can support the choir to continue to work towards performance standards, albeit virtual.
Beyond Covid many of these developments, spearheaded by David, can continue. Producing the rehearsal recordings can be maintained. These can support all the choir to work on their own to improve their practice. For those less confident about their singing and sight reading they would be invaluable as a way of encouraging a wider membership and greater inclusivity. Importantly for a community choir, those housebound members who have been singing with the choir for years will be able to continue to enjoy singing with us.
BFCS has withstood many historical upheavals. Its future after the First World War and the 1918 flu epidemic looked very shaky. Choir members dropped to critical levels and finding male voices was understandably very difficult. Nevertheless, the choir has faced many upheavals risen to the challenges and deserves its current reputation as one of the best choral societies in Birmingham. Covid-19, tragic as it is, holds the opportunity to improve the quality and inclusivity of the choir that prides itself on being the “friendly choir”.
If you are interested in finding out more about the BFCS or joining us, visit the website and look out for the next sets of performance recordings that show that the choir remains a vibrant entity.
Sixty BFCS singers joined together for the first time on Zoom yesterday evening. It was lovely to see familiar faces on the screen, and to laugh together.
We knew that singing together as a choir would not be possible on Zoom, due to the different internet speeds, but muting our microphones and singing alone to the conducting of David, our Music Director, with a recorded accompaniment from Kevin, was definitely the next best thing. We started with a simple piece – but who knows what we will accomplish in the future!
Choirs involve so much more than just the actually singing. We really felt that we were together again, and we look forward to more zooming in the future.
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 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.
Are you thinking of joining a choir? Come to our free Open Rehearsal next Wednesday (8th January) to enjoy a sing with us, and see if Birmingham Festival Choral Society is the choir for you!
We’ll be welcoming people to Lordswood Girls’ School from about 7pm, which will give time to have a chat, give you some music and introduce you to someone of the same voice part who can lead you through the rehearsal. There will be a chance to meet other singers over coffee and cake at the half time break.
The best part is the singing! Our Music Director, David Wynne, and accompanist, Kevin Gill, combine the achievement of high musical standards with good humour and friendliness – a winning combination!
The concert we will be leading up to this term is Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle. The poster shows that Rossini was not blessed with film star looks, but he certainly knew how to write wonderful opera and choral music!
Have a look around the rest of our website, particularly the Join us page, to find out more about our rehearsals, concerts, overseas tours and our interesting history.
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.
The friendly Birmingham choir singing the world's best choral music.