Spring concert 2016

Our Spring Concert at 7.30 on Saturday, 19 March 2016 has the evocative title ‘From Darkness to Light’. As the dark of the winter evenings gradually gives way to the bright light of springlike days (and after such a doleful winter some sunshine has been truly welcome recently), the Southport Bach Choir have been rehearsing for a concert to include music by Duruflé, Lauridsen and Britten.

Duruflé’s Requiem has become popular with British choirs, often being paired with the earlier Requiem by Fauré. Although Duruflé was composing his work during the Second World War, he does not include a Dies irae, as one might expect, so that the requiem lacks the ferocity of Verdi’s, for instance. The gloom of the early movements is lifted with the serenity of the chant-like Lux aeterna and the final In Paradisum.

‘Lux aeterna’ is the title of the work we shall be singing by the popular American composer, Morten Lauridsen, written in 1997. It is a cycle of 5 pieces, all of which contain references to light, taken from various Latin texts. The first and last movements come from the requiem mass: Requiem aeternam and Agnus Dei – Lux aeterna. The second movement is part of the Te Deum (In te, Domine, speravi), the third is an unaccompanied motet, O nata lux and it is followed by the jubilant canticle, Veni Sancte Spiritus.

The third piece in the concert, Rejoice in the Lamb, is Benjamin Britten’s setting of words by the eccentric 18th century writer, Christopher Smart. Written while he was an inmate in an asylum, the poem takes joy in the way different creatures, in their individual ways, worship the Lord. Britten does, by way of contrast, include a section of the poem in which Smart reflects on his own hardships, but he foresees deliverance, and the work ends by glorying in the way various instruments praise God before gathering into a final Hallelujah.

The SBC, conducted by our Director of Music, Ian Crawford, will be joined by soloists: Stephanie Guidera (mezzo-soprano) and Stuart O’Hara (baritone) and will be accompanied by Stephen Hargreaves on the organ.

Holy Trinity Church, Hoghton Street, Southport PR9 0TE.

Tickets £10 from members of the choir or ring 01704 540097.

Come and Sing!

On Saturday 30th January 2016, we will be holding another of our popular  Come and Sing days, directed, as usual by the choir’s MD, Ian Crawford. Having held these events in Crosby during the past few years, we have decided this time to use Emmanuel Church, Southport.  If you have come to one of these events in the past you will know that they are rewarding and fun, providing an opportunity to sing some great music in an informal setting.

The music we will be singing this time will be Vivaldi’s Magnificat and Jonathan Dove’s Missa Brevis. Less familiar than the Gloria, Vivaldi’s Magnificat is another wonderfully tuneful and relatively straightforward piece, which can be enjoyed by less experienced choral singers. Dove’s Missa Brevis is perhaps more challenging, notable for its lively syncopation and dancing rhythms. But Dove is experienced in writing for musical theatre and his music is very appealing at the same time as being very up-to-date. He aims to make both performing and listening to his music an enjoyable experience. The Southport Bach Choir performed the Missa Brevis in the 2013-14 season and enjoyed it so much that they are delighted to have the opportunity of sharing this work with other singers.

Here is a recording of a recent liturgical performance of the Gloria by the choir of Bath Abbey which gives you some idea of this attractive work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Bek2DOviXE.

Tickets for singers are £15. And of course there will be cakes – something that has become a feature of our Come and Sings!

If you have any questions ring Suzanne on 017704 553903. For further details and application form click here: Come and Sing 2015 flyer.

Christmas Concert 2015

Our Christmas concert this year will include Charpentier’s atmospheric mass based on French carol tunes: Messe de minuit. Although these tunes are not particularly familiar to an English audience, they lend the solemn words of the mass a lightness and joyfulness appropriate to the magical moment of Christ’s birth. Our performance on Saturday 12 December will be accompanied by Robert Woods on the piano and organ, and instrumentalists from Liverpool Concert Orchestra.

The rest of the programme will consist of carols old and new. This year, as a small tribute to Sir David Willcocks, who died earlier this year, we are performing his setting of ‘Tomorrow shall be my dancing day’. We shall also sing ‘Wassail’ by his son Jonathan Willcocks.  Bob Chilcott has become something of a favourite with the choir, and we shall be singing several settings and arrangements by him.

In our summer concert we were delighted to sing a piece by our own Director of Music, Ian Crawford. He set the words of Christina Rossetti’s charming poem, ‘A Birthday’, in honour of the choir’s 50th anniversary. For this December concert, celebrating Christ’s (rather more significant) birthday, he has set the traditional words of ‘The Boar’s Head Carol’, and keeps the choir on its toes with syncopated rhythms and the need for clean, clear articulation! We hope to do the carol justice on Saturday.

Christmas at Melling Tithebarn

The Choir will be celebrating Christmas at Melling Tithebarn with a concert of carols and other music suited to the time of year on Friday, 18 December 2015, starting at 8.00pm.

Last year we greatly enjoyed singing there amid the beautiful Christmas decorations – and the smell of mulled wine and mince pies! And we were delighted to be asked back to perform in a place that is as different as could be from Holy Trinity, Southport, where we usually sing.

Tickets cost £8.00 and are available from 0151 526 7238, or (text only) 07818404808.

Jonathan Antoine concert

We are delighted to have been asked to sing with the young tenor, Jonathan Antoine, who will be singing in concert at The Atkinson, Southport, on Sunday 22 November, at 7.30pm.

Jonathan made his name by appearing in the sixth series of Britain’s Got Talent in 2012 as one half of the duo, Jonathan and Charlotte. This is his first tour in which he is performing in concerts from Gateshead to Eastbourne, London to Manchester –  Southport, and many cities in between.

Tickets are available from The Atkinson.

Concert Season 2015-16

Saturday 12 December 2015 at 7.30 pm


Charpentier: Messe de Minuit

with carols by Rutter, Chilcott, MacMillan and Willcocks, plus congregational carols

Tickets £10


Saturday 19 March 2016 at 7.30 pm

Duruflé: Requiem

Lauridsen: Lux Aeterna

Britten: Rejoice in the Lamb

Tickets £10


Saturday 11 June 2016 at 7.30 pm


Handel: Dettingen Te Deum

Shakespeare settings for choir and soloists.

Helen Francis: Alto
Stephen Newlove: Tenor
Mark Rowlinson: Bass

with Crosby Symphony Orchestra

Tickets £12

All concerts conducted by Ian Crawford

Season tickets £29

Further information: 01704 540097

All concerts at Holy Trinity Church, Hoghton St, Southport PR9 0TE


David Williams as conductor (1)

This is the third in a series of posts about the choir’s history. Scroll down to see the earlier posts.

When David Williams took over as conductor of the Southport Bach Society (now Choir) in 1970, the choir was definitely a going concern, with a nucleus of committed singers, a regular season of concerts, and the ambition of establishing itself as a fundamental part of the town’s cultural life.

Management of the choir

At this time the choir was governed by a committee of just four people: Chair, Conductor, Treasurer and Secretary. David Bowman had been greatly supported by Eddie and Joan Twigg, as Treasurer and Secretary, and when he left Joan Twigg resigned from her role. Joy Lea took over as Secretary until 1981, when Jean Sutton took on this important and onerous job. Eddie Twigg continued as Treasurer until 1974, when he and his wife left Southport. There were several changes of Treasurer before Peter Woodhead took over in 1977, to be followed by Bob Bride in 1980. Arthur Baldwin stayed as Chairman until 1972, when he was succeeded by John Watts, who held the chair for the next nine years. Valerie Pedlar was Chairman from 198-85, and Bleddyn Davies from 1985-1991.

By the time the choir reached its 10th anniversary in 1975, it was clear that the financial position was rather precarious. It was decided to increase the membership subscription, and the price of concert tickets, but it was felt that more attention should be given to fund-raising activities and to improving publicity. To this end, it was agreed to add extra committee members to cope with the all the work that needed to be done, and at the same time ensure that different voice parts were represented. Six new members joined the committee and immediately set to work.

At the AGM the following year it was reported that the choir’s finances had improved considerably, partly as a result of a grant from Merseyside Arts Association, but also because of the fund-raising and social activities that had been organized. Much of the money raised went towards the purchase of half a grand piano, the other half being purchased by Holy Trinity Church, but enough had been raised to ensure that there was money in the bank at the end of the season.

Another vital feature of the choir’s life is the rehearsal pianist. Mary Crayston was been appointed as accompanist in 1976 and was greatly appreciated. When she gave up in 1982, Keith Matthews was recruited and he remained as the choir’s much-loved accompanist until 2010. And he still occasionally helps out when necessary!


Fund-raising events could also be fun and included Victorian evenings, coffee mornings and garden parties as well as more routine bring and buy or jumble sales. The secretary’s report for the 1982-3 season shows how busy the choir could be, since in addition to the normal three concerts in December, April and June, there were the following events:

October – 1) Second-hand book sale; 2) the choir sang at a Gala concert at Southport Arts Centre as part of the town’s Music Festival.

November – A Victorian evening at a member’s house.

February – 1) A concert at URC Church, Trafalgar Road in aid of the church re-building fund; 2) a 12-hour music marathon.

April – A recital by Emma Kirkby and Anthony Rooley at St Cuthbert’s Church.

June – A garden party in a member’s garden.

July – A social evening at Rufford Old Hall.

Energetic fund-raising by the choir meant that David could be more ambitious in his concert-planning, including professional soloists and orchestras from time to time, but the choir was also greatly helped by grants from the National Federation of Music Societies and Merseyside Arts Association. Less frequently the choir was able to attract commercial sponsors.


In my next post I’ll write about some of the more ambitious works that the choir performed during the first 20 years of David’s tenure.


Summer Anniversary Concert

The Southport Bach Choir’ s Anniversary Concert takes place in Holy Trinity Church Southport on Saturday 27 June at 7.30.

The music for this concert has been chosen to celebrate 50 years of music making. Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music sets words from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice which praise the power of music to arouse and reflect human emotions. The choir first sang it at its first concert (as Southport Bach Society) in 1965, and has sung it with each of its conductors: David Bowman (who founded the choir), David Williams, Ian Wells and now Ian Crawford.

The Serenade was composed in1938, but the choir is keen to keep up to date, and has shared in a new commission from a young composer who is rapidly making a name for himself: Will Todd. This, too, is a setting of words by Shakespeare, words particularly suited to a summer concert: ‘It was a lover and his lass’ (from As You Like It).

Another 21st-century piece in the concert is Bob Chilcott’s Aesop’s Fables (2008). Chilcott, one of the original King’s Singers, is skilled at writing choral music that is both approachable and contemporary in idiom. The final song of the set, ‘The Goose and the Swan’ is, appropriately enough, about singing.

Even more up to the minute is a piece that our Musical Director, Ian Crawford, has written especially for this concert – a joyful, dancing setting of Christina Rossetti’s ‘A Birthday’. A lovely birthday present for the choir.

The second half of the concert will be devoted to Vivaldi’s well known Gloria, when the choir will be accompanied by the strings of the Crosby Symphony Orchestra.

Tickets £10 available from tickets@southportbachchoir.org.uk.

Bach’s St John Passion

It was lovely hearing so many complimentary remarks about our performance of Bach’s St John Passion last Saturday. And ‘our’ in this instance covers not just the Southport Bach Choir, but the 18th Century Sinfonia and a team of six soloists, with our Musical Director, Ian Crawford, holding the whole thing together.

There were a couple of last-minute emergencies since both tenor soloists, Nicholas Hurndall Smith singing as Evangelist, and Tim Kennedy singing the arias, had to withdraw because of ill health. We had a week to find a replacement for Nicholas, and were extremely grateful to him for suggesting Simon Gfeller, who did a fantastic job, learning the part in a week, and singing wonderfully, conveying both drama and pathos, well partnered by the continuo accompaniment. Tim, at even shorter notice, was luckily able to find a replacement, Michael Solomon Williams, who sang the arias beautifully. Although he, too, was performing them for the first time, he was already prepared to sing them in Folkstone a week or two later, so we were able to give him a dry run, as it were. 

Another new face – or should I say voice – so far as the choir was concerned belonged to Martin Bussey, who sang Jesus’s recitatives with great feeling. We welcomed back the other three soloists, Barbara Ruzsics, Joyce Tindsley and Mark Rowlinson, all of whom have sung for us before, and who delighted us with their singing of the arias for soprano, alto and bass.

The St John Passion is a more tightly structured piece than the St Matthew Passion, and, I think, more dramatic. There are fewer reflective arias and the exciting, almost demonic choruses follow each other swiftly, especially in the second part, interspersed with chorales when the choir has to change character and sing as though leading a congregation. The solo arias, then, come as a relief, when the choir can sit down and enjoy listening to Bach’s intensely emotional music.

One of the delights in the Passions is the way that Bach deploys the instruments in the solo numbers (two flutes in the first soprano aria, for instance), and last Saturday we enjoyed listening to the players of the 18th Century Sinfonia, who play period instruments. After rehearsing with piano for most of our rehearsals, and electronic keyboard in the last two (to get us used to the lower Baroque pitch), it was a real delight to be accompanied by the orchestra, and to hear all the different sonorities.

This performance of the St John Passion launched our 50th anniversary year. Putting on such a work demands greater resources than usual and is very demanding on the conductor. We are most grateful to Ian for all his hard work, for giving us this opportunity of singing a much-loved work and getting our anniversary year off to a flying start.

The years 1965-1970

This is the second in the series of posts about the choir’s history.

The years 1965-1970 saw the choir (the Southport Bach Society, as it then was) develop a wide-ranging repertoire. David Bowman’s programming in the years that followed the choir’s foundation in 1965 was ambitious and exciting, including Matyas Seiber, Bartok and Vaughan Williams, as well as Bach, Haydn, Mozart and a Messiah in the Watkins Shaw edition. David ensured that the choir kept in touch with new music. As one of the early annual reports puts it, ‘a small piece of musical history’ was made when the choir, accompanied by instrumentalists drawn from the RLPO, performed Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms as part of the summer concert in 1968. This was the first performance in the north of England, and, as David told me in a recent phone call, the percussionist had to make some of his own instruments for the performance!

‘New music’ in those days included compositions by David Bowman himself. The first was a setting of ‘O care, thou wilt dispatch me’, anonymous words that speak of music as an antidote to care, best known in a setting by Thomas Morley. This piece was partnered by Seiber’s four Slovak Folk Songs and performed at the Mayoress’s Charity Concert in March 1967. Another work by David was a cantata for choir and contralto solo, Dira Nox Animae, with Alma Dootson as soloist, which included a setting of John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 7, ‘At the round earth’s imagin’d corners’.

Soloists and orchestra

Soloists were regularly drawn from the choir. As well as Alma, there were Sylvia Forshaw, a soprano, and her husband Eric, who sang tenor, and Eddie Twigg, another tenor. Lesley Threlfall and Judith Barritt, both founder members, took bass and contralto parts respectively. Another soprano drawn from the choir was Margaret Edwards, and towards the end of this period another contralto, Judith Barker, started to sing with the choir. For the Messiah that was performed in 1967, as part of the second Holy Trinity Festival, there was a different line-up of soloists. Alma was the contralto soloist, but the other soloists were not drawn from the choir. Peter Bamber (a name I don’t recognize) sang tenor, the soprano was Caroline Crawshaw and the bass was Patrick McGuigan. I don’t know if Patrick and Caroline were married at the time, but they did marry and both became singing teachers at the Royal Northern College of Music.

From the beginning David Bowman insisted on having an orchestra for at least one concert in the year. But the minutes of one AGM record his dissatisfaction with the quality of playing in the orchestra at the summer concert in 1969, and he suggested that he should contact someone in the orchestra with a view to forming a small chamber orchestra who would play for future concerts. When there wasn’t an orchestra the accompaniment was played on the organ; the two names that crop up most frequently are Brian Runnett and Keith Elcombe.

David Bowman’s last season

The newly formed Liverpool Concertante joined the choir for a Christmas concert in 1969 of instrumental as well as choral pieces, which seems to have been a great success. The secretary’s report says that it ‘received more appreciation both at the time and subsequently than any previous concert’. However, this was followed by a bad falling-off in choir attendance. The choir had been booked by Revd Roger Wikeley, who had previously been a curate at Holy Trinity, to sing at a festival in Woolston in May to celebrate the consecration of the Church of the Ascension, where he was now vicar. David said in his report at the 1970 AGM that he had been ‘very depressed and worried’ by the poor attendance and had seriously considered giving up as conductor of the choir. ‘It was impossible’, he said ‘to give concerts of the high quality associated with the name of the Southport Bach Society if members did not attend rehearsals regularly’.

As it turned out, David did indeed leave the choir at the end of that season, but not because of his dissatisfaction with the choir. The Woolston concert, in which the Concertante played Lennox Berkeley’s Serenade for Strings, and the choir sang Vivaldi’s Gloria and Haydn’s Nelson Mass, was repeated in June at Holy Trinity, Southport. David’s departure was caused by a change of job. He moved from Preston Grammar School, which had recently converted to a Sixth Form College, to Ampleforth – where, in the course of time and with the support of Patrick Barry (the then headmaster) and Basil Hume, he founded Scuola Cantorum, a polyphonic choir for boys and a few monks from the Abbey, which also continues to this day.