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2010

We were invited to take part in another Classical Spectacular in 2010, which was in addition to concerts in Leeds and Ripon featuring works by Stravinsky, Poulenc, Elgar, and Vaughan Williams, whose Sea Symphony was programmed at Leeds Town Hall in November, a revival of a piece which was startlingly original in its day (the early 20th Century), partly because it was based on the free verse of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

Also in 2010, the first of a series of contributions to Leeds Light Night began. This annual event takes place throughout the city on the second Thursday and Friday of October, involving hundreds of art installations, performers and musicians of all types. We performed under cover in the Victoria Quarter and in the open air on the steps of the City Museum and in front of the Art Gallery. One of main items in our programme was a selection of items from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers.

Bach’s St Matthew Passion was sung at Leeds Town Hall in April 2011, and in May the Hallé Choir partnered us for a magnificent performance of the Symphony of a Thousand – Mahler’s Symphony No 8 – in York Minster. Another Classical Spectacular took place in November, in Manchester, and the year was rounded off with Messiah back at Leeds Town Hall.

In 2011, we geared our October Light Night programme more to the large number of small children who attend the event with their parents. Versions of Nellie the Elephant and Those magnificent men in their flying machines by Simon Wright became a regular part of our repertoire for future years. We sang in two new places – outdoors in Briggate and indoors in the Corn Exchange.

Simon leads the Chorus in the Victoria Quarter at Light Night 2013
Simon leads the Chorus in the Victoria Quarter at Light Night 2013

Our 2012 July concert in Ripon Cathedral was a celebration of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, so included two lesser known pieces alongside Mozart’s Coronation Mass – Whitacre’s Lux Aramque and Mealor’s Ubi Caritas. In November, we gave much of our attention to Sergei Rachmaninov in a Leeds Town Hall concert with the BBC Philharmonic which featured not only four movements from his beautiful All Night Vigil, commonly known as his Vespers, but also the choral symphony The Bells. This is based on poems by one of the composer’s favourite poets – Edgar Allan Poe. Graham Rickson wrote in theartsdesk.com about the consistently peerless singing from the Leeds Festival Chorus’s sopranos and altos.

A poster for the concert at Caorle
A poster for the concert at Caorle

Mozart’s Requiem was sung in July, 2013, at Ampleforth Abbey in North Yorkshire, and we appeared on stage at Temple Newsam for one of a series of appearances in Leeds City Council’s Opera in the Park, with an audience of thousands on the grass, many bringing foldable seats and tables for picnics. Three weeks later we were in Venice.

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. He had been very impressed after attending one of our concerts in Leeds. The Chorus took up residence on an island in the lagoon. Concerts took place in the ancient Saint Stephen's Cathedral in Caorle, and in St Mark's Basilica and Chiesa dei Gesuati in Venice. The one in Caorle (80 kilometres north of Venice) was standing room only, with short speeches in Italian and English and an exquisite rendering of a Chopin nocturne by Alessandro added to a programme of works by Handel, Bruckner, Byrd, Purcell, Rachmaninov, Tavener, Brahms and Mozart. In autumn, 2013, shortly after our week in La Serenissima, we were invited to take part as the choir for an event at the First Direct Leeds Arena which was part of Andrea Bocelli’s international tour.

The centenary of the start of the First World War was in mind in 2014: in March, we sang our commission from James MacMillan, Deus noster refugium, a world premiere, alongside Haydn’s Mass in Time of War. Two months later, our concert was Brahms’s German Requiem. Appropriately, perhaps, we rehearsed this in St Chad’s church in Headingley, the choir of which had sung it in 1916. In November, 2014, Fauré’s Requiem was part of our end-of-the-year concert. This, together with the Brahms, reappeared on our programme for a tour of southern Poland two years later.

In May, 2015, the Chorus was accompanied by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra for Beethoven’s Choral Symphony (No 9) in Middlesbrough Town Hall, and in the same month served up Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast at Leeds Town Hall. Handel’s Messiah filled Leeds Town Hall in December.

Singing in a Polish salt mine
Singing in a Polish salt mine

Tippett’s A Child of our Time was the concert in March, 2016, and in May the Chorus joined forces with Leeds Philharmonic Chorus, Bradford Catholic Youth Choir and the Orchestra of Opera North for the sound and fury of Mahler’s Symphony No 8. We gave concerts in Poland in August - in St Katherine’s Church, Kraków, Kościół św. Krzyża (Church of the Holy Cross), Wrocław and Opole Cathedral as part of the BelleVoci International Music Festival. We sang Gaude Mater Polonia, a centuries-old national anthem, a hundred metres underground in the Warszawa Gallery of the Wieliczka Salt Mine near Kraków for the benefit of the many tourists there. Prominent on the official programme for the tour were Brahms’s German Requiem and Fauré’s Requiem.

In March, 2017, Haydn’s Creation began our year, followed by a July concert in Ripon Cathedral which has become a regular summer fixture. On this occasion we sang Mozart’s Requiem, Bach’s Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden and Barber’s Agnus Dei. The Orchestra of Opera North joined us for a collection of seasonal music in December in Leeds Town Hall – Festive Box of Delights.

Gloria! the Ripon concert in July, 2018 included works by Handel, Tallis, Bruckner, Mozart and Tchaikovsky and Bach, together with two lesser known ones – James Macmillan’s O radiant dawn and Morten Lauridsen’s O magnum mysterium. The major item was Poulenc’s Gloria. As with previous concerts at the cathedral, we were accompanied by the York Guildhall Orchestra.

We addressed the official Light Night theme of Women’s Rights with a programme which included versions by Simon Wright of composer Ethel Smyth’s famous suffragette anthem The March of the Women.

We marked the centenary of the end of the First World War with Benjamin Britten’s choral masterpiece War Requiem, and were joined for it by the City of Glasgow Chorus, the Cantabile Choir and world-class soloists. The concert, with the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Simon Wright, took place on 17 November.  Unprecedentedly, it was accompanied by an exhibition in Leeds Town Hall of personal photographs of ancestors of members of the choruses who were involved in some way with the First World War, along with accounts of what they did. Curated by Chorus bass Richard Wilcocks, this was not taken down until the end of January 2019. Geoffrey Mogridge wrote in the Ilkley Gazette:

Last Saturday’s incandescent performance, conducted by Simon Wright, was given by today’s slimmed down and fine-tuned Festival Chorus of 130 singers together with the superb City of Glasgow Chorus and the BBC Philharmonic. The combined choirs of over 200 voices sang with incredible precision, warmth and clarity.