Sorry it’s been a bit quiet on here – blame pressures of the day job and the build-up to our Summer Prom (follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more regular updates).
To make up for it, here’s some background info on HCS – who we are, how we started and where we are heading:
“Believed to be the oldest choral society in the world, Halifax Choral Society has an unbroken record of performance since its foundation in 1817 by William Priestley, a gentleman wool merchant as well as a talented amateur musician and antiquarian. One evening late in 1817, William had a dinner party for his musical friends at his home, New House, Lightcliffe (since rebuilt and known as The Grange). At that meal Priestley, with his love of good choral music, devised with his friends a permanent choir, to be known as Halifax Choral Society. The first performance took place in the Halifax Court House: Haydn’s The Creation, performed on Monday 9th February 1818. Another early work to become a fixture was Handel’s Messiah, which is believed to have been performed annually by the choir each Christmastide since 1818.
Since these Georgian beginnings, the Halifax Choral Society has continued to thrive as it has grown in stature and reputation. Even in Victorian times its members were considered proficient enough to be invited to sing for Queen Victoria in Buckingham Palace in June 1860. Over the ensuing years HCS has performed the vast majority of the choral repertoire to enviably high standards.
HCS is a thriving and enterprising choir, widely considered to be amongst the foremost of its genre. Many amateur music groups will feel rightly a justified sense of achievement if they are able to perform a complex work and have a sense of pride if the the performance goes without a hitch. However HCS cannot be content to perform to that level. We seek to interpret the music and present a polished professional programme of music. Because of these high expectations, HCS is able to accept invitations to join other major choirs (eg: Carlow Choral Union, Edinburgh Royal Choral Union, Leeds Philharmonic Chorus, Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus) to perform larger complex works. Such “exchange visits” give members the opportunity to perform larger choral works in different venues in Yorkshire and further afield and to promote our hometown, Halifax.
The Society’s high profile has been reflected in performances which have been broadcast nationally. The world premiere of its treasured and unique long-lost Mozart orchestration of Handel’s Judas Maccabeus was recorded for broadcast by the BBC and also networked in the USA. Other broadcasts have included: Carols and Brass (for Radio), Songs of Praise (televised on BBC1), a live BBC Radio 3 performance with the Halle of Prokofiev’s Cantata for the 25th Anniversary of the October Revolution (sung in Russian) from the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester. HCS has also featured in the Opera Gala and Extravaganza Concerts, promoted by the Raymond Gubbay Organisation, at the Bridgewater Hall and the Manchester Arena.
HCS has made some well-received CD recordings (Summer Prom, Carols and Brass and Messiah with the Black Dyke Band and Christmas Song with Fodens’ Band) plus a DVD of Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man, recorded live at a performance by HCS and Black Dyke Band in the presence of the composer in Birmingham Symphony Hall.
To ensure continuing high standards of singing, HCS has engaged its current professional artistic director, John Pryce-Jones, for the past 25 years. John is also Musical Director of the Northern Ballet Sinfonia (based in Leeds.) He takes the HCS weekly rehearsals as well as conducting all performances. In addition, HCS engages a regular professional accompanist, David Houlder.
The choir is made up of around 110 amateur members, from all walks of life, who enjoy singing to professional standards. members range in age from teenagers to octogenarians and come mainly from the local community, but increasingly from other parts of West Yorkshire and Lancashire too. HCS is a very friendly, open organisation that extends a warm welcome to all new members.
Each season the choir usually promotes and presents a full season of concerts in its home concert hall – the Victoria Theatre, Halifax -and in the town’s beautiful medieval Minster. The programme usually comprises major concerts in Spring and Autumn, an annual performance of Handel’s Messiah and, with the Black Dyke Band, Carol Concerts in December and a Summer Concert in June that aims to be lighthearted in the spirit of the Last Night of the Proms. There may also be external engagements carried out during the year.
The choir is now fast approaching its bicentenary concert season in 2017-2018, which we will celebrate with concerts that both mark its long history and emphasise its commitment to the future. There are few musical organisations that can trace their history as far back as HCS and accordingly the Society feels that our 200th consecutive season and our ambitions to continue to be a leading Choral Society is of major and lasting significance in the arts world. T o mark this momentous year, already completed and funded is a new full length oratorio for orchestra or brass band, SATB choir and children’s choir composed for HCS by Philip Wilby. This is entited the Holy Face and celebrates the life and death of the patron saint of Halifax, John the Baptist, after whom the town was allegedly named – Halifax being a derivation of early English “Holy-face”.