BEDFORD CHORAL SOCIETY
Musical Director’s Report 2015/2016 Season
Last season was a much more traditional one in terms of repertoire and included works from England, Germany and Estonia, from 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Michael Rose decided to take a sabbatical year and so I conducted all 3 concerts.
The first concert of the season was, I thought, very interesting. It was a programme entirely of Mendelssohn’s music. Music by a single composer in the programme is not to everyone’s liking, but when we do a complete work (say Bach’s B minor mass) that is a single composer, so doing two works by the same composer is not very different. Why did we do them? Well, Die erste Walpurgisnacht was recommended by a number of members of the choir. It is a dramatic work with plenty for the choir to do. I know that it was thoroughly enjoyed by members and was well worth doing. The choir performed it very well with great dramatic intensity. Lobgesang I chose because I was listening to a Prom concert a few years ago and heard this beautiful music. It turned out to be Lobgesang and I thought then it would be great for the choir to do. And so it turned out. An unjustly underperformed work, in my opinion, to which the choir again did real justice. We were joined in the concert by a quartet of superb soloists (Elizabeth Powell – soprano, Anna Burford – mezzo-soprano, Ben Thapa – tenor, Quentin Hayes – bass). The programme also included Hebrides Overture . Its inclusion, in the end, turned out to be a mistake because both the choral works had substantial orchestral introductions so the addition of the overture was not only unnecessary but also made the concert a little too long and extremely taxing for the orchestra. Having said that, the orchestra (The Bedford Sinfonia) once again played superbly well in all 3 works. We are so fortunate to have such a talented local orchestra who are prepared to play for us and to such a high standard.
The Carol Concert was once again accompanied by Bedford Town Band. It followed the now tried and tested pattern of starting at 7pm and going straight through without an interval. Once again it was a most enjoyable and good performance. However, we need to try to increase the audience numbers. Whether that is through a re-think of the format or by better publicity is a matter for discussion.
The next main concert was a performance of, probably, the most well-loved and well-known choral work of all time, Messiah. It was my decision, and insistence, that we should sing it complete and the choir rose to the occasion and produced one of their best performances. Supported by a superb line-up of soloists and the Bedford Sinfonia on stunning form it was a concert to remember! The soloists were exceptional (Rebecca Goulden – soprano, Anna Huntley – mezzo-soprano, Joel Williams – tenor and Philip Tebb – bass) performing their arias with drama, precision and style. Also superbly supported by Tim Grant-Jones on continuo the choir and orchestra gave, for me, a faultless performance. All that I had asked and achieved in rehearsals was accomplished so what more can a conductor ask? In the end those who thought that a complete performance, lasting nearly 3 hours, would be too long agreed that for the drama and whole musical experience it was the right decision. Thank you to everyone for such a memorable and highly professional evening.
The summer concert always aims to be something a little different! This year the ‘new piece’ was Arvo Pärt’s Berliner Mass written in 1990. It took a while for the choir to get to grips with Pärt’s style of writing but once that was understood the work began to take shape and was, in the end, preferred in the concert by many to the much more familiar Magnificat by John Rutter. The rest of the programme was a performance by the Bedford Sinfonia strings of Dag Wirén’s Serenade for Strings. Once again the orchestra was on top form for the concert and the choir gave yet another memorable and very good performance.
The Celebration Choir has had less to do this year but I repeat what I have said for the last 4 years, many thanks to the members of the choir who agree to sing at the events served by this small choir. These are essential in contributing both to the choir’s reputation and to its finances! The most significant event this year was the funeral of a long-standing member of the bass section, George Thompson. Over 25members came to sing for this funeral and gave a very good and much appreciated performance of Ave Verum Corpus.
The aims for the choir for the 2015/2016 season were to
a) still recruit new members with the aim of 150 members for the 150th anniversary season in 2017
b) build on the success of the previous 5 seasons
c) improve the accuracy of intonation
d) improve the attention of the choir to the conductor
These aims were mostly met, so well done and thank you to everyone.
Our aims for the 2016/2017 must be to
e) still recruit new members with the aim of 150 members for the 150th anniversary season in 2017
f) deliver the strategy for engagement of new younger members
g) build the confidence of members in their sight-reading
h) continue to work on the tone quality of the ensemble
Finally may I thank most sincerely once again our wonderful accompanist and Assistant Chorus Master Tim Grant-Jones who gives so much to the choir, and may I also say a very big thank you to all who work in any capacity for the choir. Without all the individual contributions, however large or small, the choir would not exist. Especially this year I would like to record my thanks to Diana Shooter who took over the chairmanship from David Moore. She has eased into the role seamlessly!
We now look forward to our 150th Anniversary Season. Bedford Choral Society is the 7th oldest choral society in the country (as far as my research shows) and it is an opportunity for us to celebrate this and bring in new members. Here’s to another successful season!
Ian G. Smith
Musical Director September 2016
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