A gala dinner, a performance of the Brahms Requiem, featuring the composer’s arrangement for two piano accompaniment, an anniversary Evensong and reception are the highlights of our forthcoming celebratory season, which formally begins with the County Harvest Service in the cathedral next month.
Celebrations for this special year have been in the pipeline for some time but were originally completely unforeseen when, in 1998, then lay clerk Stephen Shellard outlined his dream to lead and conduct his own choir to Worcester Cathedral’s Chapter.
“I wanted to gather together the best amateur singers from across the Worcestershire diocese and beyond to form the first male and female choir to sing in the cathedral in its 900-plus years, but I never envisioned that it would be here 20 years later and such a successful and established part of the Cathedral and Worcester’s musical life,” reflects Stephen, who, now Senior Lay Clerk, took up his post as a member of the Cathedral Choir upon arrival from his native Dublin in 1990.
He was given the go-ahead and not only is the rest history, he made history by including women’s voices in the cathedral’s musical life.
The ensuing years have seen us expand from singing at traditional services to successful concert performances, acclaimed CD recordings, touring ventures and even backing Brit Award-winning trio Blake and accompanying rock legend and ‘Grumpy Old Man’ Rick Wakeman.
Much of our repertoire draws on its Anglican church music heritage and includes Bach’s St John Passion, Handel’s Messiah and Vivaldi’s Gloria while its recording career has produced several successful albums. The latest, Royal Worcester – Music for Royal Occasions features music from 500 years of royal ceremonies and was released in 2017 under our own Pink Giraffe label.
There have been visits to Dublin and a key musical role in 2013’s Christmas and Easter’s Gloucester and Worcester Cathedrals’ Mystery Plays while in 2007 we sang in the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass that was broadcast live from the cathedral on BBC1. Our performance of two carols from that evening have, to date, notched up more than 67,000 views on YouTube.
This year we were specially invited to sing the Hallelujah Chorus at the opening ceremony of the prestigious RHS Malvern Spring Show.
“It’s been an amazing 20 years,” says our current Chairman who was there for our very first season, Phil Crowther. “Singing bass with all these talented people, learning new music, performing in the Cathedral and around the country. The choir has become an important part of my life.”
While our big anniversary concert (keep up to date on details by coming back here or follow us on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram) is not until next April there’s still plenty of rehearsing ahead. The harvest service is followed by a concert of Remembrance readings and music, including a special arrangement of Fauré’s Requiem, on November 10 in Worcester and there are plans to perform a choral version of Elgar’s Sea Pictures with the English Symphony Orchestra as part of next year’s Elgar Festival.
Stephen is also working with some local composers on some new commissions for the choir and has some other ideas up his conducting arm’s sleeve.
“Watch this space,” he grins.