John celebrates silver with the irrepressible Choral Society

HALIFAX PROFILE'WHATS ON: The orchestra conducted by John Pryce-Jones.
HALIFAX PROFILE'WHATS ON: The orchestra conducted by John Pryce-Jones.

Renowned conductor and musical director clocks up 25 years of Messiah

It is an interesting, if little known fact outside its own circles, that Halifax Choral Society, with almost two centuries of tradition and heritage, was once at the very cutting edge of musical innovation.

As it prepares to celebrate its bi-centenary in 2018 with a new work by Yorkshire composer Philip Wilby, the choir will be harking back to its early days when eager audiences would flock to hear performances of new work by some of the most eminent musicians of the era.

In 1818 it gave the first performance in England of Haydn’s Creation and the choir has long been associated with Handel’s Messiah - a tradition that continues to the present day. When the choir takes to the stage on Sunday to perform the great oratorio, it will be conductor John Pryce-Jones’s 25th Messiah in Halifax.

“It is exciting to think that, though the choir is now associated with a great tradition of choral singing, in its early days it was performing new works. People were hearing them for the first time - the impact of this great music must have been incredible. In its first 100 years the choral society was very active in commissioning new works.”

Welsh-born John took over the baton at Halifax Choral Society in 1988 determined to make it one of the best in the country. His background was in working with professional singers with trained voices but he succeeded in his aim of extending the repertoire and the reputation of the choir, both in the north of England and further afield.

With a rock solid belief in the ability of music to communicate to people of all ages, he is a passionate evangelist for the teaching of music in schools and for exposing the choir’s loyal audience to new or less familiar works.

Christmas is always a busy time for the hard-working conductor and musical director and his diary for December is packed. He will be at the Grand Theatre in Leeds on December 17 for the premier of Northern Ballet’s Cinderella, then there are festive performances at the Royal Albert Hall in London, at Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, in Birmingham and in Preston. Hardly having time to pull a cracker, he will be criss-crossing the Pennines and working on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.

But first there is Messiah, a work that continues to inspire and enthral the conductor.

“I don’t get tired of it, it is an awe-inspiring piece of work. Every year I seem to find new things in it I hadn’t noticed before and every year I am reminded of the genius of Handel. The choir loves singing it and you can feel the audience responding to it. I wish we could perform it nearer to Christmas itself but I like to think we are helping the audience get their Christmas underway.”

On Sunday at 4pm Halifax Choral Society will be joined by the North of England Classical Orchestra and soloists Jeni Bern, soprano, Carole Wilson, mezzo, Alexander Sprague, tenor, and Robert Winslade Anderson, bass.

Then there is chance for the choir to let its hair down at the traditional Carols and Brass concerts on Thursday, December 5 and Friday, December 6. Black Dyke Band supplies the brass, Father Christmas drops in to Friday night’s concert and the audience can flex its vocal chords and try to out-sing the choir.

With a bi-centenary on the horizon and active involvement in encouraging a new generation of singers and members of the audience, Halifax Choral Society is finding plenty to sing about this Christmas.

Tickets for Messiah and the Carols and Brass concerts are available on 01422 351158.

lIn the last edition we ran a competition in which the Choral Society kindly offered tickets for the Carols & Brass concert as a prize.

The lucky winners were Anthony and Christine Lister and Clare and Peter King who each receive three tickets for next Friday’s performance.