Beckenham Chorale - 50 years of music-making
Beckenham Chorale was founded as the Manor Choir in 1960 by the late Keninmore Straker, London manager of the music publishers Ricordi and Co., who was succeeded in 1964 as conductor by Lionel Sawkins, with John Nightingale as accompanist. Works performed in the early years included Fauré’s Requiem, Lambert’s The Rio Grande and Stanford’s Songs of the Fleet along with the traditional charity carol concerts.
To reflect the choir’s local identity its name was changed at the beginning of 1967 to Beckenham Chorale. During the next ten years the membership grew and the repertoire expanded to include French baroque music which was, and still is, a particular specialism of Lionel Sawkins. Concerts were given not only in Beckenham but over an increasingly wide area including Central London, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and at the English Bach Festival in Oxford. At this time too the Beckenham (later Bromley) Summer Choral Festival evolved from several local choirs joining to promote large-scale concerts. The Chorale remained an integral part of the Festival which continued until recently giving singers from around the area the opportunity to perform great works such as Verdi’s Requiem, Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast and Mahler’s Symphony No.8 at the Fairfield Hall in Croydon.
James Blair was conductor of Beckenham Chorale from 1977 until 2015, bringing with him an established reputation as the conductor of the Young Musicians’ Symphony Orchestra. James conducted, in Beckenham, many highly-praised performances of the great choral works with the admirable support of the professional players in the Albemarle Orchestra, many of whom have YMSO connections. He conducted Elgar's The Music Makers in 2015 as his memorable 100th and final concert with the Beckenham Chorale.
Some of the outstanding professional soloists who have performed in the Chorale’s concerts have been Harry Christophers, Felicity Lott, David Wilson-Johnson, Margaret Cable, the cellist Robert Cohen and clarinettist Emma Johnson and today’s rising stars Elin Manahan Thomas and Ruby Hughes.
Important developments over the years have been the change in the Chorale’s status when it became independent of the Bromley Adult Education service in 1982, the acquisition of the distinguished mezzo-soprano Sarah Walker CBE as Patron, the appointments of John Nightingale as chorus-master and Janet Bishop as rehearsal accompanist and the decision to make St George’s Church the Chorale’s concert base. The appointment of Adam Treadaway as deputy conductor and chorus-master widened the chorale's repertoire with the introduction of more unaccompanied choral works.
Works performed in the last 50 years have encompassed all periods from Monteverdi and Bach via Handel, Haydn and Mozart to Brahms, Dvořák, Elgar and Vaughan Williams and the present-day composers John Rutter and Karl Jenkins. In March 2008 the Chorale gave a sell-out performance of Orff’s Carmina Burana and Lambert’s The Rio Grande, emphasising its versatility and enterprise. In a new departure the Chorale commissioned Mary’s Song from Ronald Corp in 2000, and has performed the work twice.
Adam Treadaway was appointed as Musical Director of the Beckenham Chorale in 2015 until summer 2016. He is a graduate of the University of York (BA Music, MA Orchestral Conducting). In addition to his role with Beckenham Chorale Adam is currently Musical Director of Cotswold Youth Choirs and Assistant Conductor with both the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain and Ulster Youth Choir. In September 2014 he accepted a part-time teaching position at Downe House School, Thatcham, and became a resident tutor. While at University Adam worked with a number of different ensembles, most notably conducting Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites and Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus with the Opera Society. As an ensemble singer he has toured Europe with NYCGB, performing at the famous Thomaskirche in Leipzig, the UK on Bryn Terfel’s ‘Bad Boys’ Tour and the East Coast of America with Keble College Oxford Chapel Choir. Since leaving University Adam has held a number of conducting posts with Take Twenty in Camden, the Foundling Museum in Russell Square and Corsham Brass Band and has worked as a vocal animateur with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. He has also taught Percussion and Singing at Abingdon School, Oxfordshire, Queen's College, London and Westonbirt School, Gloucestershire.
Mark Griffiths was appointed Musical Director from September 2016.