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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 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.

Rossini concert – our talented performers

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.

Ben de Souza, Accordion. More information here.

Kevin Gill, Piano Biography here.

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.

Rachel Gilmore, Mezzo soprano

Caroline Modiba, Soprano . Caroline’s website.

Joseph Kennedy, Baritone. More information here.

Richard Hansen, Tenor. Richard’s website.

David Wynne, Conductor David’s Biography here

Birmingham Festival Choral Society

MESSIAH in pictures

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.

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