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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 K?ln 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

Join us for a year of choral contrasts!

September is nearly here, and that means that we’ll be singing together again! If you’re considering joining a choral society like ours, why not come along and give us a try at our Open Rehearsals on the 4th and 11th September? All new singers will be given a warm welcome, and will be introduced to others of the same voice part to guide them through the rehearsal. David Wynne, our Music Director, has the magic talent of bringing the best out of the choir with lots of humour on the way.

Details of our rehearsals, subs, voice test and expression of interest form can be found on our ‘Join our Choir’ page here.

The programme this year is very varied, ranging from the choral favourite’ Messiah’ in an Anglo Catholic church renowned for its acoustics, to a summer concert of choral jazz and blues in an informal setting. Come along and share these wonderful choral experiences with us!

Bucharest Memories – singing with Cor cu Dor.

We are pleased to share some of the lovely photos and videos from our concert with the excellent Cor cu Dor youth choir during our Romania Choir tour. 29th May 2019.

An account of that day can be found in our tour blog: ‘Singing for all ages in Bucharest.’

The concert took place at the Music University in Bucharest. As we arrived for our rehearsal, graduation ceremonies were just coming to an end.

[Where you see dots below the picture, please click the arrows to see the full slide show.]

BFCS singers gathering in the auditorium:

Cor cu Dor sang in the first half of the concert, including an excellent performance of Bohemian Rhapsody and many other songs in English (from memory too!).

The two choirs came together to perform a Romanian folk song. We were glad that Cor cu Dor were able to keep up with the Romanian words at that pace – we couldn’t!

In the second half BFCS performed a programme of folk songs from the British Isles, music by English composers and choral classics. Alexandra Wynne was our soprano soloist, Kevin Gill our accompanist, and David Wynne our music director.

Taking the applause.

One member of the youth choir said “I hope that I can sing as well as you when I am old” (!)

Here’s the last verse of the lovely setting of Irish Blessing by Bob Chilcott, sung as an encore.

Many thanks to our photographers Alfred White and Marilyn Kent, for taking the photographs in such difficult conditions of extreme light and dark. Thanks also to Marilyn and Sandra Smith for the videos. We are grateful to Cor cu Dor for giving permission to use the photographs taken by their photographer Andra Aron.

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.

Romania tour – looking back.

We’d like to share with you some of the photos and videos that are coming though from our tour to Romania, particularly for those who have not been able to see the posts on our social media accounts. This blog just covers our first , very busy, day in Bucharest:

Birmingham Festival Choral Society announced its presence in Bucharest by doing a ‘Flash mob’ rendition of Vivaldi’s Gloria in the big bookshop Carturesti Carusel! We were delighted with this high quality video , sent to us by our Romanian hosts.

Carturesti Carusel bookshop.

Following the flash mob, we gathered on the stairs and gave a 20 minute performance, which was shown live on the bookshop’s Facebook page.

BFCS perform in the Carturesti Carusel bookshop, Bucharest

Our first performance over, singers had a couple of hours to relax in Bucharest, before being taken to the University for the next rehearsal and concert.

The Titu Maiorescu University building was covered with our posters, and we performed to a very appreciative audience.

Alexandra Wynne, our soloist on tour, performed Mozart’s Laudate Dominum and Stanford’s ‘Blue Bird’ with the choir, and Mozart’s virtuoso ‘Alleluia’.

David Wynne (baritone) sang the solo verse in ‘The Turtle Dove’ and Mitch Holland (tenor) sang the solo verse in ‘Ca’ the Yowes’, both arranged by Vaughan Williams.

Many thanks to Alfred White and Marilyn Kent for taking such great photos of BFCS on tour.

The tour blog written on the first day can be read here.

We look forward to sharing more photos and videos from the tour in future blogs.

On top of the world.

Romania choir tour blog no 5.

The last concert of our tour was to be in the World Heritage Citadel, on the hill above Sighisoara. What a treat!

We arrived late morning and climbed the steep steps to the Citadel. This beautiful spot gives great views over the city. It’s very popular for wedding photos.

We had several hours to relax and explore the little streets and the beautiful clock tower. We even saw a plaque on the house where Vlad Dracul lived – the father of Vlad the Impaler and, presumably, the inspiration for the choice of the name ‘Dracula’ for the fictional character. (see blog 4).

At 3pm we gathered for our rehearsal in the Lutheran Church, formerly the church of the Monastery. This was to be the only concert in a church for this tour, and we were looking forward to singing in this lovely space.

The concert followed at 4.30pm and we were delighted to find a full church, with some people having to stand at the back! What a difference to the night before! We always try to sing our best, but we have to admit that singing to a big, appreciative audience always brings out the best in us. It was a splendid finale, and we all felt on a high. The Pastor of the church came forward to thank us and invite each person to join him in the Lord’s Prayer in their own language. He said that “when I heard your beautiful singing I found it hard to believe in Brexit. ”

The evening sun was coming out when we gathered after the concert, and the sun was glinting on the copper tiles of the clock tower.

We all walked down the steps to the town, and across the road to where a lovely meal was waiting for us to share all together, as this was the last night of the tour.

Following the food, our chair, Liz Collins, gave a speech thanking all the people who had been involved in the success of the tour…

Our tour committee, Tim, Mary, Nick, Alistair and Sue…

Arald, our Romanian guide who accompanied us from when we arrived at the airport to when we departed…

Kevin, our unflappable accompanist on piano and organ…

and David, our MD, who combines the uncompromising quest for high standards with a big sense of humour. Liz had planned to get him a Dracula cloak, but David beat her to it. He was given a Bran Castle baseball cap instead!

There was a 2 hour drive back to the hotel, followed by packing the next morning. The tour wasn’t quite finished, though, as you will discover in the next blog.

Vlad the Impaler, Dracula and the Archduke.

Romania choir blog no 4.

Friday – the day of our visit to Bran Castle aka Dracula’s Castle!

Firstly – why “Dracula’s Castle? Bram Stokes heard many of the gruesome tales around the infamous 15th century local hero who became known as ‘Vlad the Impaler’ due to his terrible cruelty.

It’s probable that Vlad the Impaler stayed at Bran Castle at some point, and this castle is definitely the only one that fits the description in the Dracula stories. During the communist period, the Dracula connection was not mentioned, but since the fall of communism and the restoration of the castle to its former owners, the Dracula connection is encouraged, bringing in the tourists in big numbers and spawning a lot of shops around, selling Dracula tat. Our conductor entered into the spirit by putting on his black cape and fangs to conduct us in the castle. Dracula didn’t ever have to blow a tuning device, however. The fangs had to be removed to get the correct note!

By far the most moving history was that of the fortunes of the recent owners of the castle, particularly after we were met at the entrance by the present owner, introduced as His Imperial Highness Dominic Habsburg – Lothringen.

We heard about how his grandmother Queen Maria (granddaughter of Queen Victoria) had been a very important influence in WW1 and the subsequent creation of Romania in 1918. In gratitude, she was given Bran Castle, and spent a lot of money restoring it. The Archduke told us that he had lived there for 10 years as a child.

Our young tour guide went bright red and looked very embarrassed when the Archduke popped up later in the tour and listened! We learnt that the royal family and relatives had been forced to flee by the communists after the 2nd World War and spent 60 years in exile, before eventually returning to the castle in 2006.

Our 20 minute performance took place inside the castle, as it was raining outside. Dozens of tourists trooped through the room as we sang. We were ‘singing for our supper’ as all 62 of us had been given free entry in return for the performance.

The Archduke listened to it all. He said that he felt very emotional as, when his family had returned to the castle after all those years in exile, he had a wish for the castle to be ‘filled with song’.

As a final farewell, we sang our Romanian song in the courtyard, so that the song would rise up to all the levels of the castle. The castle posted a Facebook video, which has been shared on our Facebook page.

Unfortunately, Facebook videos can’t be shared here, but you might enjoy this recording we’ve been sent of us singing the same song with the Youth choir Cor cu Dor on Wednesday.

The coaches took as back to Brasov for a few hours rest and recuperation in the afternoon. Most of us sought out restaurants for a mid afternoon lunch / dinner.

Then it was back on the coaches to the Sala Patria in Brasov for our rehearsal and evening concert, having carried our choir clothes and music around all day. We were very relieved that chairs were found, so that the weary singers didn’t have to stand throughout the concert, holding folders of heavy music.

It was a lovely hall with a beautiful grand piano for Kevin to play (in contrast to the piano – keyboard we’ve been taking round with us). We now know the works well and are enjoying singing them. However, the small audience was rather disappointing. We were pleased to see some visually impaired people in the audience from the charity we had collected for at our last concert in Birmingham. Liz Collins, our chair, went to speak to them after the performance. Once again, our Romanian song went down well, with murmurs of approval when it was announced, and clapping along as we sang. Our small but appreciative audience rose to its feet as they applauded, bringing a long day to a good conclusion!

BFCS on tour in Romania!

Greetings from Bucharest, where Birmingham Festival Choral Society are on tour!

We here travelled here on Monday, courtesy of Johnson’s coaches and Wizzair, arriving in our rooms at 9pm Romanian time. The first choice was whether to venture out into Bucharest to find food, or whether to settle for a packet of pretzels in the hotel bar and prioritise sleep!

We hit the ground running on Tuesday, with a rehearsal at 9am (following the logistics of 63 singers descending for breakfast at the same time). Concert clothes had been loaded onto the coach, and music had to be sorted into concert order.

The next challenge was to locate a bookstore in the centre of town for our first short performance. Singers set off on foot, or by metro or taxi, clutching maps, or phones with Google maps. Some did unexpected detours, others actually got there in time to have a drink beforehand!

We gathered in the beautiful Carturesti bookshop at midday, and spaced ourselves throughout the store. When Kevin stuck up the intro on the keyboard, we all burst into song with the first movement of Vivaldi’s Gloria! It made a big impact on the shoppers in the store, and they were soon filming us on their phones. We gathered together on the steps and did the remainder of our 20 minute performance. The store streamed the whole performance on Facebook- you can see it shared on our choir Facebook page.

It was lovely to have a few hours afterwards to enjoy lunch with other singers, before gathering again to be taken to the Titu Maiorescu University for our next rehearsal and concert. It was wonderful to be greated with dozens of posters for our concert on every door and wall space! Our hosts said that they were honoured that we had come, and provided us with welcome refreshments.

The concert took place in a modern auditorium, with a very appreciative audience. The choir rose to the occasion, despite the heat and a long stand with lots of heavy music. The Parry and Elgar were sung with gusto, and the folk songs and Stanford’s Blue Bird made a lovely contrast. The star of the show was our soloist Alexandra, with her amazing performance of Mozart’s Laudate Dominum and Alleluia. The audience rose to their feet at the end – so we sang them an encore and got a second standing ovation!

You can see that we squeezed a lot into our first 24 hours! Being on tour is not for the faint hearted, but the experiences will stay in the memory for years to come. We look forward to more Romanian adventures to come… watch this space!

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’.