On Friday 21st September, Hertford Choral Society (HCS) members, MD Derek Harrison and invited guests gathered to celebrate 80 years of singing and history.
The occasion was marked with the launch of ‘HCS@80’, a special season of choral concerts, extra music activities and innovative history projects in the impressive setting of Hertford Castle. Mark Prisk MP, together with HCS Chairman Peter Bodden, spoke about the value and joys of choral singing and led toasts to music, community and friends – past, present and future – as well as HCS.
HCS member Frances Green said: “The evening was a happy, delightful and most memorable occasion.”
A rich history
HCS is a non-auditioned community choir, with around 140 members, drawn from Hertford and the surrounding towns and villages. It’s a sociable, friendly choir offering members and their friends and families opportunities to get involved with both singing and volunteering.
New members – both in the choir and the audience – are always very welcome!
Throughout its history, HCS has recorded a number of significant musical achievements. It gave the very first performance by an amateur choir of Scarlatti’s then newly-discovered ten-part Stabat Mater in 1950. It has also performed with other Hertfordshire choirs at the Royal Albert Hall on four occasions (Britten’s War Requiem, 1994; Mahler’s Symphony no.8, October 1999; Verdi’s Requiem, 2003 and Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts, 2007) and travelled to Hertford’s twin towns of Evron and Wildeshausen.
In 1987 HCS gave one of the first amateur choir performances of Michael Berkeley’s Or Shall we Die?. It has also sung with a number of notable soloists over its history including Peter Pears, John Carol Case, Ilse Wolf, Lesley Garrett, Ian Bostridge, Emma Kirkby, Tracey Chadwell and David Wilson-Johnson, and has recorded four professionally-edited albums.
Since its inception in 1938, the choir has been led by twelve conductors. The current musical director, Derek Harrison, has held the position for 42 years and throughout this time has pursued a challenging, innovative and varied repertoire with supporting initiatives including schemes for student conductors and bursary schemes for young singers. He has also introduced singing workshops with lunchtime talks by experts on the piece being performed, and voice coaching.
As well as celebrating its rich European choral inheritance, the choir has embraced works from further afield and by contemporary composers such as Douglas Coombes, Will Todd, Cecilia McDowall and Richard Blackford. HCS also experiments with novel combinations of singers and instrumentation, for example performing alongside and accompanied by accordions, steel and brass bands (including a memorable performance with Black Dyke Brass Band in June 2017), hand bells, saxophones and percussion.
Typically giving four concerts a season, usually at All Saints’ Church, Hertford, HCS works with professional orchestras and, where possible local soloists, to deliver a high standard of performance. The aim is always to enable the community to experience the highest possible standard of concert on their own doorstep.
HCS@80 celebratory music programme
To mark their anniversary, HCS are performing a full programme of concerts…
- The first, Messiah on 3 November 2018, will be based on Ebenezer Prout’s arrangement and orchestration (as it would have been heard in the early-mid 20th Century). The second will be the magnificent Requiem by Verdi on March 30. The traditional Christmas concert (15 December) sees HCS joined by Morgans Junior School Choir and next year’s Gala concert (29 June) will feature two very different instrumental ensembles to not only support the choir but perform individually and together. Not to be missed!
- HCS singers will also be visiting Wildeshausen in Germany between 18-21 October 2018. This trip marks the latest in over 25 years of reciprocal singing visits and shared concerts.
The society is also conducting two very special history projects, which you can read about here.
Want to learn more?
HCS rehearsals take place every Tuesday evening during term time at The Sele School, Hertford.
For details about the choir, membership and how to buy concert tickets, please visit www.hertfordchoral.org.uk