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.
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 performed in concerts in Ripon Cathedral. 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.
Handel's Messiah was performed by the first Festival Chorus in 1858, soon after the opening of the Town Hall by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. A notice for this historic performance, from the Leeds Intelligencer, appears on the Chorus website.
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 a collaboration with members of The Chanticleer Singers, York Cantores, Simeon Singers, Micklegate Singers and North Yorkshire Chorus. 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. Current performances can be found on the Leeds Festival Chorus website.
The Chorus has its own language coaches for performances in German, Russian and Italian.
The Chorus gave three concerts in Venice in August 2013. These engagements came about after an invitation was received from the concert pianist Alessandro Taverna, who performed at the Leeds International Pianoforte Competition in 2009 (3rd prize), and who is a native of Caorle, near Venice. The concerts took place in Saint Stephen's Cathedral in Caorle, and in St Mark's Basilica and Chiesa dei Gesuati in Venice.
Involvement with young people
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.