Our History

Worcester Festival Choral Society Honorary Officers

President: The Lord Bishop of Worcester

Senior Vice President: The Dean of Worcester

Vice Presidents: Dr Christopher Robinson CVO CBE, Adrian Lucas MA

WFCS History

Worcester Festival Choral Society, founded in 1861, is one of the oldest and most prestigious choral societies in Britain.

The Society had close associations with the Elgar family from its early days, indeed several members of the family joined it. Edward led the orchestra and often conducted his own works at its concerts and he wrote two works for the Society, The Black Knight (1892) and From the Bavarian Highlands (1895).

Since then the Society's musical programmes have been continually enterprising and exciting; encompassing not only the great, traditional works of choral repertoire, but also contemporary works from both home and abroad.

Concert highlights

Within its core activities from November - March each season, Worcester Festival Choral Society performs three, major concerts in Worcester Cathedral each year. It also runs a popular, annual 'Come and Sing' one-day choral workshop in spring, which attracts many keen singers from outside the Society.

In recent years concert highlights have included rare performances of two of Jonathan Dove’s moving, modern masterpieces – attended by the composer himself – as well as Verdi’s Requiem, Bach's Mass in B minor, Britten’s St Nicolas, Fauré's Requiem, Brahms's Ein Deutsches Requiem, Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna, Vaughan Williams's Dona Nobis Pacem, Haydn's The Creation, Poulenc's Gloria, Elgar's The Music Makers, Mozart's Requiem and the perennially popular Handel's Messiah heralding in each Christmas.

To see our complete concert repertoire since 2001, and many concerts further back, visit our past Concert Poster Gallery.

The Society's 2018-19 concert season includes Poulenc Gloria and Vaughan Williams Hodie; Handel Messiah; and Mendelssohn Elijah

Special activities

Alongside its main concerts, over the years Worcester Festival Choral Society has achieved several choral 'firsts', as well as undertaking regular special projects.

Many singers from the Society are selected each year to perform in the Festival Chorus at the world-renowned Three Choirs Festival, which has taken place in rotation at the Cathedral cities of Worcester, Hereford and Gloucester for more than 300 years. In 2015 a massed Festival Chorus, including many of our members, performed a special, massed recital for The Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace, to mark the tercentenary of the Three Choirs Festival.

The Society has also sung at many other festivals, notably at King's Lynn and at Elgar Festivals in the Royal Albert Hall and in Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.  In 1991 and 1992 it was invited to join the BBC Singers and Chorus in Elgar concerts in the Symphony Hall, Birmingham. The Society has broadcast with the BBC Welsh Symphony and with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestras and has contributed to commercial recordings from Worcester Cathedral, including The Crucifixion by John Stainer.

In 1994, the Society gave the first UK performance of the then recently discovered Messe Solennelle by Berlioz.  To mark English Music Year, it commissioned the choral and orchestral work from then conductor Dr Donald Hunt, A Song of Celebration that received its highly successful première performance, broadcast, together with Elgar's The Music Makers, by the BBC in 1995. 2003 saw the second joint collaboration with Portsmouth Choral Union in performances of Mendelssohn's Elijah in Portsmouth and Worcester.

The Society commissioned a major choral work from Adrian Lucas, Creation Canticles, which was given it's highly successful premiere in 2004. In November 2004 the choir joined forces with the City of Birmingham Choir and the CBSO in Britten's War Requiem in Symphony Hall, Birmingham.

2011 was the year the choral society celebrated its 150th anniversary, which started with an epic performance of Walton's Belshazzar's Feast in the Spring concert. An anniversary dinner was held in the Guildhall Worcester, in October, to which the society was honoured to have previous conductors Sir David Willcocks, Dr Christopher Robinson, Dr Donald Hunt and Mr Adrian Lucas all present to celebrate the occasion. Adrian Lucas also led the Society to an inspired performance of Elgar'sThe Dream of Gerontius as the gala concert for our anniversary year.

In 2015 Worcester Festival Choral Society joined the Worcester Cathedral Choir to record a special 'Christmas from Worcester' CD of Christmas Carol favourites at Worcester Cathedral, in tribute to its former conductor, the late composer, Sir Desmond Willcocks. The CD was so popular that it entered the UK Classical Music Charts.

In August 2017, a 'Proms Chorus' of 40 WFCS members performs a range of Proms concert favourites at Worcestershire County Cricket Club's inaugural 'Last Night of the New Road Proms' classical spectacular in Worcester, together with the National Symphony Orchestra and soprano Annette Wardell.

Musical direction

Since its foundation Worcester Festival Choral Society has had nine conductors, most being Directors of Music at Worcester Cathedral. Since 1950 these have included Sir David Willcocks, Douglas Guest, Christopher Robinson, Dr Donald Hunt and Adrian Lucas. Dr Peter Nardone took on the role until from 2012 to 2018.

In September 2018 Christopher Allsop succeeded Peter as music director and conductor, having been our deputy music director and accompanist since 2004. During that time he conducted WFCS's performances of Carmina Burana in 2008, Mozart's Requiem in 2012 and Messiah in 2012, and Haydn's The Creation in 2018. Chris's outstanding musicianship continues to enable the Society to achieve ever higher standards of performance in its 2018-19 season whilst sharing the joy of choral singing.

Since 2013 we are delighted to have been accompanied at our concerts by the excellent Meridian Sinfonia orchestra, which draws from some of the UK's most talented musicians nationwide.

Find out more

A fascinating history of Worcester Festival Choral Society from 1861 to 1996, A Prevailing Passion written by Mary Parsons, was published by Osborne Heritage (1996).  ISBN 1-872962-95-5  Available via our Amazon donation link.

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