Athenaeum Singers

History of The Athenaeum Singers
1978 to 2018

40 Glorious Years! 

The Athenaeum Singers was the brain-child of its founder member Mrs Rose Davies. She and her husband Alan had just moved to Warminster from Solihull where they had both been actively involved in the musical life of the town. They planned to take a step back from such an involvement on retirement but following a concert they attended at The Athenaeum Theatre in 1978 at which they heard the fine singing of the Schubertarian Choir from Canada, Rose thought it would be wonderful if Warminster was able to produce a choir of a similar calibre. 

Her ideas were greeted with great enthusiasm by a group which included Alan Sheppard and Arthur Viney. An inaugural meeting, attended by approximately 50 members of the public, took place at The Athenaeum Theatre – hence the name “Athenaeum Singers”. The first formal meeting was chaired by Alan Sheppard but he then handed over the role to Alan Davies who held the post until 1991. Angus Mackintosh then took the helm for 12 year when in 2003 when Peter Ash, took over. Alan became Honorary President and then President Emeritus until his death in 2006. Terence Vardon, an accomplished organist, soon joined the Choir and for the first year he and Rose shared the role of conductor/accompanist. The Choir, which was by that time about 30 strong, gave their first public performance at The Minster when they enriched Evensong with Thomas Weelkes Let thy merciful Ears O Lord and Canticles sung to the Collegium Regale setting by Herbert Howells. In the audience was Professor James Patten, composer and teacher of music. He must have been impressed with the Choir’s performance because, shortly after, when Terence Vardon resigned due to increased professional commitments, he readily agreed to take over the role of Musical Director. He held that position for five years during which time the Choir performed some of the great choral works interspersed with some secular music. Following the first concert under his leadership, a very positive review in the Warminster Journal included the comment by John Foster “They are not the Kings’ Singers but they are a group keen to sing music of the highest quality for the sheer interest and joy of singing it, and it is splendid that such a group under so able a Director has come into being in Warminster”. Rose Davies must have been delighted!

Graham Reid, Director of Music at Warminster School, held the baton from 1985 to 1987 when the Choir was pleased to welcome Alan Burgess, then Head of Music at Kingdown School. Alan was the Musical Director for 15 years with two sabbaticals during which Stephen Smith, then Staff Director of Music at the School of Infantry, and Kevin Duggan held the fort. In 2002 Alan left to take on a headship in Worcestershire. The Singers will always be grateful for the enormous contribution Alan made to its development. In addition, his unique brand of humour lightened many a cold winter evening rehearsal! He is held in great affection by those that sang under him.

Alan Harwood, Head of Music at Bishop Wordsworth School, Salisbury and one of the City’s most well-loved musicians took over for a short period but sadly terminal illness forced him to leave after conducting only one concert. The Choir was most grateful to Fiona Clarke, an accomplished soloist and teacher of music, who stepped in at short notice and as well as her good looks and unquestioned musical expertise she will be remembered for her rather wicked sense of humour which at times slightly diverted those present from the business in hand!

In 2003 international baritone Gavin Carr responded to an advertisement for a permanent conductor. The Choir was thrilled to have someone who had sung leading roles with English National Opera and had performed in many of the major concert venues with Britain’s leading orchestras. His drive, enthusiasm and expertise was a major factor in raising the quality of singing, the increase in membership enhancing the Choir’s reputation to the point that it regularly performed to packed houses. During Gavin’s tenure the Choir had developed a close relationship with The Bath Philharmonia whose contribution did much to raise the standard of the singing and the musical level of the concerts with its performances of major orchestral works. The calibre of soloists changed significantly in that we regularly employed some of the most popular young soloists on the national and international scene who will have certainly gone on to make waves in the singing business!

We were sad to see Gavin go after 7 years but delighted to appoint the young and charismatic Edward-Rhys Harry from Wales. Edward brought with him a wealth of experience in choral conducting and we enjoyed singing under his baton for two years but unfortunately for us others had realised his conducting ability and he was head-hunted by a very prestigious choir. We felt we had to let him go but we were fortunate to then have Stuart Telling (another Welshman) to fill the gap for a short while. However, despite being officially retired from teaching Stuart was increasingly in demand from the Welsh Education Department and pressure of work forced him to resign from his role with the choir. Jesse Pywell then took his place and conducted 5 concerts including one in which The Minster School choir conducted by Stuart took part. Jesse left us at the end of 2015 and because there had been rather a lot of changes, Edward Rhys-Harry offered to help us out by taking on the role of Music Director. Because of his already heavy workload he could not come to Warminster on a weekly basis and suggested we adopt the system followed by some choirs to appoint a Chorus Master to take the weekly rehearsals. As Music Director he would find a suitable person to take on the role of Chorus Master, would have overall responsibility for the musical side of the choir activities and conduct the actual concerts. The Committee gladly accepted this proposal and Patrick Barrett became our first Chorus Master in early 2015. The choir immediately took him to their hearts but naturally he was keen to have a choir of his own so when the opportunity arose he took over as Music Director of a choir in Dorking. But without any delay, Edward found us our current Chorus Master, the delightful Rosie Howarth who has worked so hard to get us up to the highest possible standard for our recent concerts. When Edward felt that he could no longer continue to be our Music

Director, it was decided to revert to the old system of having our own Music Director who also takes the weekly rehearsals. We are pleased to report that we have now appointed Cole Bendall who will join us in September 2018 and we very much look forward to working with him.

The conductor is vital to the success of any choir but so is a good rehearsal accompanist. Organist David Crocker provided the accompaniment for both rehearsals and some concerts during James Patten’s tenure. Caroline Reid then stepped in to support Graham during his time as conductor. The Choir is proud to have been a contributory factor in the future musical success of former Kingdown pupil Marcus Tilt who is now a very successful musician on the London theatre scene and is much in demand as a conductor. Accompanying the choir also helped fellow pupils Karen Turner and Tom Beer develop their musical expertise. Jackie Fry provided the backing for a year between Karen and Tom’s tenure. Organist Kevin Duggan then took over until 1999 when Ann Burgess became the accompanist. She continued in the role for two years after Alan had left to take up his new teaching post. In 2004 Gerry Hoddinott agreed to add the Athenaeum Singers to his long list of musical commitments and his expertise and ability was greatly valued by us all. However, when health issues forced him to reduce his workload, Stephen Cooke, an organ builder and restorer from Westbury stepped in before Dr Douglas Stephens our current and very popular accompanist took over the role. 

Over the years the Choir has performed a wide range of works at its summer and winter concerts. It continues to enjoy the luxury of professional soloists and orchestral accompaniment and long gone are the days when every Choir member held their breath as the string section played its first notes! Back in the summer of 1989, its performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah was considered its greatest achievement to date and the first sung to a capacity audience. It has since performed three world premiers –Let Us Live this Day by Marcus Tilt with words by Lord Bath in 1999, Requiem for an Angel by Paul Carr in 2006 and Mass of the Martyrs by Edward-Rhys Harry in May 2017 all of which were memorable experiences for singers and audience alike. In addition, it has in the past sung Christmas carols in many of the large houses in the area including Longleat, has linked up with the La Lyre Ensemble Chorale in Warminster’s twin town of Flers, with joint concerts on two occasions in both France and Warminster – these took a lot of organising but were thoroughly enjoyed by those who took part. It has also given a number of concerts in aid of charity with soloists coming from the choir itself. 

From the early days the Choir received support from a number of patrons but it was not until the mid-1990s that this support really started to grow. Concerts are expensive to put on and their financial support has been invaluable in enabling us to secure the services of top class soloists and orchestras. We are deeply grateful to them.

The Athenaeum Singers goes from strength to strength and consistently strives to achieve ever higher standards (our conductor would expect no less!) and in so doing continues to delight its many loyal supporters. 

Rose Davies sadly died in February 2018 just a few months short of her 100th birthday. She will long be remembered with gratitude and affection by those who knew her.

Below is the list of works performed over the past 40 years. 

Date

Main Works Performed

Location

Conductor

June 1978

Weelkes: Let They Merciful Ears O Lord – first public performance

Evensong, The Minster

Rose Davies

(Terence Vardon, at the organ)

July 1979

Music by Handel, Mozart, Bruckner, Bach and Vaughan Williams

 

The Minster

James Patten

Nov 1979

Fauré Requiem and works by Mozart, Beethoven and Howells

The Minster

James Patten

July 1980

Selection of short sacred & secular choral works by Handel, Mozart, Bach, Purcell & Bruckner with folk songs and madrigals

The Minster

James Patten

Nov 1980

Handel Messiah

The Minster

James Patten

May 1981

Haydn Nelson Mass, Handel Zadok the Priest, Mozart Jubilate Deo & Ave Verum Corpus

The Minster

James Patten

Dec 1981

Carol Concert

Heytesbury Church

James Patten

May1982

Mozart Requiem and Regina Coeli

The Minster

James Patten

Dec 1982

Selection of Christmas Music

Athenaeum Theatre

James Patten

June 1983

Fauré Requiem

The Minster

James Patten

Dec 1983

Handel Messiah

The Minster

James Patten

May 1984

Haydn Creation

Christ Church

James Patten

Dec 1984

Haydn St Nicholas Mass, Fauré Cantique de Jean Raçine

Bulford Garrison

James Patten

Jan 1985

Haydn St Nicholas Mass, Fauré Cantique de Jean Raçine

The Minster

James Patten

June 1985

Joint concert with Warminster & The Minster School choirs, Warminster Young Musicians and The Minster Consort

The Minster

James Patten

Nov 1985

Vivaldi Gloria & works by Handel, Mozart, Purcell and Howells

The Minster

Graham Reid

June 1986

Bach Magnificat

Christ Church

Graham Reid

Dec 1986

Handel Messiah

The Minster

Graham Reid

June 1987

Mozart Coronation Mass, Poulenc Gloria and Dvorak Te Deum

Christ Church

Graham Reid

Dec 1987

Christmas Music including Schütz The Christmas Story

The Minster

Alan Burgess

June 1988

10th Anniversary concert

Beethoven Mass in C, Handel O Praise the Lord with one consent

Christ Church

Alan Burgess

Dec 1988

Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Christmas Carols, Buxtehude Das neugeborne Kindlein &, Christmas carols

The Minster

Alan Burgess

June 1989

Mendelssohn Elijah

Christ Church

Alan Burgess

Oct 1989

Joint concert with La Lyre Ensemble Chorale which included short choral works and Bach Magnificat

The Minster

Jaques Ripoche & Alan Burgess

Dec 1989

Mozart Mass in CMinor and Christmas carols

The Minster

Alan Burgess

June 1990

Brahms Requiem, Tippett Negro Spirituals from A Child of OurTime, Parry Blest Pair of Sirens

Christ Church

Alan Burgess

Dec 1990

Britten Saint Nicholas & Christmas carols

A Christmas Entertainment

The Minster

 

Lacock Abbey

Alan Burgess

June 1991

Bach St John Passion

The Minster

Alan Burgess

Oct 1991

La Lyre Ensemble Chorale - Vivaldi Beatus Vir, The Athenaeum Singers - Vivaldi Gloria and a joint performance of Handel Zadok the Priest

L’Eglise St Jean, Flers

Stephen Smith

Dec 1991

Vivaldi Gloria

The Minster

Stephen Smith

June 1992

Rossini Petite Messe Solennelle, Elgar Songs from the Bavarian Highlands

Christ Church

Alan Burgess

Dec 1992

Haydn Nelson Mass and Christmas carols

Christmas Concert

The Minster

 

Lacock Abbey

Alan Burgess

June 1993

Mendelssohn Hymn of Praise and Pergolesi Magnificat

Christ Church

Alan Burgess

Oct 1993

La Lyre Choral - Duruflé Requiem

The Athenaeum SingersHaydn Te Deum

The Minster

Alan Burgess

Dec 1993

Haydn Te Deum, Bach Come Redeemer and Christmas carols

The Minster

Alan Burgess

Easter 1994

Stainer Crucifixion

The Minster & Christ Church, Frome

Alan Burgess

June 1994

Selection of music by British and Hungarian composers and Italian Operatic choruses

Christ Church

Alan Burgess

Dec 1994

Handel Messiah

The Minster

Alan Burgess

June 1995

Fauré Requiem andPurcell Ode on St Cecilia’s Day

The Minster

Alan Burgess

Oct 1995

Fauré Requiem (Joint concert with La Lyre Choral)

L’Eglise St Jean, Flers

Veronique Malczuk & Thierry Delecourt

Dec 1995

Schubert Mass in G , Mozart Ave Verum Corpus, Christmas carols

The Minster

Alan Burgess

June 1996

Mozart Requiem, Vaughan William Five Mystical Songs and Parry Blest Pair of Sirens

Christ Church

Alan Burgess

Dec 1996

Bach Christmas Oratorio (parts 1 & 2) and Haydn Maria Theresa Mass

The Minster

Alan Burgess

June 1997

Handel Israel in Egypt

Christ Church

Alan Burgess

Dec 1997

Music by Stanford, Charpentier and Vaughan Williams & Christmas carols

The Minster

Alan Burgess

June 1998

Poulenc Gloria and Brahms Requiem

Christ Church

Alan Burgess

Nov 1998

Rutter Gloria, Purcell Music for Funeral of Queen Mary plus brass ensemble and Warminster School children

The Minster

Alan Burgess

June 1999

Mendelssohn St Paul

Christ Church

Alan Burgess

Nov 1999

Marcus Tilt Let Us Live This Day

Vivaldi Gloria

The Minster

Alan Burgess

June 2000

Haydn Creation

Christ Church

Alan Burgess

Dec 2000

Bach Cantata Wachet auf & Christmas carols

The Minster

Alan Burgess

June 2001

Handel Saul

The Minster

Alan Burgess

Dec 2001

Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Christmas Carols and Britten St Nicholas

The Minster

Kevin Duggan

June 2002

Mozart Masterpieces inc Coronation Mass, Ave Verum Corpus, Vesperae Solennes de Confessore

The Minster

Alan Burgess

Dec 2002

Handel Zadok the Priest and O Praise the Lord with One Consent & Christmas carols

The Minster

Alan Harwood

June 2003

Concert of English Music including works by Purcell, Elgar, Parry and Vaughan Williams

The Minster

Fiona Clarke

Dec 2003

Handel Messiah

The Minster

Gavin Carr

June 2004

Mozart Requiem

The Minster

Gavin Carr

Dec 2004

Haydn Creation

The Minster

Gavin Carr

April 2005

Fauré Requiem, Tippet Negro Spirituals from A Child of our Time

The Minster

Gavin Carr

Dec 2005

Mozart Great Mass in C Minor, Schubert Magnificat in C Major, Mozart Laudate Dominum

The Minster

Gavin Carr

June 2006

Paul Carr Requiem for an Angel

The Minster

Gavin Carr

Dec 2006

Rossini Petite Messe Solennelle & Christmas carols

The Minster

Gavin Carr

June 2007

Haydn Nelson Mass and Vivaldi Gloria

The Minster

Gavin Carr

Dec 2007

Handel Messiah

The Minster

Gavin Carr

June 2008

Brahms A German Requiem & Parry I was Glad

The Minster

Gavin Carr

 

 

 

 

Dec 2008

Britten A Ceremony of Carols, Alan Bush The Winter Journey, Gerald Finzi InTerra Pax and Christmas Carols

The Minster

Gavin Carr

July 2009

Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony (Gala concert with Bath Minerva in aid of RNLI)

Wells Cathedral

 

Gavin Carr

November 2009

Faure Requiem, Handel Zadok the Priest, Whitacre Sleep, E-R Bate Ave Verum Corpus Haydn Missa Brevis

The Minster

Edward-Rhys Harry

April 2010

Karl Jenkins The Armed Man

Joint concert with Côr Bro Ogwr

All Saints Church Porthcawl

Edward-Rhys Harry

June 2010

Mendelssohn Elijah

The Minster

Edward-Rhys Harry

December 2010

Cancelled due to bad weather
(Durufle
Quatre Motets)

 

 

June 2011

Vivaldi Gloria, Mozart Missa in C, Karl Jenkins Stabat Mater

The Minster

Edward-Rhys Harry

December 2011

Haydn Missa in Tempore Belli, Handel Messiah (selection), JH Maunder Bethlehem

The Minster

Stuart Telling

June 2012

Mozart Requiem, Schubert Mass in C Major, Parry I Was Glad

The Minster

Stuart Telling

January 2013

Puccini Messa di Gloria, V Williams Five Mystical songs, Purcell Remember Not Lord our Offences, Parry Blest pair of Sirens

The Minster

Jessi Pywell

June 2013

Durufle Requiem, Faure Pavane & Catique de Jean Racine, Vierne Messe SolonnelleOp16

The Minster

Jessi Pywell

November 2013

Handel Messiah

The Minster

Jessi Pywell

March 2014

Dvorak Stabat Mater

The Minster

Jessi Pywell

June 2014

Horovitz & Flanders Captain Noah & His Floating Zoo, Rutter Feel the Spirit with Minster School Choir

The Minster

Jessi Pywell & Stuart Telling

November 2014

Elgar Spirit of England and Carr Requiem for an Angel

The Minster

Jessi Pywell

March 2015

Stainer Crucifixion

The Minster

Edward Rhys Harry

May 2015

Brahms Requiem
Harry For Cecilia

The Minster

Edward Rhys Harry

November 2015

Mozart Requiem
Works by Lauridsen, Harry, Gjeilo, Mealor.

The Minster

Edward Rhys Harry

June 2016

A Night at the Opera
(John Rutter: Opera Choruses)

The Civic Centre

Edward Rhys Harry

 

 

 

 

November 2016

Rutter Requiem, Jenkins The Armed Man

The Minster

Edward Rhys Harry

May 2017

Harry Mass of the Martyrs, Faure Requiem, Haydn Te Deum

 

Edward Rhys Harry

December 2017

Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Christmas Carols, Saint Saens Christmas Oratorio, Lauridsen O Magnum Mysterium and excerpts from Handel Messiah

The Minster

Edward Rhys Harry

June 2018

Mendelssohn Elijah

The Minster

Edward Rhys Harry

This history was compiled by Paddy Yerburgh and updated by Alison Arthur. Thanks in particular go to the late Rose Davies for her help which was invaluable and also, Alan Burgess, Angus Mackintosh and Colin Taylor for their contributions

 

 

 

 

 

 

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