Leeds Festival Chorus

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The Leeds Festival Chorus is based in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England. It has 150 singing members in soprano, alto, tenor and bass sections. Presenting classical choral music of a professional standard in Yorkshire and elsewhere, including at the BBC Proms and abroad - for example in Venice. The Chorus is broadcast regularly on BBC Radio 3.

The Chorus works with several orchestras, including the Hallé Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, the Northern Sinfonia, St. John's Smith Square, the Orchestra of Opera North and the English Chamber Orchestra.


The Leeds Festival Chorus was first formed in 1858 (the year Queen Victoria opened the Leeds Town Hall) to sing at the first Leeds Musical Festival, and was reformed for each succeeding one. The Chorus became independent in 1985. It celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2008 with a performance of a specially-commissioned work by Judith Bingham - a world premiere. It has been conducted by many distinguished maestri in its long history, including Arthur Sullivan, Thomas Beecham, John Barbirolli, Carlo Maria Giulini, Jascha Horenstein, Hans Richter, Pierre Boulez, Charles Mackerras, Colin Davis, John Eliot Gardiner, Yan Pascal Tortelier, Mark Elder, Roger Norrington, John Lubbock and Andrew Davis. Simon Wright is the Conductor and Artistic Adviser.

New music has often been commissioned or championed by the Chorus: works written for the chorus and conducted in Leeds by the composer include Antonín Dvořák's St. Ludmilla and Edward Elgar's Caractacus; perhaps the most famous commission was Walton's Belshazzar's Feast, first conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent. [Reference Dvorak Alec Robertson, The Master Musicians Series, Dent 1964; Portrait of Elgar Michael Kennedy, Oxford University Press 1968; William Walton Behind the Facade, Susana Walton, Oxford University Press 1988]

In addition to its regular concerts in Leeds Town Hall, many of them part of the Leeds International Concert Season, in recent years the Chorus has performed in the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, York Minster and the Royal Albert Hall in London as part of the BBC's Promenade Concerts series. The Chorus sings a varied repertoire; performances have included works by Mozart, Beethoven, J.S. Bach, Berlioz, Thomas Tallis, Mahler, Verdi, Rossini, Elgar, Schönberg, Poulenc, Hindemith, Schubert, Richard Strauss, Shostakovitch, Peter Maxwell Davies and many other composers.

A group of Chorus members wait outside Ripon Cathedral before taking their places for a summer concert.

The Chorus provided the choral accompaniment (from the Mozart Requiem) to the British première of the ballet Requiem!! by Birgit Scherzer at the Grand Theatre Leeds in February 2003, for the Northern Ballet Theatre. The Chorus has sung a series of highly successful concerts in Ripon Cathedral, for example French Choral Glories in July 2008, which included Fauré's Requiem and Poulenc's Gloria. Other notable performances have included Berlioz L’Enfance du Christ with the Northern Sinfonia, Michael Tippett's A Child of Our Time with the BBC Philharmonic, Mahler Symphony no. 2 with the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra, the British premieres of Markus Stockhausen's Christus and Maxwell Davies' Canticum Canticorum, "Classical Spectaculars" in the Manchester Arena with the Hallé, John Adams' Harmonium with the BBC Philharmonic, Elgar's The Music Makers and Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky.

In December 2007, the Chorus performed Handel's Messiah in Leeds Town Hall for the first time for many years. This was a major event with Northern Sinfonia, organised entirely by the Chorus, independently from the Leeds International Concert Season. The soloists were William Dutton (treble), Joanne Lunn (soprano), Michael Chance (counter-tenor), Mark Wilde (tenor) and Michael George (bass-baritone). Handel's Messiah was performed by the first Festival Chorus in 1858, soon after the opening of the Town Hall by Queen Victoria. A notice for this historic performance, from the Leeds Intelligencer, appears on the Chorus website.

Just before the performance of Shakespeare Requiem by Judith Bingham on 29 November 2008, free copies of a CD and a booklet, both entitled Celebration 2008, were distributed free to the audience to mark the 150th anniversary of the first formation of Leeds Festival Chorus. The CD contains 13 excerpts from recent live recordings with the BBC Philharmonic in Leeds Town Hall, and was produced by kind permission of the BBC. The tracks include a March 2000 recording of The God of quake and thunder, from The Fall of Jerusalem by Dominic Muldowney, which was a Leeds Festival Chorus commission, and In Cubiculo Nuptiali, which is Part 3 of Canticum Canticorum by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. This was a British premiere.

An illustrated booklet, subtitled A Brief History of Leeds Festival Chorus, was written by Richard Wilcocks. It includes many details of the first Leeds Musical Festival in 1858, the contributions of many composers and conductors, including Sir Michael Costa, Sir Arthur Sullivan, Antonín Dvořák, William Walton, Sir Thomas Beecham, Alexander Goehr and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Free copies of the CD and the booklet may be obtained by contacting the Chorus Secretary through the website at http://www.leedsfestivalchorus.co.uk

Recent performances[edit]

On 8 October 2010, in a new venture, the Chorus contributed to Leeds Light Night with Vespers. Performances took place in the Victoria Quarter, on the steps of the Leeds Art Gallery and on the steps of the Leeds City Museum in Millennium Square. On 7 October 2011, the Chorus followed this up with performances of a selection of Bruckner's Motets conducted by Tony Kraus from Opera North

In 2011, Martin Hickes of The Guardian called the chorus "an inspirational emblem of appeal for choral lovers in the county".[1]

The 2011/2012 season began on 12 November 2011 with Mahler's Symphony No 2 and Bruckner Motets at Leeds Town Hall with The Hallé directed by David Hill. On 26 November, the Chorus was part of Raymond Gubbay's Classical Spectacular in the MEN Arena, Manchester. On 10 December 2011, the Chorus was joined by English Chamber Orchestra for Handel's Messiah in Leeds Town Hall, conducted by Simon Wright.

On 10 March 2012 Dvorák's Stabat Mater was performed by the Chorus in Leeds Town Hall with the BBC Philharmonic. On 19 May 2012 at Leeds Town Hall, Simon Wright conducted Mendelssohn's Die erste Walpurgisnacht and Beethoven's Symphony No 9 (Choral) with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. On 7 July 2012 the Chorus took part in a Jubilee Concert in Ripon Cathedral, with the York Guildhall Orchestra. The programme included Mozart's Coronation Mass and Paul Mealor's Ubi Caritas. On 21 July 2012, the Chorus sang Fauré's Requiem with the Ryedale Festival Ensemble at St Peter's Church, Norton, as part of the Ryedale Festival. Verdi's Requiem was performed in the York Barbican on 6 October 2012 when Leeds Festival Chorus became the major part of the Ryedale Festival Chorus, in an unprecedented collaboration with members of The Chanticleer Singers, York Cantores, Simeon Singers, Micklegate Singers and North Yorkshire Chorus. In 2013, the Chorus will perform Mozarts's Requiem as part of the Ryedale Festival. On Saturday 24 November 2012, the Chorus performed at Leeds Town Hall with BBC Philharmonic - Schumann Nachtlied, Bruch Violin Concerto No.1, Rachmaninov Vespers (a selection), Rachmaninov The Bells. On Saturday 16 February 2013 at Leeds Town Hall with Northern Sinfonia - Bach Mass in B Minor was performed.


Members of the Bach Choir from Bonn in Germany were in the audience on 10 December 2011 at Leeds Town Hall for the performance of Handel's Messiah, and in April 2012 a group from Leeds Festival Chorus was in the audience for a performance of Mozart's Dixit Dominus by the Bach Choir in Bonn.

The Chorus has its own language coaches for performances in German and in Russian.

Plans for a visit to Venice in August 2013 are now underway. This came about after an invitation was received by one of the Chorus's admirers, the concert pianist Alessandro Taverna, who performed at the Leeds International Pianoforte Competition in 2009 (3rd prize). The Chorus will sing Rachmaninov's Vespers in Caorle and in St Mark's Basilica, Venice.

Involvement with young people[edit]

The Chorus supports Leeds Youth Choir in association with Leeds Artforms. Leeds Youth Choir welcomes young singers, male and female, aged 13+, to a friendly group of about thirty singers. The choir sings a wide range of music, from popular songs and musicals to classical works, and takes part in three or more concerts each year in Leeds and Yorkshire. Support for Leeds Youth Choir is part of the Chorus's policy of encouraging young people to take more interest in classical music.


Recordings on CD for Chandos Records and Naxos Records include Berlioz' Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale, Constant Lambert Summer's Last Will and Testament, Hindemith Sancta Susanna and George Enescu Third Symphony. Full details of what is currently available can be found on the Chorus's website.


  1. '^ Guardian (Martin Hickes 31 January 2011)

External links[edit]