Alexander’s Feast

Alexander’s Feast will be performed by the Southport Bach Choir on Saturday, 24 June 2017, with chamber orchestra and soloists:

Hayley Swanton (Soprano)

Andrew Masterson (Tenor)

Ed Robinson (Bass)

The work is a setting of Dryden’s poem of the same name, a poem that had been written explicitly for musical performance and that functions as a celebration of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music, whose nameday falls on 22 November.


St Cecilia playing the portative organ by the Meister des Bartholomäus, 1501.


Her story – which may, or may not be true – is that she was a Roman woman forced to marry a pagan nobleman named Valerian, despite her vow of chastity. During the wedding, it is said, Cecilia sat apart singing to God in her heart, and this led to her later being declared the patron saint of musicians. The story goes that Valerian saw her guardian angel crowning Cecilia with a chaplet of roses and converted to Christianity. Cecilia’s martyrdom followed that of both Valerian and his brother Tiburtius. She is supposed to have lived on for 3 days after having been struck on the neck by a sword.




Sts Cecilia, Valerian and Tiburtius by Bononcini, 1495.

It’s not surprising, I suppose, to find that composers are attracted to the idea of writing music in honour of St Cecilia, and the Southport Bach Choir has performed quite a few of these works over the years, most frequently Benjamin Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia. This is a setting of a poem by W.H.Auden, written between 1940 and 1942. Auden’s words celebrate the power of music and pray for its ability to bring peace to mankind. On two occasions the choir’s programme also included Haydn’s St Cecilia Mass. We have also performed Gounod’s St Cecilia Mass and Herbert Howell’s Hymn for St Cecilia.




Handel in fact wrote two pieces in St Cecilia’s honour, and his Ode to St Cecilia was included in the   choir’s 1983/4 season. There are still other pieces which the SBC hasn’t ever performed: a Purcell Ode to St Cecilia, oratorios by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, a setting by Gerald Finzi of a poem by Edmund Blunden,  and an Ode on St Cecilia’s Day by Hubert Parry.

The concert on 24 June will take place at Holy Trinity Church, Southport, 7.30pm.

Tickets: £12, at the door or in advance from 01704 535208/564205.


New Director of Music: Marc Murray

Our new Director of Music is Marc Murray.

MARC was born and educated in Cape Town South Africa and moved to the United Kingdom in May 2010 to take up the post of Director of Music at St. Botolph’s Church (The Stump), Boston and was subsequently appointed Director of Music of Peterborough Opera and has conducted both Peterborough Symphony Orchestra and Peterborough Gilbert and Sullivan Society. He has worked several Choral societies, namely Boston Choral Society, Sleaford Choral Society and South Holland Singers and Boston Music Theatre group, winning several NODA awards. He has also accompanied  Lesley Garrett and Aled Jones at Boston Stump.

Marc studied piano and organ at the University of Cape Town’s College of Music and was a winner of the Leslie Arnold Award and the Metropolitan Methodist Church Organ Prize.  He holds several teaching and performing qualifications the University of South Africa, Trinity College of Music, London and the Royal College of Organists. Marc holds both the Associate and Choral Directing Diplomas of the RCO.

Besides having held major church positions throughout his adult life, he has spent close to ten years working on the South African Schools Choral Eisteddfod, which is one of the school enrichment programmes co-ordinated by the Department of Education to promote choral singing as a national identity. This programme is regarded as a means for social transformation and cohesion among school-going youth. Part of this period he was Assistant and Acting Chorus Master of Cape Town Opera (CTO).  Previously he taught in its Choral Training Programme, established for talented but disadvantaged young singers in the nearby townships. Even though he was on the staff of CTO for a brief while, he was often invited back to work with the chorus and act as répétiteur and accompanist, including their 2006 best-selling CD of Opera Choruses and their concert tours of Sweden and Central Africa.

Marc presently continues to occasionally engage with Professor Alison Pearce (previously head of singing at The Royal Academy of Music), in the delivery of singing master classes. Previous masterclasses have been in Cascio, Italy, Stapleford Granary, Cambridge Summer School, Grimsby and annual classes in Boston and is now preparing for a similar weeklong Course at Jesus College Cambridge in 2017.

In 2001, he formed the Magnificats Chamber Choir in Cape Town and performed to great acclaim in the city and future afield. Besides their busy concert schedule, they often sang at services (mostly Viennese Masses) at St George’s (Anglican) Cathedral and St Mary’s Cathedrals in the city. This choir was formed to explore the vast repertoire of unaccompanied choral music from the fifteen century to the present day.

He has collaborated with several groups and people on various projects using the resources of various choirs and musicians including preparing St Botolphs’ Singers in a programme of music by Patrick Hawes and conducted by the composer. The choirs of Boston Stump have recorded several Christmas Day Carol Services of BBC Radio Lincolnshire under Marc’s direction.

As an organist, he has given recitals and played in concerts throughout South Africa, Germany, Sweden, and the UK. Forthcoming recitals includes Chester and Liverpool Cathedrals.

Marc is Director of Music and Master of the Choir School of St Mary the Virgin, Bury Parish Church, Director of Music of Southport Bach Choir and accompanist to Chester St Cecilia Singers and will be continuing with postgraduate studies in Performance Practice.

Singing Mahler with CSO

Members of Southport Bach Choir will be singing in Mahler’s Symphony No.2 with Crosby Symphony Orchestra at the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool on Sunday, 8 May at 2.30 pm.

Two years ago members of the choir formed the nucleus of the Crosby Symphony Chorus to sing with the orchestra in Liverpool’s beautiful but acoustically-challenging Metropolitan Cathedral. On that occasion Bruckner’s Te Deum and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony were performed.

This year, Mahler’s work, usually known as his ‘Resurrection’ symphony, will be preceded by Mozart’s joyful Exsultate Jubilate, which was originally written for the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini, but is usually sung today by a soprano.  The chorus, composed of singers from Southport, Liverpool and Chester, will not be needed until (as in the Beethoven symphony) the fifth and final movement of the Mahler. Beethoven asks for 4 soloists (soprano, alto, tenor and bass), but Mahler confines himself to alto (who sings in the fourth movement) and soprano, who joins the alto and chorus in the fifth movement.

The soloists will be Barbara Ruzsics (soprano) and Stephanie Guidera (alto). The concert will be conducted by SBC’s Director of Music, Ian Crawford.

Tickets for this concert can be obtained by following links on the orchestra’s website.

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.

December choir concerts 2014


December is always a busy month for the choir, but this year it has been even busier than usual. On 13 December we performed Messiah at Holy Trinity. It was a splendid occasion; the church was packed and the feedback afterwards was that it had been a wonderful performance, by choir, soloists and the accompanying instruments. Our Director, Ian Crawford, had rehearsed the choir hard to make sure the choral numbers came to life and didn’t slip into a stale rehash of music that most members had sung countless times. I was delighted to hear from a member of the audience who hadn’t heard either the choir or Messiah before that the choir sang with passionate involvement.

Barbara Ruzsics, who was to have sung the soprano solos, had to withdraw at the last moment because of ill health, and we were very grateful to Nicola Howard for taking over at short notice. She joined Joyce Tinsley, Tim Kennedy and Mark Rawlinson to make a wonderful team of soloists. Stephen Hargreaves (organ), no stranger to Merseyside audiences,  and members of the Liverpool Concert Orchestra – Owen Baker and Julie Baker trumpets), Nick Byrne (cello) and Tony Lucas (timpani) – provided a splendid accompaniment. Having the solo numbers accompanied by the cello and organ made for an interesting change of musical texture.

An added dimension to this concert was that it was promoted in association with Crosby Rotary Club. Thanks to the efforts of a choir member who is currently their President, publicity for our performance was disseminated much more widely than usual, and people who had never heard us sing before were encouraged to attend. Proceeds from the concert were shared between the choir and Crosby Rotary – so we were very glad to see the large audience!

Melling Tithebarn concert

No sooner was that concert over than we were back to rehearsal: this time for a concert at Melling Tithebarn. The choir did once sing in this delightful venue, many years ago, but it was unfamiliar to most people. We were warmly welcomed and thoroughly enjoyed singing carols old and new, as well as a  couple of choruses from Messiah. Ian conducted, introducing the various items with his inimitable humour and enthusiasm, and cajoling the audience into energetic participation. We were ably accompanied on this occasion by Judy Blakemore.

Carol singing

There were plenty of opportunities for choir members to sing carols this year, since we were asked to do two slots in Marks and Spencer, when collections were made for Derian House, the children’s hospice.

Furthermore, on the day of our final choir rehearsal for Messiah we received a request to sing carols for holiday-makers at Pontins holiday camp in Ainsdale. This was a new experience, and we weren’t quite sure how it would go. On the second date, 30 December, we were told that there were some three thousand people, mainly I think in family groups, gathered for New Year celebrations. The huge hall was packed, noisy and cheerful, with children running round and people clustered round tables, chatting and drinking. We were certainly not listened to in reverent silence, but there was a row of children at the foot of the stage, gazing up at us, and occasionally joining in, which was enormously appealing, and the jolly atmosphere made the occasion most enjoyable.

Looking back over the past few weeks, I realise that while Christmas does generally mean a time for families to get together, for a choir it is also a time to get involved in the wider community and to reach out to audiences beyond those who normally come to concerts. There is a chance that one or two people who heard us for the first time this December may come to Holy Trinity to hear us again, and it would be great if that happened. But what is more important is that we shared our pleasure in choral singing and hopefully gave a musical lift to people’s feelings. I shall treasure the comment of a man who, having heard us sing at Pontins on 23 December, said that our carol-singing reminded him what Christmas was all about.

Handel’s Messiah

There are very few choral singers who haven’t at one time or another sung Handel’s Messiah. Many choirs make it a regular feature of their concert programme, and it is probably the one work that people who don’t usually listen to classical music will have heard – or at least heard of. Certain choruses such as ‘Unto us a child is born’, or the Halleluja! chorus regularly get performed as part of Christmas concerts, and solos arias such as ‘And the trumpet shall sound’  for the bass, or the alto aria ‘He was despised’ (famously sung by Kathleen Ferrier), or the soprano aria ‘I know that my redeemer liveth’ are familiar to many people who haven’t heard the whole oratorio.

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Concert with Crosby Symphony Orchestra

The Southport Bach Choir’s 2013-14 season ended later than usual, because we were invited to form the nucleus of the specially formed Crosby Symphony Chorus to sing with Crosby Symphony Orchestra in Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral, on 12 July. Joined by 30 plus singers from the Chester Music Society Choir and some friends from the Renaissance Music Group of Liverpool, we sang Bruckner’s Te Deum, conducted by our own Director of Music, Ian Crawford, and the choral movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. This – the whole symphony of course – was conducted by Robert Sells.

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2014-15 Concert Season

Rehearsals for the Southport Bach Choir’s 2014-15 concert season started on Thursday 4 September. The choir will be rehearsing for a performance of Handel’s Messiah, to be given in Holy Trinity Church, Southport on Saturday 13 December 2014. The Southport Bach Choir is delighted to be giving this concert  in association with Crosby Rotary Club, whose current President is also a member of the Choir. Proceeds will be shared with Crosby Rotary Club.

We shall be welcoming back Stephen Hargreaves as organist, who has played for several of our concerts. Of the soloists, only the mezzo-soprano, Joyce Tindsley is new to the SBC. Barbara Ruzsics (soprano), Tim Kennedy (tenor) and Mark Rowlinson (bass) are well known to the choir, and we look forward to having them with us again.

Christmas Music at Melling Tithebarn

The rehearsals during the autumn term will also be for the Christmas music that the choir will be performing at Melling Tithebarn on Friday 19 December. It is many years since the choir last sang there, and we are looking forward to giving a concert in this charming venue – a very different environment from Holy Trinity Church. It is not a large hall and tickets will sell very quickly. Because of the timing it means we shall not be singing carols, as we have in previous years, in M&S – another very different singing environment!

St. John Passion – 21 March 2015

We have chosen Bach’s St. John Passion for the first concert in our 50th anniversary year, because, in the first place, it is a wonderful work, a favourite with many choir members, which is fitting for performance in Holy Trinity Church during the Lenten period. Besides this, it also seemed an appropriate work for us to perform, since we are a Bach Choir, and our first ever performance – on 13 April 1965 – included a piece by Bach (Cantata no.4).

On that occasion the choir, which was smaller than it is now, was accompanied by a small professional orchestra in a performance of Schütz’s St. Matthew Passion. On 21 March, 2015 we shall be accompanied by the 18th Century Sinfonia, a period instrument orchestra who have played for the choir in several concerts over the years, most recently when we performed Bach’s Magnificat and Haydn’s Nelson Mass. Our Evangelist will be Nicholas Hurndall-Smith, a member of the prestigious group directed by Robert Hollingworth, I Fagiolini, and the nephew of one of our choir members.

 Anniversary Summer Concert – 27 June 2015

We are planning a joyful summer concert to celebrate 50 years of choral singing in Southport. Details will follow in a later post.