Beckenham Chorale was founded as the Manor Choir in 1960 by Keninmore Straker, London manager of the music publisher Ricordi and Co. He was succeeded in 1964 by Lionel Sawkins as conductor, with John Nightingale as accompanist. During this period the repertoire included much French baroque music, a particular specialism of Sawkins.
In 1967, to reflect the choir’s local identity, the name was changed to Beckenham Chorale. As well as concerts at St George’s Church, the Chorale also performed in Central London, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and at the English Bach Festival in Oxford. In the late 60s the Beckenham (later Bromley) Summer Choral Festival evolved with several local choirs joining forces to promote large-scale concerts. The Chorale remained an integral part of the Festival which continued until 2004, presenting great works such as Elgar The Dream of Gerontius, Walton Belshazzar’s Feast and Mahler Symphony No 8 at the Fairfield Hall in Croydon.
James Blair was appointed conductor of Beckenham Chorale in 1977, bringing with him an established reputation as the conductor of the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra. During 38 years, in more than 100 concerts, he conducted many highly acclaimed performances of the great choral works, including Bach B minor Mass, Rossini Stabat Mater, Tippett A Child of our Time and Verdi Requiem, supported by the Albemarle Orchestra, many of whom had YMSO connections. To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the Chorale commissioned Ronald Corp’s Magnificat setting Mary’s Song.
Beckenham Chorale James Blair 100th Concert 25th February 1984
From 2013 to 2016 Adam Treadaway, as Assistant Conductor and then Musical Director, broadened the repertoire, introducing more unaccompanied works and contemporary pieces. He conducted a memorable performance of Britten’s cantata Saint Nicolas and a lively programme of Italian music with the period instrument orchestra Sinfonia Britannica, led by Simon Standage.
Since 2016 the choir has been led by Musical Director Mark Griffiths.
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, as well as present-day composers John Rutter, Howard Goodall, Sir James MacMillan, Morten Lauridsen and Sir Karl Jenkins. In 2011 John Rutter led a very successful choral workshop at St George’s Church for over 300 singers and in 2015 this was followed by another singing day with the former King’s Singer Brian Kay.
The Chorale has worked with distinguished soloists, including Emma Kirkby, Harry Christophers, Felicity Lott, David Wilson-Johnson, Elin Manahan Thomas, Mary Bevan, cellist Robert Cohen, and clarinettist Emma Johnson. John Nightingale has been closely associated with the Chorale since 1963, as accompanist, playing piano or harpsichord in numerous concerts, Chorus-Master for almost 20 years and conductor of the Chorale’s popular Christmas Carol concerts. John and fellow accompanist Janet Bishop, who was with the Chorale for 25 years, both retired in 2020. John Nightingale and Lionel Sawkins have both been appointed Honorary Life Vice-Presidents in recognition of their contributions to the Chorale.