Our History – 60 years of music-making
This season Beckenham Chorale celebrates its Diamond Jubilee with three special concerts at St George’s Church, beginning with a favourite work of both singers and audiences, Brahms’s great German Requiem, on the 30th November 2019. The choir’s connections with St George’s go back to its first appearance there in February 1965 when extracts from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio were performed jointly with St George’s Church Choir, singers from the West Wickham Operatic Society and the Beckenham Orchestra. Over the years the choir has performed in a number of other local venues, but for a long time now St George’s has been its regular concert base. The choir currently numbers some 90 singers, rehearses weekly in St George’s Hall and is very pleased to be a member organisation of The Arts at St George’s.
Beckenham Chorale was founded as the Manor Choir in 1960 by 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, as well as 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 2004, giving singers from around the area the opportunity to take part in works such as Holst’s The Hymn of Jesus, Berlioz’s Te Deum (which featured in 1969 at the first of many Festivals held at Croydon’s Fairfield Hall) and, later, Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast and Mahler’s Symphony No. 8.
BECKENHAM CHORALE AT 25TH ANNIVERSARY 1984-85
James Blair was appointed conductor of Beckenham Chorale in January 1977, bringing with him an established reputation as the conductor of the Young Musicians’ Symphony Orchestra. During 38 years here, in well over 100 concerts, he conducted many memorable and highly-praised performances of the great choral works with the admirable support of the professional players in the Albemarle Orchestra, many of whom had YMSO connections. Bach’s B minor Mass, Rossini’s Stabat Mater, Tippett’s A Child of our Time, Verdi’s Requiem and Ronald Corp’s Magnificat setting Mary’s Song, which the Chorale commissioned to mark the Millennium and its own 40th anniversary, were but a few of them. During this period also the Chorale welcomed the internationally renowned singer Sarah Walker as its Patron, which she remains to this day.
AFTERNOON PRECONCERT REHEARSAL 2018
From 2013 to 2016 Adam Treadaway, firstly as Assistant Conductor and then as Musical Director, broadened the repertoire introducing more unaccompanied works and contemporary pieces but also gave memorable performances of Britten’s cantata Saint Nicolas and an outstanding programme of Italian music with the period instrument orchestra Sinfonia Britannica.
For the last three years the choir has been ably led by its present Musical Director Mark Griffiths, who, being a singer himself, is successfully raising the standard of singing of all members and is introducing new repertoire to the choir.
SECTION OF THE CURRENT BECKENHAM CHORALE IN PERFORMANCE
Some of the distinguished professional soloists who have performed in the Chorale’s concerts have been Emma Kirkby, Harry Christophers, Felicity Lott, David Wilson-Johnson, Margaret Cable, Julian Empett, the cellist Robert Cohen, clarinettist Emma Johnson, organist Sarah Kim and some of today’s rising stars including Elin Manahan Thomas and Mary Bevan. Continuity has been maintained by Beckenham pianist and conductor John Nightingale, who has been the choir’s accompanist for 55 years, playing piano or harpsichord in numerous concerts, being Chorus-Master for almost 20 years too, and conducting many of the Chorale’s popular Christmas Carol concerts. He and his pianist colleague Janet Bishop, who has herself been with the Chorale for 25 years, continue to support the choir and conductor in the Tuesday evening rehearsals.
Over the last 60 years the Chorale has sung music from all periods from Monteverdi and Bach via Handel, Haydn and Mozart to Brahms, Dvorak, Elgar and Vaughan Williams and the present-day composers John Rutter and Karl Jenkins. In 2011 John Rutter himself came to St George’s to lead a very successful choral workshop day for over 300 singers and four years later we enjoyed another choral singing day with the former King’s Singer Brian Kay.
We are a friendly Chorale, and always welcome new audiences and prospective new singers. Why not come and try us out, and help us on our way in our next 60 years ? Do look at the website, www.beckenhamchorale.org.uk, to find out more.
Beckenham Chorale, November 2019