The new millennium

Eric Fogg
Eric Fogg

Expert tuition in the pronunciation of the Polish language, provided by Chorus bass Ryszard Biedka, was very much on hand in 2002 for Karol Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater.

In 2003 the Chorus went down into the orchestra pit of the Leeds Grand Theatre, where a ballet by Birgit Scherzer – Requiem!! – was staged. The music was a kind of scissors-and-paste Mozart, beginning with Lachrymosa. In October 2003 there was a gala concert in Leeds Town Hall, later repeated at the Bridgewater Hall, for the 350th anniversary of Chetham’s Hospital School, now Chetham's School of Music. Yan-Pascal Tortelier conducted Leeds Festival Chorus with Chetham’s Chorus, the Chester Bach Singers, Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Philharmonic in Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture, Poulenc’s Gloria and Respighi’s The Pines of Rome.

In July 2004 the world premiere of Markus Stockhausen’s Christus was in Ripon Cathedral. Peter Maxwell-Davies’s new work, Canticum Canticorum, followed in 2005, at Leeds Town Hall. In December of that year (and in 2006) the Chorus performed with The Hallé in the immense Manchester Evening News Arena for a Classical Spectacular presented by the Raymond Gubbay organization. At one stage, for the 1812 Overture, ear plugs were distributed because the Muskets and Cannons of the Moscow Militia (many of them from Preston, it seems) were worryingly close, almost as close as the fireworks. It was great fun. Also in 2006, the second ‘reconstructed’ performance of Eric Fogg’s The Seasons took place. The Chorus and the BBC Philharmonic were conducted by Simon Wright, and the concert was broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

By now, a new arrangement had been reached with the Leeds International Concert Season for concerts at the Town Hall. LICS is run by Leeds City Council, and is the largest local authority music programme in Britain. It runs from October one year to May the next. Ever since its inception in 1980, it has provided valuable support. It was decided that two concerts each year, in partnership with Leeds Philharmonic Society, should be organized under its wing, and that one concert should be organized independently.

The first of the independent concerts for the Chorus was Haydn’s Creation in January 2007, for which Chorus members did everything, from ticket sales to publicity. It was a tremendous, sold-out success. The review by Geoffrey Mogridge in the Ilkley Gazette was typical:

This performance can be ranked among the very finest, not only because it was superb technically, but – even more importantly – was possessed of that elusive atmosphere of mystery. Wright achieved almost perfect balance in the airy acoustic of Leeds Town Hall.
Judith Bingham
Judith Bingham

2008 was the 150th anniversary of the first Leeds Music Festival. On 29 November a new commission from Judith Bingham, Shakespeare Requiem, was performed with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Simon Wright in Leeds Town Hall. Patrick Standford wrote in the Yorkshire Post:

For this year's 150th Anniversary celebration, Judith Bingham could hardly be a more ideal choice… This is a beautiful new work, sensitive, cohesive and clearly heard… the conductor and music director to the Chorus, commanding with admirable commitment, is Simon Wright, and it is he who over the past 25 years has inspired this valiant band of singers to ever greater achievements with ever more challenging scores.

On 25 July the following year, after concerts in Leeds and at Ripon Cathedral, the Chorus was invited to take part in a Classical Spectacular at the Manchester Arena, singing popular favourites like Verdi’s Va Pensiero and his Grand March from Aida. Haydn’s Nelson Mass formed themajor part of our December concert in Leeds Town Hall.