Archive for the ‘News’ Category

75 years and counting …..

Bishopwearmouth Choral Society have been making music in Sunderland for 75 years and continue to do so, providing their genre of music to appreciative audiences. Saturday night was their one hundred and eighty first concert (plus many other contributions to other events) and was delivered with gusto as part of their 75th Anniversary season.

With a full orchestra, a renowned soloist in Sarah Pring, an enthusiastic choir, and all under the direction of David Murray, the Minster was filled with music of a very high standard. The concert opened with the majestic ‘I was Glad’ which filled the space and encouraged the soul and would be very familiar to anyone from successive coronations. The choir very much did it justice and left the audience wanting more.

The rest of the concert featured Sarah Price with her first piece – Edward Elgar’s ‘Sea Pictures’ fully orchestrated version of a set of songs on texts by different poets – showing off her fine mezzo-soprano voice and fulfilling the challenge of the piece with finesse, leaving the audience charmed. The main piece that followed – Elgar’s ‘The Music Makers’ – showed off the choir with Sarah. It was a deeply personal piece for Elgar and has a mixture of moods, mainly sad but with moments of enthusiasm and bursts of joy occasionally approaching frenzy but orchestra, choir and soloist coped with all of this mix and their delivery was splendid and echoed by the enthusiastic applause at the end.

The whole concert marked another milestone in the history of this choral society and was a suitable celebration of 75 years and counting…

Wishing you a Joyous Christmas

On the 9th of December, the Choral Society began it’s 75th Anniversary season with a concert celebrating A Joyous Christmas. We have been performing in Sunderland Minster since 1948 when Clifford Hartley, the then choirmaster and organist at the Minster, formed the nucleus of the choir from the men of the Parish Church Choir and the Senior Girls Choir of the Bede Girls Grammar School, Sunderland, where Mr Hartley was Music Master – and we have been going strong ever since. This, we think, makes us the longest continually active choir in the North East.

So how did we celebrate A Joyous Christmas – by combining with two very promising young soloists, a versatile violinist and a choir from Hillview Junior Academy.

Anna Dias, a soprano based in the North East, delighted everyone with two arias by Mozart and Handel. Nick Stoner contributed his fine baritone performing two Christmas pieces by Peter Cornelius. Martin Hughes, the leader of the string quintet, demonstrated his solo skills playing The Lark Ascending to complement the other two pieces of music by Vaughan Williams (Serenade to Music, & Fantasia on Christmas Carols) that the choir performed. The choir were also in fine voice with pieces by Rutter, Chilcott, Edward Watson and Lucy Walker. Lucy was a piano pupil of David Murray for some 11 years showing amazing ability but is now becoming known for her compositional skills, which provided two of the Christmas themed pieces. Finally, it was the turn of the Hillview Junior Academy choir who entranced the audience with two of their favourite carols (Away in a Manger & Merry Christmas Everyone) by Shakin’ Stephens plus Oh Ebenezer and a Carol Sequence from A Christmas Carol by David Murray. All of this was conducted by David Murray, our Musical Director, and accompanied by Eileen Bown. Everyone went home knowing that there was much more to Christmas that the hustle and bustle.

What a night it was !

What a night it was! Stephen Sondheim would have been pleased that his legacy lives on, and in such an enthusiastic fashion. Everyone was reminded of so many songs that are probably still going around in their head, and the delivery was all that could be asked for.

The choir demonstrated that they could deliver a wide range of material, in a new setting, and in a demanding way. They were complemented by a really talented set of soloists and it was all led by two distinguished pianists, performing at quite a pace.

The soloists – Laurie Ashworth, Sally Johnson, Nick Hurndall Smith, and Terence Ayebare – had co-operated to update some of the script and provided a commentary to lead the audience through the background to Sondheim’s success. Their singing, separately and together, was a joy, suitably adapted to the topic, and sometimes incredibly fast, and the audience were most appreciative.

As well as his usual role of Musical Director, David Murray was one half of the two pianos providing the music and he literally leapt from one role to the other as the music required to show his renowned skill as a pianist. Eileen Bown, playing the other piano, provided an almost continuous accompaniment to the whole performance – often at an amazing speed and agility – leaving her page-turner to keep up. Both contributed hugely to the memorable performance.

The Fire Station provided an audience with some new faces who perhaps would not have been to any previous concert by Bishopwearmouth Choral Society, but will now realise that the choir has much to offer to the arts and culture in Sunderland, wherever they perform.

A Mass for troubled times

Whilst the audience arrived for our concert on Saturday 18th March weighed down by the many troubles going on in the world, by the time the concert finished they left uplifted.

When Haydn wrote his Nelson Mass in 1798 his world was similarly in turmoil but on Saturday we could enjoy a splendid concert which brought together the power of choral singing and individual virtuosity.

Bishopwearmouth Choral Society provided the first part of the concert singing Haydn’s ‘Te Deum’ and his ‘Nelson Mass’, very ably supported by a professional orchestra and soloists, all directed by David Murray. This was very well received by the audience and has since been described as wonderful, splendid and breathtaking as some members of the audience had simply not personally experienced a full choir and orchestra in action. The concert was an excellent example of what Bishopwearmouth Choral Society has been providing to the good people of Sunderland for the last 74 years.

The second half of the concert was an opportunity to savor the individual virtuosity of Bradley Creswick playing Beethoven’s ‘Concerto for Violin and Orchestra’. With excellent support from the orchestra, Bradley created an atmosphere of musical interest and calm which was very warmly recognised by the audience at the end. An excellent evening by and for everyone.

A fantastic Night before Christmas

What an absolute treat this was! David Murray pulled out all the stops for this beautifully uplifting concert by the Bishopwearmouth Choral Society and chamber ensemble, alongside the exceptionally talented soprano, Anna Dias. David has worked with the choral society for well over twenty years, and he brought them together with the impressive chamber ensemble, for an evening of Christmas music to warm our hearts and lift us into the season.

What an absolute treat this was! David Murray pulled out all the stops for this beautifully uplifting concert by the Bishopwearmouth Choral Society and chamber ensemble, alongside the exceptionally talented soprano, Anna Dias. David has worked with the choral society for well over twenty years, and he brought them together with the impressive chamber ensemble, for an evening of Christmas music to warm our hearts and lift us into the season.

The concert opened with the choir singing John Rutter’s What Sweeter Music, accompanied beautifully by the ensemble, who then took a breath to allow the choir, a cappella, to treat us to My Lord has Come by Will Todd, a successful local composer. Raising the Christmas spirit up a notch, Anna Dias gifted the eager audience with Bethlehem Down and, a personal favourite, O Holy Night with piano accompaniment by Eileen Bown. 

Pens at the ready, we were then challenged to furiously scribble down all 27 excerpts from well known carols and songs within David’s very clever and entertaining composition: A Christmas Medley. The piece was so tightly packed with so many favourites; neat handwriting was not an option!

Before the interval, the musicians guided us through Bob Chilcott’s Christmas story, On Christmas Night, interspersed with readings. This was beautifully performed, with intertwining melodies and accompaniment from choir, strings, piano and soloists. A truly magical performance.

Once back in our seats, the choir performed Holst’s beautiful Four Old English Carols, which had been rewritten to include strings. We then heard something quite unusual by Bob Chilcott: traditional carols recreated with fascinating layers, textures and rhythmic nuances to captivate the audience. 

The final two performances had the audience singing and toe tapping along, with David exclaiming, “You can join in as long as you can keep up!”; and who could resist this challenge?! Anticipating this evening of Christmas music had the audience wondering what to expect; and it certainly did not disappoint: There was love, warmth, joy, beauty, good fun and humour. Congratulations to all involved with this fantastic evening.

(The above is a crit of the Night before Christmas concerts performed by Bishopwearmouth Choral Society at St.Mary’s Church, Whitley Bay on the 3rd December 2022 and at Sunderland Minster on the 10th December 2022 – and submitted to the Sunderland Echo for publication)

Streaming into Christmas

Another first – as part of competitions being run by Radio Newcastle and Classic FM for Christmas content, the choir made professional recordings of some of the items from their forthcoming concert.

The three links below will enable you to sample what you have in store as part of our ‘A Night before Christmas’ concert on Saturday 10th December 2022 – for full details of the concert see under Events.

Away in a Manger
Sussex carol
Coventry Carol

New season, start, and opportunities

You will all have had to resort to this approach when things are not going well, be it with a vacuum cleaner, a television or computer. Sometimes it is the sensible first place to start – is it plugged in? – or simply the last option you can try yourself before calling in a repairer.

Sometimes the fault of the situation is not with the kit but down to external factors, such as the loss of your broadband. Certainly the present situation of the Choral Society is down to external factors but we are not going to allow them to get in the way of progress.

Last season we came back together, after the isolations of Covid, and celebrated that with a performance of Messiah complete with professional musicians and soloists – but without a live audience. Then in June, after much preparation, we enjoyed performing the Rossini mass in full concert mode. Given all of the previous restrictions this marked a considerable achievement. We now starting our new season, with all of the possibilities it can bring, and will be rehearsing for a December concert that will brighten up your Christmas and show the Society at its best.

Rossini would have been proud

Thanks to the combined effort of many people, Bishopwearmouth Choral Society returned to providing full performances with a concert featuring Rossini’s ‘Petite Messe Solennelle’ on Saturday 18th June 2022. It was performed as close as possible to it’s original, but unusual, setting for voices, piano and harmonium and was a suitable way to mark the Society’s emergence from the chaos of Covid. Our first live audience for quite some time brought out the best in the choir after rehearsing under so many restrictions and they were well supported by a group of young but excellent soloists. The whole piece was dominated by the piano accompaniment, beautifully played on an instrument hired in to match the occasion.

The enthusiasm of the audience for the opportunity to enjoy live music was matched by the thrill of the choir being able to perform to them once again. Everyone now looks forward to the next opportunity.

Restarting Rehearsals

We are delighted to confirm that our rehearsals will recommence at Sunderland Minster on Wednesday 2nd February 2022. Please come a little early so that the organisation of scores can take place and we can commence the rehearsal promptly.

All of our Covid precautions remain in place and we need everyone to be aware of the Guidance to Members and act accordingly.

We look forward to seeing everyone then.

Hallelujah – we did it

Bishopwearmouth Choral Society have been rehearsing a shortened version of Handel’s Messiah since September 2021 when choirs were allowed to sing again, properly distanced in a well-ventilated space. Unfortunately Sunderland Minster is not large enough to accommodate an audience as well as the choir, musicians, and soloists so our performance on Saturday December 4th 2021 was only available to see and hear via an online streaming available on the Minster’s YouTube channel for a short period.

A small orchestra took part with two soloists, Anna Dias – soprano and Sophie Horrocks – mezzo soprano, all conducted by David Murray.