It will be a unique honour when Halifax Choral Society members and guests step onto the stage to open their annual programme next weekend.
When they present the world premiere of composer Philip Wilby’s The Holy Face, they will do so in the knowledge that no choir has been singing for longer continuously.
They will be accompanied at 7.30pm on Sunday, October 15, the Victoria Theatre, Halifax, by a host of fellow musicians and singers at what is sure to be an unforgettable concert to mark the choir’s 200th birthday.
Under artistic director John Pryce-Jones’s baton, the North of England Classical Orchestra, Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus and Yorkshire Youth Choir will join Halifax Choral Society to raise the roof and begin the celebrations for a very special season, performances of Mendelssohn’s Psalm 114 and Bruckner’s Te Deum completing the evening’s programme.
“It’s quite an undertaking,” said Mr Pryce-Jones. “There are 300 participants with the three choirs and our main concern at the moment is getting everyone on the stage. There seem to be more people than we have space, but we will do it!”
Philip Wilby has scored two versions of his composition - the other, recorded with Black Dyke Brass Band, who will also feature in concerts with the choir up to Christmas - will be available to buy on CD in time for the concert.
The Mendelssohn piece is very special to the choir - a copy was inscribed and dedicated to the society by the composer himself in 1839, an indication of the choir’s high standing, and Mr Pryce-Jones went to Oxford’s famous Bodleian Library to find and view the score.
Founded in 1817 by William Priestley, Halifax Choral Society has an unbroken record of performance ever since.
Georgian Halifax was, as revealed at the recent re-opening of the historic Grade I* listed Piece Hall, at the cutting edge of society, a town and townspeople ready to promote its business and artistic successes to the world.
Gentleman wool merchant Priestley, with his love of good choral music, devised with his friends a permanent choir, superceding ad-hoc gatherings of singers that had presented concerts in the district for many years previously.
The first performance, at Halifax Court House, was of Haydn’s The Creation, performed on Monday, February 9, 1818.
In Victorian times its members were considered proficient enough to be invited to sing for Queen Victoria in Buckingham Palace in June 1860.
Over the ensuing years the HCS has performed the vast majority of the choral repertoire to enviably high standards, and although amateur choral singers, ones which always aim at a polished, professional level of performance.
Board member Kate Simpson said: “Every member of Halifax Choral Society is passionate about the music we create and we are extremely proud to be celebrating two centuries of doing what we love, helping to maintain Halifax’s strong musical tradition and representing our home town in this way.
“The world needs the joy that music can bring, now more than ever, and we aim to keep providing that joy for at least another 200 years.”
Mr Pryce-Jones says rehearsals for the concert have been proceeding well, ready to raise the curtain on the bicentennial season with a wonderful performance of exciting new music.
“It is very challenging. The new oratario is a major piece of 56 minutes and some of it is very difficult.
“With Phil Wilby you go through a maze of sound - and come out into the most glorious sunshine in the end,” he said.