Richard Cooke is embarking on his 28th year as conductor of the Royal Choral Society, becoming Music Director in 1995. The choir has performed under Richard’s baton in the major concert halls of London, including performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts, Verdi’s Requiem and Britten’s War Requiem in the Royal Albert Hall, and now prospers as one of the leading symphonic choirs in London. He will conduct the 16 spectacular Christmas concerts in the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Choral and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in December, in addition to their own ‘Christmas with the Royal Choral Society’ concert on 12 December.
He has appeared with the Royal Choral with many of the country’s leading orchestras in the cathedrals of Peterborough, Southwark, Salisbury, St Albans and most recently in Winchester in July 2019 for their performance of Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony, repeated with the Coburg Philharmonic Orchestra in Coburg a week later, marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Prince Albert (of Saxe-Coburg) and Queen Victoria.
Richard was Music Director of the University of Essex Choir for 39 years, missing only his final concert last year at the beginning of the pandemic. He is in his 37th year as Music Director of Canterbury Choral Society and in 2007 founded the Canterbury Choral Society Youth Choir which has flourished and developed into an accomplished ensemble of 35 voices, and which made its London debut in December 2013 singing with the Royal Choral Society in their Royal Albert Hall Christmas concert.
Richard was a boy chorister of St Paul’s Cathedral, and later sang for four years as a Choral Scholar in the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, under David Willcocks. Born in Cornwall, he returns there each summer for his favourite outdoor activity, body-surfing off the North Cornish coast. He also enjoys cycling, and hill walking (climbing Munros and their equivalents) in Scotland and Wales.
Richard Cooke holds Honorary Doctorates at the universities of Kent and Essex in recognition of his achievements over many years in their respective regions.
Royal Choral Society
The Royal Choral Society celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. The choir was formed for the opening of the Royal Albert Hall in 1871, with first ‘own promotion’ concert on 8 May 1872 under the baton of its Music Director Charles Gounod. The choir was then called the ‘Royal Albert Hall Choral Society’, but it changed its name to the Royal Choral Society in 1888 with kind permission from HM Queen Victoria.
Since its inception, the choir has been connected with the musical world’s most famous names: the choir premiered Verdi’s Requiem in 1875 at the Royal Albert Hall under the baton of the composer himself, and Dvorák conducted the choir singing his Stabat Mater nine years later. In 1927 the choir performed The Dream of Gerontius conducted by Elgar himself. The choir has a close association with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, commissioning part of the Hiawatha trilogy and giving the premiere of the complete work at the Royal Albert Hall in March 1900 with Coleridge-Taylor conducting. The choir also took part in the hugely successful two-week ‘Hiawatha Seasons’ at the Royal Albert Hall in the 1920s and 30s. These were later conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent whose association with the choir spanned forty years. The present Music Director, Richard Cooke, took over the baton from his distinguished predecessors in 1995.
The Royal Choral Society has embarked on a busy 150th Anniversary Season which will culminate in ‘A Choral Celebration’ on 7 May 2023 at the Royal Albert Hall; this concert will be packed with choral classics reflecting the choir’s illustrious history.
The Royal Choral Society receives no official funding or grant. Like many Arts organisations it suffered financially during the pandemic, with concerts cancelled or postponed. The choir has launched an appeal to raise funds for its 150th anniversary and to secure its future. We are grateful to everyone who has donated so far, many of whom are in the audience today. You can find out details on our website. Every donation will play a part in enabling the choir to continue to inspire audiences with the world’s greatest choral music. Thank you for your support.
If you would like to come to a future Royal Choral Society concert, receive an e-newsletter with details of forthcoming events and special offers, or are interested in finding more about, joining or sponsoring the choir, please get in touch via www.royalchoralsociety.co.uk.
Croydon Philharmonic Choir
The Croydon Philharmonic Choir is the largest and longest-established classical choir in Croydon. It was founded after the start of the First World War in 1914 and its opening performance, Handel’s Messiah, was staged to raise money for Belgian refugees. Originally called the ‘Croydon Sacred Heart Harmonic Society’, it was given its present name in 1918. The choir soon came to occupy a position at the heart of the Croydon community and also built a strong national reputation. Its music director, Alan Kirby, was a friend of Sir Edward Elgar and the choir became renowned for its performances of Elgar’s work. Kirby knew other giants of British contemporary music, among them Ralph Vaughan Williams, who lived nearby and wrote a piece for the choir, A Choral Flourish. The choir continued under Kirby’s leadership up to 1959. Since then it has had just three more music directors, with the current director, David Gibson, taking over in 1999. Over the years it has taken part in twenty-three BBC Prom concerts and appeared at a royal command concert in 1955, when the choir had some 200 members. Today it has around 100 members and stages four concerts a year.
Winner of the 2018 BBC Music Magazine Instrumental Award, violinist Fenella Humphreys enjoys a busy career focusing on chamber music and solo work. Her playing has been described in the press as ‘amazing’ (The Scotsman) and ‘a wonder’ (IRR).
A champion of new and unknown music, a number of eminent British composers have written for Fenella. Works include a set of 6 works for solo violin from composers including Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Sally Beamish and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. She has been fortunate to record these over two critically acclaimed CDs for Champs Hill Records, both chosen by BBC Music Magazine as Instrumental disc of the month with 5 Star reviews, and the second also picked as Editor’s Choice in Gramophone Magazine. Described on BBC Radio 3’s Record Review as an ‘absolutely exquisite album’, and a Recommended Recording in The Strad Magazine, Fenella’s acclaimed CD, ‘So Many Stars’ with Nicola Eimer was released on Stone Records in 2019.‘Max Richter: Four Seasons Recomposed’ album on Rubicon Classics was chosen as BBC Music Magazine’s Concerto Choice, Scala’s Album of the Week, and included in Apple Music’s Classical A-List. Her 2021 album of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto and Humoresques with BBCNOW, was released to great critical acclaim and was also chosen as Scala Radio’s album of the week, and featured in BBC Radio 3’s Building a Library and Gramophone Magazine’s guide to the concerto. Works by Sibelius for violin and piano with Joseph Tong released in 2022 was BBC Music Magazine’s Chamber Choice. Recently released on Rubicon Classics, ‘Caprices’ explores Études and Caprices from Paganini to the present day, including new works by Freya Waley-Cohen, Laurence Osborn and Oliver Leith, and a new set of variations on Paganini’s 24th Caprice with composers including Héloïse Werner, Emily Howard and Robin Haigh. “Really, very impressive” (Gramophone Magazine), “technically and musically superb” (The Strad).
A passionate chamber musician, Fenella enjoys collaborations with artists including Martin Roscoe, Nicholas Daniel and Peter Donohoe, and performs regularly with the Roscoe Piano Trio, Perpetuo and Counterpoise. Fenella plays on a G.B. Guadagnini violin kindly on loan from Jonathan Sparey.
Benjamin Hulett trained as a choral scholar at New College, Oxford and studied with David Pollard at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He was a member of the Hamburgische Staatsoper from 2005 to 2009. He has made his debuts at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin, Theater an der Wien in the world premiere of Kalitzke’s Die Besessenen, the Salzburger Festspiele, Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, and Opera di Roma. He sang Luzio Das Liebesverbot for Opera du Rhin Strasbourg and his first Tom Rakewell The Rake’s Progress in Caen, Limoges, Reims, Rouen and Luxembourg. In the UK, Benjamin has performed with Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Opera North, Grange Park Opera, Opera Holland Park, Garsington Opera, Welsh National Opera, and in Sir Jonathan Miller’s staging of St Matthew Passion at the National Theatre. Benjamin has appeared regularly at the BBC Proms and is increasingly in demand as an interpreter of song.
This season Benjamin will sing Kudrjas in the Salzburg Festival’s production of Katya Kabanova under the baton of Jakub Hrůša and later in the season at Opera de Lyon. Benjamin will also sing Davide penitente with Ivan Repusic and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, join the Philharmonie Zuidnederland for Haydn’s Die Jahreszeiten under the baton of Duncan Ward, and sing Haydn’s The Seasons with the Academy of Ancient Music and Laurence Cummings.
Last season Benjamin sang Lysander at the Deutsche Oper Berlin in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Britten’s Serenade with the Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim and Messiah with the Hallé and Sofi Jeannin, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Christian Curnyn and the Kammerorchester Basel and Paul McCreesh.
Further highlights include Pulcinella at the BBC Proms under Martyn Brabbins and his debuts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in L’heure Espagnole (Dutoit), at Carnegie Hall performing Jupiter Semele as part of an English Concert tour around the USA and Europe (Harry Bicket), with the Teatro Real Madrid as Arbace Idomeneo and David Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in concert with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra and Antonio Pappano.
Benjamin’s wide range of recordings have received nominations and awards from BBC Music Magazine, Gramophone, Grammy, L’Orfee d’Or and Diapason.
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