The 2018 – 2019 Season of Concerts
The season started with the November concert themed around the centenary of the 1st World War Armistice. Gabriel Faure’s Requiem gave voice to the losses incurred in the 4 year war, which was then followed by the strident celebration of peace through John Rutter’s Gloria. The latter was accompanied by Dave Pugh’s Brass ensemble. The bright tones of the Gloria contrasted sharply with the poignant tones of the Requiem. The choir had practised hard to get the jazz of the Gloria right. St John’s Church Kenilworth helped generate a huge sound, and the effect on the audience was dramatic. The concert was well attended despite other rival attractions on that evening. At short notice Andrew Randall sang the Butterworth song cycle: ‘A Shropshire Lad’.
For the traditional performance of Handel’s Messiah at Kenilworth’s St Nicholas Church in December the choir was boosted by additional singers invited to join on a ‘Come and Sing basis’. 95 strong, the choir just fitted into the church and was accompanied by Colin Druce on the restored Kenilworth pipe organ. He coaxed an attractive range of different tones from the organ, aided in the famous ’Trumpet shall sound Aria’ by Dave Pugh on Trumpet. Male Alto Solomon Hayes singing for the second year, performed a memorable rendering of the Alto Air, ‘He was despised’: and the tenor Tim Lacy also rose to the occasion.
The high point of the season came with the St John Passion in March. The sopranos achieved a powerful tone, and the challenging choruses leading to Christ’s Crucifixion were tackled with the necessary verve and determination. Extra tension was created by J.S. Bach’s original German text which makes use of alliteration absent from the English translation. The initial entry of the choir with repetitive ‘H’ consonants, and then later the repetition of ‘Kreuzige’ and ‘Koenig’ fair raised the roof. Benedict Wilson had assembled a talented array of young soloists. The two tenors Tim Lacy (Evangelist) and Matthew Sandy made a particular impression. The 15 instrumentalists were outstanding in accuracy and musicality. It was brave to tackle this work and the result was stirring.
The summer concert included some well known opera choruses including the Chorus of Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco, and the famous Bridal March from Lohengrin. Rebecca Mills, who has on occasion stood in for Benedict at rehearsals, performed a stirring rendition of the Habanera dance song which is Carmen’s entrance from Bizet’s opera. Much discussion followed the famous Waltz scene from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. The sopranos and Altos sang wistfully about the frequent absence of their menfolk hunting. The tenors and basses did their best to prove them wrong! The light-hearted madrigals were interspersed with the more heavyweight ‘Locus Iste’ by Anton Brueckner. The foreign language quota was maintained at a high level by Cornelius’ ‘So weich und warm’. This eclectic collection of music was a fitting celebration of Benedict’s 5 years as Musical Director.
The 2017 – 2018 Season of Concerts
St Nicholas Church, Warwick were the kind hosts for our performance of Haydn’s Creation in November 2017. The confined space, the excellent organ and orchestra combined to produce a high impact performance. Particularly notable was the famous chorus: ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God’. But also the moments of humour in Haydn’s music were also conspicuous under Benedict Wilson’s baton. Tony Ayres’ instrumental ensemble played elegantly and the concert was well received by critics for its accuracy and enthusiasm. Joanna Songi delivered the Soprano solos with distinction.
The traditional Christmas performances of the Messiah, started on the Monday with organ and orchestra in St Nicholas Church, Warwick and were repeated the next night in Kenilworth at St Nicholas Church, with Colin Druce delivering a remarkable organ performance on the historic, but restored pipe organ. Handel’s work never fails to stir its audience.
In March 2018 came our initial concert at St John’s Church, Kenilworth for the Beethoven Fantasia, and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. There was a huge reception for these works and the church was filled to the extent of audience sitting on gallery steps. Colin Druce’s performance of the Fantasia got the concert off to a rousing start, with also a strong soprano contribution from Isabella Gage. The Sinfonia of Birmingham, 50 strong , tackled the demanding 9th Symphony with precision, the ‘cello section receiving praise from the critics. In the last movement the bass entry of Benjamin Lewis was particularly memorable. The entire choir and orchestra numbered 125, and were firmly controlled by Benedict. The choir, led by a large soprano section achieved the rhythmic challenges with enthusiasm. It was a most memorable evening, and we are grateful to St John’s church for the opportunity to come there in such large numbers.
The summer concert combined Handel’s Coronation Anthems: ‘Let thy hand be strengthened’, and ‘Zadok the Priest’. These were followed by a varied programme of part songs, with each cheerful piece followed by a more somber one. Amongst the more cheerful ones was ‘Die Harmonie in der Ehe’ by Josef Haydn. Colin Druce played the ‘Suite Gothique’ by Boellmann and the concert ended with a rousing audience version of Jerusalem.
We are in process of updating this page – watch this space! (22nd May 2019)
The 2011 – 2012 Season of Concerts
The 2011/12 season saw a major change for the choir with the appointment of a new Musical Director in January 2012. We were sorry to lose our former Director Andrew Jones due to his departure from the area following a change in employment but were fortunate to find an immediate successor in Julian Parkin. Happily we also continue to enjoy the benefits of a highly skilled repetiteur in Colin Druce who has accompanied the choir for a number of years.
Musically, the past season comprised quite a varied programme. Andrew’s last major concert, on 19th November at All Saints’ Church, Leamington, was Mendelssohn Elijah when we were again accompanied by the Birmingham Phillharmonic Orchestra. This was a considerable success, with a good audience and a robust performance by choir, soloists and orchestra. The year (and Andrew’s tenure as MD) ended on 13th December with our customary Messiah concert at St Nicholas’ church, Kenilworth, with organ accompaniment by Colin Druce.
The major item in Julian’s first performance with the choir on 24th March was Mozart’s Coronation Mass. The concert also featured Beethoven’s Choral Fantasia and the first performance of a new work “Day of Dreams” composed by one of the choir’s sopranos, Margaret Vickery. The choir gave a crisp and sensitive performance of the Mozart mass and Colin Druce produced a sparkling display of solo piano playing in the Choral Fantasia. A very agreeable surprise, after some challenging rehearsals, was the performance of Day of Dreams much to the delight of choir and composer. Orchestral accompaniment in the concert was provided by the Beauchamp Sinfonietta who also performed Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture.
The season concluded on 16th June with a performance of Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle with accompaniment by Colin Druce on piano and Adrian Moore on harmonium.
The 2010 – 2011 Season Of Concerts
2010-11 was a season of great contrasts and great challenges. The November 2010 concert was a highlight for the choir as it was an opportunity to perform the Verdi Requiem again, with the excellent accompaniment of the enlarged Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra and outstanding soloists.
The annual performance of the Messiah at St Nicholas’ Church, Kenilworth once again showcased the versatility of Colin Druce, as a problem with the organ meant that the piano needed to be used instead. However, this brought a new lightness and clarity to the orchestral rendition and gave a new directness to the choir’s interpretation.
The March 2011 gave the opportunity for the choir to work once again with the professional musicians of the orchestra of the 18th century. The choir engaged itself well with the relentless drama of the Bach St John Passion.
The summer 2011 concert brought with it one of biggest challenges the choir has faced to date; namely taking on Parry’s fiendishly difficult “Songs of Farewell” for unaccompanied chorus. The choir certainly rose to the challenge and framed the concert with works by Stanford, one of Parry’s contemporaries and Mendelssohn one of his key influences.
The 2009 – 10 Season of Concerts
The 2009-10 season has been the first full year under our new Music Director, Andrew Jones. It has been a challenging but enjoyable experience. The November 2009 concert consisted of the Brahms and Faure Requiems with the accompaniment of the Birmingham Sinfonia. Under Andrew’s calm direction, the Choir coped well with the very different challenges of the two pieces. The demands of the Brahms Requiem were offset by the more delicate singing required in the Faure Requiem.
The Christmas concert of Messiah at St Nicholas’ Church, Kenilworth delivered its customary successful introduction to the Christmas season but in a subtly different performance under our new conductor. Colin Druce again provided an apparently effortless accompaniment on the organ.
The March 2010 concert was a varied and lively programme – the little known Schubert Magnificat in C and the more familiar Mozart Mass in C Minor, surrounding another virtuoso solo performance by Colin Druce of Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No 1. Again the Choir were accompanied most eloquently by the Birmingham Sinfonia.
The summer programme was particularly daunting for many of us with the musical challenge of the Poulenc Gloria and the textual and linguistic difficulties of Schubert’s Deutsche Messe, relieved by the lighter demands of the Vivaldi Gloria. Colin Druce provided an outstanding organ accompaniment and, in the event, the choir finished the year in fine style and earned a glowing critique in the local press for themselves, their conductor and their accompanist.
The 2008-9 Season of Concerts
The 2008-9 season has been a year of significant change for the Society because in December 2008 we lost the services of our highly regarded conductor Ron Binnie.Ron had been our Musical Director for almost 14 years and conducted the choir in some 54 concerts. Fortunately, and characteristically, Ron gave the Society over 18 months’ notice of his retirement decision and we were able to recruit his successor, Andrew Jones, early in 2008. Andrew, whose CV is detailed under “Musical Director”, took over in January 2009.
Ron’s last major concert, at All Saints’ Church, Leamington Spa on 22nd November 2008, was predictably lively. Before a large audience and accompanied by the Birmingham Sinfonia the Choir sang Elgar’s The Music Makers and large parts of Orff’s Carmina Burana and the Birmingham Sinfonia played Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony. Ron’s final appearance with the Choir was the traditional Handel’s Messiah at St Nicholas’ Church, Kenilworth in December, accompanied by Colin Druce on the organ.
Haydn’s Creation was performed in March 2009 as the first work under our new conductor, Andrew Jones. The work was familiar to most members of the Choir which made it a good vehicle through which Andrew could build his relationship with the Choir. Despite this familiarity, Andrew brought new insights into how we should sing the piece and in how the choir should present itself to its audience. Organ accompaniment was provided by Colin Druce.
The summer concert in June 2009 consisted of five Bruckner Motets and Mozart’s Requiem , again accompanied by Colin Druce on the organ. The concert opened with some light pieces performed by the Warwick Trombone Trio. The Choir rose to the challenge of limited accompaniment in the Motets and sang the Requiem with verve. The evening was a great success.
The 2007-8 Season of Concerts
The 2007-8 season opened with a performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio on November 24th 2007 at All Saints’ Church in Leamington Spa.
We were again accompanied by the outstanding 18th Century Concert Orchestra. which contributed to an authentic and memorable performance.
Our regular Christmas concert of Handel’s Messiah at St Nicholas’ Church in Kenilworth was another great success, drawing our largest ever audience for this event and testing the limits of available concert programmes and interval refreshments!
The March 2008 concert was a varied programme consisting of Cherubini’s Requiem in C Minor, Dvorak’s Te Deum and Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem. The Vaughan Williams piece had proved a particularly testing work for the choir during rehearsal but they delivered a very creditable concert performance with the full bodied support of the Birmingham Sinfonia.
Handel’s Alexander’s Feast provided a gentler and more predictable programme for the June 2008 concert. Colin Druce’s excellent organ accompaniment was ably supplemented by Adrian Moore (harpsichord) and Eric Martens (cello).
The 2006-7 Season of Concerts
Our first concert of the 2006-7 season was a performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary on November 18th 2006 at All Saints’ Church in Leamington. This proved to be one of the choir’s most difficult works, but ultimately the audience was treated to an excellent performance by choir, soloists and orchestra alike.
We were accompanied by the outstanding 18th Century Concert Orchestra. They certainly justified the title of ‘one of the finest exponents of baroque music in the country’ (Oxford Times).
Then in December the choir performed its annual Messiah concert in Kenilworth to a record audience. Unfortunately the tenor soloist collapsed during the dress rehearsal and was rushed to hospital. We were grateful to David Manford, the previous year’s tenor, for taking his place for the concert – a fantastic achievement when you consider he had had no notice at all and no opportunity to rehearse with the choir and orchestra.
Our March concert was a dramatic performance of Mendelssohn’s ever-popular oratoria, Elijah. Although sections are often cut, we performed the work in its entirety. It was a long evening but hugely enjoyable.
Our summer concert was a performance of the delightful Fauré Requiem and the Shubert Mass in A flat.
The 2005-6 Season of Concerts
Our 2005-2006 season’s concerts started in November with the Missa Solemnis by Beethoven. For this we were joined by the Sinfonia of Birmingham, the first time the choir had worked with this orchestra. A search of the archives shows that this was the first performance by the Society of this mighty choral work. In fact, Beethoven’s choral music has only been performed twice before in the Society’s history: the Mass in C in 1998 and the Choral Fantasia in 2001 (this sell-out concert also included his fifth piano concerto performed by Charles Matthews).
After weeks of extremely challenging rehearsals (the work is very difficult) there was a real buzz when the choir got together with the orchestra on the day, and all agreed that the performance was a tremendous success. We felt very relieved and proud to have brought it off so satisfactorily. (Ron said that he was still on a high at the first rehearsal of the new term in January!)
December brought the annual Kenilworth performance of Messiah, with a slight difference this year: alterations to the church mean that more room has been created in the performance area, which gave us the opportunity to use a chamber orchestra with organ continuo rather than just organ accompaniment as in the past.
Handel’s oratorio Solomon was our March concert, with our old friends from last year The 18th Century Concert Orchestra. This work provides lots of grand choruses, mostly for double choir, and also includes the famous Arrival of the Queen of Sheba which saw the soprano soloist make a stately progress down the aisle in a regal purple gown (she wore a green one in the earlier parts for her roles as Solomon’s own queen and one of the women to whom Solomon delivers his famous judgement as to who is the rightful mother of a baby). We were grateful to Helen Meyerhoff and the tenor Andrew Mackenzie-Wicks for stepping in at short notice as the two originally-booked soloists had succumbed to illness. The audience for this Handel concert was encouragingly large, after the previous March’s rather disappointing turnout for his Samson. Perhaps people had come to see what they missed last year!
Mozart’s 250th birthday was duly celebrated at our summer concert, with performances of the Solemn Vespers, the Coronation Mass and Piano Concerto No 23 in which the soloist was once again our very own Colin Druce.
The 2004-5 Season of Concerts
Our 2004-2005 season began with a concert that included two favourites, the Mozart Requiem and his Clarinet Concerto (beautifully performed by Lucy Tugwell). The third work in the programme was the Poulenc Gloria which was a very French take on Latin church music and a fun work providing a great contrast to the rest of the concert. The only hitch in the programme came at the beginning; the concert start was delayed by 15 minutes as the conductor had to go home to retrieve the Poulenc score which he had left on the kitchen table!
After the usual Messiah in December, the next challenge was Handel’s Samson in March, which provided lots of work for the choir and a chance to hear the famous soprano solo Let the Bright Seraphim . The choir was joined by The 18th Century Concert Orchestra playing brilliantly on period instruments, and four first-rate soloists. We are especially grateful to the bass Charbel Mattar who stepped in at the very last minute in place of the indisposed Eddie Wade. It was disappointing that there were only around 150 bums on seats at this concert, but those who missed it had another chance to hear some superb Handel the following March when his Solomon was performed by the choir with the same orchestra.
The final concert of the 2004-2005 season was in June when sacred compositions by Verdi, Rossini and Pergolesi, three Italian composers who are all best known for their operatic works, were performed by the choir and soloists with Colin Druce at the organ. This concert was Ron Binnie’s fortieth in charge of the choir. The Rossini Stabat Mater was wonderfully operatic, with some splendid solos, and the Verdi Sacred Pieces presented some real challenges: one of the pieces was for female voices alone, with words (by Dante) in Italian, which is very different from singing in Latin! The last of the Verdi set was for double choir, which presented its own problems as the choir’s forces were somewhat depleted already, it being the summer when our numbers are usually lower than at other times. We were also treated to a piece by Liszt which Colin played on the organ.
2003-2004: The Choir’s Fiftieth Anniversary
The 2003-2004 season was the Society’s 50th Anniversary Season. This got off to a flying start with a performance of the Verdi Requiem in Leamington on St Cecilia’s Day, November 22nd 2003. The annual performance of Handel’s Messiah in Kenilworth followed on 16th December.
The next concert in the 50th Anniversary Season was on March 20th 2004 at All Saints Leamington, when we had a capacity audience in spite of the weather, with persistent rain and a wind strong enough to rattle the windows in the church. Our accompanist Colin Druce excelled himself as soloist in the Grieg Piano Concerto , and the choir performed two works by Brahms and the St Cecilia Mass by Gounod, which was great fun and very French.
Our summer concert, on June 12th 2004 at St Mary’s, Warwick, was The Creation by Haydn. This choral favourite rounded off a very successful season and was followed a few days later by the annual dinner which was held at the Jephson Gardens restaurant in Leamington, which with its glass doors rolled right back proved to be a perfect venue on one of the hottest nights of the year.