Open main menu

Bristol Choral Society is a large mixed-voiced choir based in Bristol, England, founded in 1889.[1] Currently conducted by Hilary Campbell,[2] it has around 180 auditioned members.[3] The choir stages at least three concerts annually at the Colston Hall in Bristol with professional orchestras and soloists, and another annually at Bristol Cathedral in addition to other performances and broadcasts in Bristol and further afield.[4][5]

Bristol Choral Society
George Riseley 001.jpg
George Risely, 1899
Background information
Also known asBCS
OriginBristol, England, United Kingdom
Years active1889-present



Bristol Choral Society was founded in 1889 by George Riseley, then organist of Bristol Cathedral. Its first performance was at the Colston Hall on 7 May 1890 – Mendelssohn's St. Paul (oratorio) with a choir exceeding 500 singers – and it has been performing principally at the Colston Hall ever since.[6]

A few weeks later, the Society accepted its first invitation to sing outside Bristol, being asked by Augustus Manns to sing the same work at the Crystal Palace, London joining other choirs to number some 5,500 singers in total.[7] The second Bristol concert was the first Bristol performance of A German Requiem (Brahms) in December 1890.[6]

Messiah at the Colston HallEdit

On 21 December 1892, Bristol Choral Society gave its first performance of Handel's Messiah at the Colston Hall. It proved so popular, regularly attracting sell-out audiences, that it has been performed at the Colston Hall every year since, usually on the Saturday before Christmas, with the exception of only nine years: 1896, 1898 and 1899 while Colston Hall was rebuilt following fire, 1914 and 1915 due to World War I, 1931, 1940 due to World War II, 1951 and 2011 – the latter two when it was replaced with performances of Bach's Christmas Oratorio. Between 1972 and 1992 two performances were given annually, on the two Saturdays leading up to Christmas. 2012 marked the 120th anniversary of the choir's Messiah at Colston Hall with Messiah once again performed on the Saturday before Christmas - 120 years and 1 day after the first at that venue. Since 2006, the choir has performed all of Messiah from memory.[8]

In 2010, an afternoon 'Mini Messiah' family concert preceding the evening full performance was added in order to introduce children to Messiah with an abridged version. This attracted a large audience and was repeated in November 2011 despite there being no complete Messiah performance that year.[9] With the return of the Christmas Messiah performance in 2012, the Mini Messiah family concert returned to the traditional date of the Saturday before Christmas (preceding the complete evening performance) where it will remain an annual fixture.


From its foundation until the 1940s, the Society continued to stage several concerts annually (as many as 6, including concert performances of operas in addition to the more usual oratorio repertoire of such a choir) at the Colston Hall, even during times of war. The BBC Music Department, Orchestras and Chorus moved to Bristol during the 1939/40 season, enabling the Society's concerts to be staged as planned, but now in conjunction with the BBC and Bristol Philharmonic Society. Bristol Choral Society's annual report of 1940 reports that those concerts were broadcast on BBC radio, and messages of appreciation received from as far away as Italy.[10] The concert programme for the 6 April 1941 Colston Hall performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion under Sir Adrian Boult was headed with the following note:

"In the event of an air-raid warning being received a notice will be displayed from the organ loft. The concert will continue, but patrons wishing to leave may do so."[11]

The Colston Hall survived the bombs that brought much destruction all around it, but succumbed to a stray cigarette end in 1945.[12] Until the opening of the newly re-built Colston Hall in 1951, the choir principally performed at Central Hall, Old Market (closed in 1985 and now apartments),[13] including the 1945 Messiah performance with soloists Isobel Baillie and Kathleen Ferrier.

1950s–present dayEdit

With the opening of the newly re-built Colston Hall in 1951, the modern-day pattern of three annual concerts at the Hall (typically November, Messiah at Christmas and March) became established, with a regular fourth summer concert at one of the city's Cathedrals being added in the 1990s, since 2001 at Bristol Cathedral.[14]

Since 1990, membership of the choir has been by audition, and periodic re-audition every two or three years. The choir remains one of the biggest in the region with a membership of around 180 auditioned singers and maintains its reputation as one of the premier symphony choruses in the South West of England. It stages concerts of a very high standard, regularly working with top professional orchestras such as the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, CBSO, distinguished baroque ensembles and internationally renowned soloists such as Emma Johnson (clarinetist)[15] and tenor Mark Padmore[16] in the 2011 season. Hilary Campbell became the choir's first female conductor in April 2016. In addition to the established concert season, the choir also undertakes other engagements further afield, foreign tours and community, outreach and education work in and around Bristol.[17][18]

In recent years, the choir has been invited to collaborate with other choirs such as the Philharmonia Chorus, London Symphony Chorus and the BBC National Chorus of Wales on many occasions to tackle some of the choral pieces requiring even greater choral forces such as Mahler's Eighth Symphony,[19][20] Janáček's Glagolitic Mass, the Dvorak Stabat Mater and La Damnation de Faust by Berlioz.[21] Many of these performances were under the batons of the choir's late Presidents Richard Hickox and Sir Charles Mackerras[22] and included concerts at The Proms and broadcasts on BBC Radio 3. The recording of the live broadcast of Janáček's Glagolitic Mass with Richard Hickox was issued as the cover CD of the February 2009 issue of BBC Music Magazine (Vol.17 No.6)[23][24] as part of that issue's tribute to Richard Hickox.

The choir is also often engaged to provide the chorus for concerts organised by other organisations, such as Elgar's The Kingdom for the Elgar Festival with the English Symphony Orchestra under conductor Vernon Handley at Worcester cathedral in 2006,[25] Tolga Kashif's Queen Symphony at the Colston Hall and The Anvil, Basingstoke with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra[26][27] conducted by the composer, Carmina Burana (Orff) for the National Children's Orchestra of Great Britain at the Colston Hall in April 2011[28] and Vaughan Williams' Sinfonia antartica for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at the Colston Hall on 20 November 2011 which was subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3.[29] In April 2014, the choir sings in 2 performances of Janáček's Glagolitic Mass at Colston Hall and Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London by invitation of the Philharmonia Orchestra, under conductor Jakub Hrůša.

In late 2011, it was announced that tenor Mark Padmore was to become a joint President of Bristol Choral Society,[30] alongside the Lord Mayor of Bristol (a position held by the Lord Mayor since 1900).

Principal Officials since 1889Edit

Presidents of Bristol Choral Society since 1889
Vice Presidents (at 2011)
Permanent Conductors of Bristol Choral Society since 1889

The choir has also been conducted by many guest conductors, most notably Sir Edward Elgar conducting his own works on 28 January 1928,[6] Sir Adrian Boult,[6] Sir Henry Wood,[6] and Vernon Handley.[32]

Bristol Choral Society is a Registered Charity in England and Wales. Its charitable object is "to educate its members and the public in the arts and sciences, and in particular the art and science of choral music, and to contribute to the cultural life of the community, by the presentation of choral concerts and other activities."[33]


  1. ^ "Colston Hall History 1200s-1800s". Colston Hall. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  2. ^ "Hilary Campbell's website". Hilary Campbell. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
  3. ^ "Bristol Choral Society with British Sinfonietta". Colston Hall. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
  4. ^ "Performances 2007-8". Bristol Choral Society official website archived from 2007. Archived from the original on 11 October 2007. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  5. ^ "Bristol Choral Society 2011-12 season brochure" (PDF). Bristol Choral Society. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 April 2012. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  6. ^ a b c d e Rejoice Greatly Bristol Choral Society 1889-1989, George S. Bowen, White Tree Books, Bristol, 1989. ISBN 0-948265-87-6
  7. ^ "BRISTOL CHORAL SOCIETY. ST. PAUL AT THE CRYSTAL PALACE". Bristol Mercury. 23 June 1890. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  8. ^ "The Messiah is coming to Bristol". Bristol Evening Post. Retrieved 16 December 2011.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ "Introducing children to classical concerts with a Mini Messiah". Bachtrack. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  10. ^ Bowen, George S. (1989). Rejoice Greatly. Bristol: White Tree Books. pp. 64–5. ISBN 0-948265-87-6.
  11. ^ Bowen, George S. (1989). Rejoice Greatly. Bristol: White Tree Books. p. 65. ISBN 0-948265-87-6.
  12. ^ "History of the Colston Hall (1940s)". Colston Hall. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  13. ^ "1962 Central Hall Old Market Bristol BS2".
  14. ^ "Bristol Choral Society concerts at Bristol Cathedral". Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  15. ^ "Bristol Choral Society & Emma Johnson". Colston Hall. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  16. ^ "Bristol Choral Society & Mark Padmore: Bach Christmas Oratorio". Colston Hall. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  17. ^ "Bristol Choral Society Apprenticeship Scheme (case study)" (PDF). Making Music South West. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 April 2012. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  18. ^ "Bristol Choral Society Community & Outreach". Bristol Choral Society. Archived from the original on 12 February 2012. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  19. ^ Evans, Rian (5 March 2003). "BBCNOW/ Hickox". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  20. ^ "Mahler Symphony 8 concert - archived webpage from 2003". Bristol Choral Society - archived webpage from 2003. Archived from the original on 8 April 2003. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  21. ^ Pursglove, Glyn. "SEEN AND HEARD CONCERT REVIEW - Berlioz, La damnation de Faust". SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  22. ^ Pursglove, Glyn. "Concert Review - Beethoven Symphony 9 / Sir Charles Mackerras". SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  23. ^ "Cover CD". BBC Music Magazine. 17 (6). February 2009. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  24. ^ "Janáček* / BBC Philharmonic, BBC National Orchestra* & Chorus Of Wales*, Bristol Choral Society, Richard Hickox, Sir Charles Mackerras – Sinfonietta / Glagolitic Mass". Discogs. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  25. ^ "Elgar The Kingdom". Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  26. ^ "Queen Symphony". Bristol Choral Society archived web page from 2007. Archived from the original on 27 February 2007. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  27. ^ "Queen Symphony". The Music Partnership. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  28. ^ "Bristol Choral Society joins National Children's Orchestra for special Colston Hall performance on Sunday 17 April 2011". National Children's Orchestra of Great Britain. Archived from the original on 6 May 2012. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  29. ^ "bbc national orchestra of wales - earth music bristol". Colston Hall. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  30. ^ "Two stars sign up to bring sparkle to Christmas choirs". Western Daily Press. 2 December 2011. Retrieved 13 December 2011.[permanent dead link]
  31. ^ Bullamore, Tim (12 November 1999). "Obituary: Clifford Harker". The Independent. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  32. ^ "2006 Birthday Weekend". The Elgar Society. Archived from the original on 8 July 2012. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  33. ^ "Bristol Choral Society Charity Overview". Charity Commission. Retrieved 13 December 2011.

External linksEdit