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Conductor's keeping the rich tradition of choral music alive

David Wynn, new music director of Birmingham Festival Choral Society, is following in some massive footsteps. Christopher Morley talks to him about his career and future plans

publicity pic David Wynne music director Birmingham Festival Choral Society
David Wynne music director Birmingham Festival Choral Society

David Wynne was appointed a few months ago as the new music director of Birmingham Festival Choral Society, coming to this historic organisation after several years of conducting the Arrow Vale Singers of Redditch, and the Ryton Chorale in Worksop. He knows he is following in some big footsteps.

“I’m extremely honoured and excited to have been appointed as the new music director of the Birmingham Festival Choral Society,” he says, “and I would say there are some massive footsteps to follow. The choir has a rich and varied history and boasts some of music’s greatest names as former conductors; Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Elgar, Wood, Beecham and Boult. More recently the choir led by Patrick Larley, and before that, Jeremy Patterson.”

How did David find the choir on his appointment?

“I think the choir is in excellent shape. We number approximately 120 at the moment although we keep seeing a steady arrival of new members, which is always a good sign. Also the choir is pretty well balanced with a fairly even spread throughout the voice parts – as with most choirs though, a few extra tenors would not go amiss.

“I think one of the huge strengths of the choir lies in the people within. Organisations such as these take on an enormous amount of hard work behind the scenes. It is great that there seem to be so many active people who are all working together to the same ends – creating the best possible organisation.

“Finally, and most importantly, the choir has an exceptional accompanist in Kevin Gill who accompanies rehearsals as well as many of our concerts, and will be playing one of the pianos in our next concert for Carmina Burana and the organ during the Chichester Psalms.”

David tells me about the favourite pieces he treasures out of a very varied repertoire.

“There are so many pieces that I love to conduct and considerably more that I have ambitions to conduct. I think for me, the biggest thrill has to be the large-scale works – oratorios and requiems, and so on. I love working with large forces of both singers and instrumentalists.

“I’m particularly looking forward to our next concert on June 17, where we are joining forces with the Liverpool Welsh Choral, the Mixed Metals Percussion Ensemble and a Junior Choir made up of members of St Chad’s Cathedral Junior Choir and Birmingham Junior Conservatoire to perform Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Carl Orf’s Carmina Burana. In total there are going to be over 200 singers involved and the sound promises to be enormous!”

Future plans for Birmingham Festival Choral Society are very much in David’s mind.

“I feel ‘classical music’, and choirs in particular, are at an important yet fascinating stage in their history. I feel that for all of us, particularly conductors, it is imperative to keep our rich tradition of choral music alive - indeed not just alive but thriving and growing.

“The modern audience has so much variety to choose from and are arguably much more informed than at any point in history that keeping, growing and stimulating an audience is increasingly challenging. I firmly believe that BFCS has to be amongst the forerunners in both recruiting new members and also recruiting new audiences.

“That’s not to say I want to replace either, but to grow on the impressive foundations the choir already has built. I want to see the choir perform traditional concerts but also to be pushing boundaries and to push people out of their comfort zone. Birmingham has a growing reputation for its excellence in the arts and in particular its music scene and I want BFCS to be a prominent member of this scene as well as further afield.

“I also think we need to work hard to provide for, and educate future generations. I would love to see the choir establishing lasting links with schools, universities and Birmingham Conservatoire to see both choir and audience grow in number and encouraging the next generations of members and audiences.”

Birmingham Conservatoire has played a major part in the development of David’s career, as he explains.

“I moved to Birmingham in 2010 to study for my Masters in Vocal and Operatic Performance at the Conservatoire as a baritone, studying with the baritone Henry Herford. In my second year I was awarded a scholarship to study conducting with Paul Spicer and was invited to conduct the Birmingham Conservatoire Camerata. It was because of this scholarship, and with the continued support of Paul Spicer, that I am at this stage of my conducting career.

“Since completing my Masters in 2012, I have been employed by the Conservatoire’s Junior Department, initially as choral director, directing the senior choir and vocal ensemble and teaching aural lessons. More recently I have become vocal co-ordinator and one of the singing teachers as well as running the choral conducting course.”

* David Wynne conducts the Birmingham Festival Choral Society and guests at the Bramall Music Building, University of Birmingham on Saturday (7.30pm).

A treat in store when Welsh National Opera visit Birmingham

The Welsh National Opera will perform Strauss’ irresistible operatta Die Fledermaus at Birmingham Hippodrome on June 28.

Post classical writer Christopher Morley travelled to the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, at the weekend to see what we can expect.

He writes: ‘‘Under Jamie Southall the remarkable WNO Orchestra plays with elegance, verve and soul, phrases shaped so idiomatically, instrumental tones rich and well-balanced, and a wonderful basis upon which John Copley can conjure so much to enthral in his stage-direction.

‘‘Farce is delivered with a pleasing lightness of touch, pathos is conveyed almost subliminally, and the English translation by David Pountney and Leonard Hancock is clear, direct, and sometimes deliciously anachronistic.

‘‘Tim Reed’s set designs hint at art nouveau sumptuousness, but leave plenty of room for the lively action, the singers performing with zest and immaculate timing.

‘‘Mary-Elizabeth Williams is a complex and enchanting Rosalinde, capable of great vocal power as well as intimate tenderness, and Mark Stone’s Eisenstein, her eye-wandering husband, is far more personable than we sometimes see this character conveyed. ‘

‘Their maid, Adele, is not just a soubrette as sung by Rhian Lois; she gives us a Laughing Song of impressive control.

‘‘Alan Opie is an engaging Colonel Frank, prison governor, and as Frosch, his gaoler, Steve Speirs steals the show. Sometimes this character’s drunken ramblings can be tedious, but here Speirs, plays down the inebriation, instead regaling us with a relaxed sequence of comic ruminations, puns and in-jokes, somewhat in the manner of Tommy Cooper.’’

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