Tag Archives: concert

Messiah – our professional performers.

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.

Handel’s MESSIAH

Saturday 16 November 2019, 7.30pm

Church of St Alban the Martyr, Stanhope St, Birmingham B12 0YF

English music in an English market town.

St Mary’s Church, Warwick.

Our summer concert of English choral music was held in the historic Collegiate church of St Mary, Warwick last Saturday, 6th July. It was a special day out for our singers and supporters, and it also introduced the choir to a new audience in Warwickshire.

The rehearsal gave us the chance to get used to singing in that big, airy space, accompanied by the grand piano, or the magnificent organ. Our gentlemen stood in the church’s semicircular choir stalls, and the sopranos and altos filled in the semicircle in front of the stalls.

BFCS rehearsal, in front of the large stained glass window.
Our basses standing in the curved choir stalls
View from the back of the choir, towards the golden organ pipes.
Kevin Gill at the organ console.
Choir and conductor in informal clothes, singing ‘Blest Pair of Sirens’.

The break between rehearsal and concert gave some the chance to explore the medieval Beauchamp chapel, with the magnificent tombs of three Earls.

The concert showed the full range of English choral music, from the purity of Stanford’s Blue Bird and folk song arrangements with piano, to the grand sound of Parry and Elgar with full choir and organ.

We sang music written by Tallis in the 16th Century and Purcell in the 17th century, right through to Bob Chilcott’s 21st century pieces.

Elgar’s Songs from the Bavarian Highlands showed a lighter side to the composer we thought we knew so well. A holiday souvenir with a difference!

Solo verses in the folk songs were sung by Mitch Holland and David Wynne, and Kevin Gill treated us to an organ solo: Stanford’s Postlude in D minor.

Finally, we sang Chilcott’s Irish Blessing as an encore. Singing it from memory made it feel extra special – a fitting end to our 2018/19 BFCS season.

BFCS in black, singing in front of the large stained glass window.
Kevin Gill at the piano, with the sopranos singing behind.
Sopranos and tenors.
Altos and basses.
View from behind the choir.
View of the choir and audience, from the back of the church.

Thanks to Peter Wright for the photographs of the choir.

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.

Gloria Full flyer

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

Gloria! Choral works with organ, brass and percussion.

Saturday 30th March 7.30pm

Glorious choral works with organ, brass and percussion. The concert includes works written for royal occasions, and music written by Jean Dattas, who was born 100 years ago.

Rutter: Gloria, 
Walton: Coronation Te Deum, 
Parry: I Was Glad,
Vaughan Williams: Old Hundredth,
Vaughan Williams: O Clap Your Hands,
Will Todd: The Lord is my Shepherd,
Will Todd: Stay with Me Lord, 
Will Todd: Call of Wisdom, 
Jean Dattas: Ave Maria, Kyrie and Sanctus.

Birmingham Festival Choral Society,
Gemini Brass,
Kevin Gill: organ,
David Wynne: conductor.

St John’s and St Peter’s Church, Ladywood ARC, Darnley Road, Birmingham, B16 8TF

Click here for tickets to ‘Gloria’.

Grant us Peace

This term Birmingham Festival Choral Society will be preparing thought-provoking works by Vaughan Williams and Howard Goodall to mark 100 years since the ending of the first World War. We will join with Ryton Chorale, David Wynne’s other choral society, for two concerts in November.

The theme of the concert is ‘Grant us Peace’.

Vaughan Williams produced his plea for peace, ‘Dona Nobis pacem’ at a time when there were fears of a second World War, so shortly after the first. His texts were taken from the Mass, the Bible, a political speech and three poems by Walt Whitman. The phrase Dona nobis pacem (“Give us peace”), in different settings, punctuates the entire piece.

‘Eternal Light’ by Howard Goodall uses phrases from the Latin Requiem in each movement, beside words from English poetry from across the last 500 years, in an attempt to provide some solace for the living who mourn those lost as a result of war.

GRANT US PEACE.

Reflective music to mark the ending of the First World War.

Saturday 10 November 2018, 7.30pm

Crossing Church and Centre, Newcastle Street, Worksop S80 2AT

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 and Mitch Holland, Piano and organ.

Vera Khait, harp

Conductor: David Wynne

Poster image: Chris Fletcher.

Our professional jazz performers for ‘Mass in Blue’

We have an exciting line up of professional jazz musicians for our performance of Will Todd’s Mass in Blue on Saturday 14th July!

Hannah Davey 2

Hannah Davey, sings the soprano solo, which is a major part of the work and has great moments of interplay with the choir. Hannah has the rare talent of being equally at home singing classical and jazz music. As well as professional singing, Hannah works with the charity ‘Music for Autism’which provides high calibre performance for children and adults with special needs.

Our Jazz Trio consists of Chris Corcoran, piano, Mike Green on upright bass and Dave Wilkes on drums.

Chris is well known in the Birmingham area as a director or accompanist for musical theatre. He enjoys arranging and composing jazz music, and has played and toured with many bands.

Mike’s experience varies from small intimate Jazz Clubs to appearing on national TV. In recent years he has been touring and recording with Gypsy jazz guitarist Remi Harris.

Dave was playing in the junior section of the Midlands Jazz Orchestra as young as 6 years of age! In more recent years he’s played with many bands on tour, and in theatre for shows such as ‘Legally Blonde’ and ‘Back to the 80s’ in Birmingham.

We can’t wait to perform ‘Mass in Blue’ with such  exciting musicians!

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Choral Jazz and Blues

 

CHORAL JAZZ & BLUES

If you regularly attend performances by the Birmingham Festival Choral Society (which we sincerely hope you do!) you will find next month’s event something of a contrast.  All of the works are British, contemporary, in the jazz idiom – and, by all accounts, highly popular with audiences. The concert is called CHORAL JAZZ & BLUES: the lighter side of choral music.  Moreover, it will take place not at our normal church or concert hall venues but in the Informal setting of Trefoil House in central Birmingham, with food and drink at your table while you soak up the music.

2to1 image copy

What of the music itself?  The main item, Mass in Blue, written by Will Todd, is a remarkable fusion of two very different musical traditions: the sung Mass (whose European origins date from medieval times) and the Blues (of African-American 19th century origin, a forerunner of jazz).  This reflects the Durham-born composer’s “double life”, on the one hand an experienced chorister and classically-trained pianist, and on the other a jazz musician in his ‘down time’.

The work, accompanied by a small jazz ensemble (piano, upright bass, drums – and a virtuoso soprano soloist) features the traditional sections of the sung Catholic Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, Angus Dei).  For those familiar to conventional Mass settings, there will be much to recognise: plainchants and Latin rhythms interwoven with Blues-style syncopation, improvisation and melodies.  First  performed in 2003, Mass in Blue was an immediate success, and is an increasingly popular item of the choral repertoire.

Two further works in the jazz idiom feature in the programme. Songs and Sonnets is a cycle of seven familiar Shakespeare verses (including  It was a lover and his lass and Who is Sylvia?) by the revered British jazz pianist and composer Sir George Shearing, who died in 2011.  The concert will also include Birthday Madrigals by the popular choral composer John Rutter, who was commissioned to write this collection of songs on the occasion of Shearing’s 75th birthday.

CHORAL JAZZ & BLUES, with the Birmingham Festival Choral Society conducted by Kevin Gill, takes place at Trefoil House, Blucher Street B1 1QL, on Saturday 14 July at 6.30pm.  You are welcome to bring some supper to enjoy at your own table.  There will be a bar available from the start of the concert for wine and soft drinks.

St John Passion on the eve of Holy Week.

An audience of 200 people came to St Augustine’s. Edgbaston on Saturday to hear Birmingham Festival Choral Society sing Bach’s St John Passion. They were held spellbound by the story of the events of Holy week told in recitative form by the Evangelist (Andrew King) and Jesus (Andrew Tipple). The story was interspersed with exciting choruses and reflective chorales from the choir. Emilia Morton, Matthew Venner, Robert Jenkins and Richard Patterson each sang beautiful arias reflecting on the vents of the story.

The Musical and Amicable Society provided the accompaniment at Baroque pitch on period instruments, some familiar and some unfamiliar to 21st century eyes.

St Augustine’s church seemed a very appropriate setting for such moving sacred music, the covering of all church decoration for Passiontide adding to the atmosphere.

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Here is some of the audience feedback from Social Media:

This stunning church (our first visit) provided just the right kind of backdrop for this awesome performance. It was all such a moving and memorable experience. Thank you and congratulations to all those involved.

Thoroughly enjoyed it! Well done!

We were there and thought it was amazing. St Augustine’s church was a beautiful venue for this incredibly moving performance.

What a wonderful, moving evening. A long journey for us and worth every moment.

Watching Andrew was beautiful – so sensitive and really illuminated the story. The choir were beautifully balanced in sound!

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Thank you to Alfred White for these lovely photographs of the concert, and to St Augustine’s for the cover photo.

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West window, St Augustine’s Church Edgbaston. (Photo by Christine Wright)