History of Stafford Choral Society 1946-2020
Current President: Michael Poulter MBE
Musical Director: Ellie Slorach
Stafford Choral Society celebrated its 70th year in 2017 with a performance of Elgar’s Gerontius in Lichfield Cathedral, joined by Cardiff Polyphonic Choir and conducted by David Young. We are looking forward to another concert at Lichfield in 2022 to celebrate our 75th anniversary with a performance of Verdi’s Requiem, conducted by Ellie Slorach. It has been an amazing journey so far:
The Society was formed in 1946 and gave its first concert in December of that year performing Messiah under the direction of Dr Coleman. There have been quite a few performances of Messiah since then and many of our audience members join us year after year as part of a Christmas tradition, enjoying Handel’s wonderful oratorio.
Originally the aim of the Society was to perform oratorios once or twice a year and over the following few years it continued under the leadership of Gerald E Todd (1947) and Dr W L Smoldon (1947-1948)
In 1949 Mary Higgs began a twenty-five year association with the Society as its conductor. During this time she broadened the choir’s repertoire, performing works by Britten, Smetana, Elgar, Dvorak, Holst, Honegger, Stravinsky, Walton, Orff and Borodin – to mention just a few. She also made it her policy to engage soloists of national and international repute, a policy we were proud to continue with internationally acclaimed soloists for our 2017 performance of Gerontius.
Following Miss Higgs’ untimely death in 1974, the Director of Music for Staffordshire, John W R Taylor, took over the reins. He continued to rehearse and perform a wide repertoire of large scale choral works including works by Rossini, Kodaly, Elgar, Verdi and Ralph Vaughan-Williams. Sadly John Taylor died suddenly in 1981 a few days after conducting one of the Society’s most ambitious undertakings – a performance of Malcolm Williamson’s Mass of Christ the King in Stychfields Hall in Stafford.
From 1981 to 1985 John C. P. Taylor succeeded his father, conducting notable performances of Vaughan -Williams A Sea Symphony and The Kingdom by Elgar.
Leslie Smith took over as Musical Director in 1986, leading the Society for twenty-nine years. As Stafford Choral Society approached its Golden Jubilee it was decided to mark the occasion by performing Verdi’s Requiem in Lichfield Cathedral. As the cathedral provides such a wonderful venue we celebrated the millennium there with a performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah. In 2007 the Society returned once more to Lichfield for its Diamond Jubilee performances of Elgar’s The Music Makers and Ralph Vaughan-Williams A Sea Symphony. On this occasion the Society was joined by other Staffordshire singers: Burntwood Singers, Stone Choral Society and Stafford’s Cantemus Chamber Choir.
A decade later, we went back to this beautiful setting – joined by Cardiff Polyphonic Choir – to enjoy Elgar’s most challenging choral composition, The Dream of Gerontius as the culmination of our 70th anniversary year.
However, in addition to epic performances the Society has enjoyed some lighter moments! In December 2001 the Society performed Last night of the Proms in the prestigious Birmingham Symphony Hall with the British Police Symphony Orchestra. Since 2002 the Society has participated in the Stafford Music Festival often opening the Festival’s musical events and on occasion performing alongside local Primary School children and young instrumentalists from Stafford schools. In 2014 Leslie Smith retired after 29 illustrious years as the choir’s Musical Director.
The success of Stafford Choral Society continued under the musical direction of David Young, appointed as Leslie’s successor. Memorable concerts included traditional choral works such as Mendelssohn’s Elijah (2015) but the Society also committed itself to a repertoire that includes modern compositions. Durufle’s Requiem, performed in 2016, is a well-loved twentieth-century choral piece. However, the Society has also embraced the twenty-first century with performances of John Rutter’s Feel the Spirit (2014) and The Manchester Carols (2015) composed by Sasha Johnson Manning to a libretto by Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. This performance was particularly special as Sasha Johnson Manning joined the choir to sing the solo part and also sang with the soprano section for the choral numbers.
Will Todd’s Mass in Blue had its first public performance in 2003 and with its jazzy overtones provided an exciting, rhythmic concert to open the Society’s 70th year (November 2016). The contrast between the first and last anniversary concert – from Will Todd to Elgar – gives an indication of Stafford Choral Society’s commitment to explore and enjoy choral music both traditional and contemporary.
In September 2018 Ellie Slorach took over as Musical Director with Pete Durrant continuing as Accompanist and Assistant Musical Director. Ellie’s skill as a conductor coupled with Pete’s outstanding ability as a pianist has enabled the Society to build on its previous successes. The choir now has a membership of over a hundred and continues to grow in experience and musicality as well as in numbers. Recent concerts have included Haydn’s Mass in Time of War, Dvorak’s Stabat Mater and a concert of Elgar’s music: From the Bavarian Highlands and The Music Makers.
We continue to enjoy our musical journey and hope you will join us in future concerts.