Solihull Choral Society


by Christopher Morley
(for 14.11.19)
"Raising voices, lifting hearts" is the motto of the Solihull Choral Society, whose next programme, (November 16) featuring the Vivaldi Gloria and Haydn's "Nelson" Mass, is surely destined to achieve those aims.
"This little choir has been established in the area for many years and is a bit of the backbone in Solihull," says enthusiastic soprano Elissa Renouf.
"Solihull Choral Society started out as the Margaret Wharam Choir and she was well known and respected in Solihull." (This writer remembers several concerts conducted by that formidable lady, wielding her baton like a rod of iron and obtaining amazing results).
"We have always supported local musicians and some of those have been young school and college students. The choir has a bursary scheme to encourage young people to sing with us and many of those lovely ones have gone on to significant music careers.
" So it's a local, well loved , tight-knit choir and isn't trying to compete in Birmingham. We make a point of only performing in local venues, which is quite a challenge as the venues are few . It does mean we get to sing in Olton Friary, Solihull School chapel (a gem of the 1960s), and also St James' church on the Packington Estate, where we sing to deer in the park once a year!"
Andrew Fletcher, much respected as an organist as well as a conductor, was director of the Solihull Choral Society. His successor, Oliver Walker, takes up the baton (in both senses).
" I took over from Andrew in autumn 2016, and this is now my fourth season," he tells me.

"SCS are a desperately welcoming and friendly group of singers. Their warmth and humour has always struck me, as has their commitment to the organisation and to their music-making. A good spread of age groups are represented, which is very refreshing indeed. Musically I enjoy working with a choir who are always up for a challenge, and happy to embrace unfamiliar styles."

Yet the Vivaldi Gloria and Haydn "Nelson" Mass are such staples of the repertoire. How does Oliver continue to make them exciting?

"It's actually quite nice to work on some more straight-forward and familiar pieces, allowing us time to focus on tuning, blend and colour to a greater extent than in previous terms when the music has been more challenging. In choosing these pieces, we were also hoping to appeal to a wider audience. It's important that we don't neglect the more familiar music in our desire to be exciting!"

Indeed, but what kind of unaccustomed repertoire is Oliver exploring with the Solihull Choral Society?

"I'm delighted that the concert will start with the wonderful overture written by Handel to his first oratorio in English, Esther. This is woefully underperformed. The choir enjoys exploring contemporary works, and does so regularly. Last Spring, for example, we performed the uplifting Te Deum written for Trinity College, Cambridge, by Esenvalds and the choir has a particular fondness for Will Todd whose works we often return to."

How did Oliver and SCS set about finding the rising young soloists for this concert?

"SCS has always had a commitment to using young soloists, and I am thrilled that the Josephine Baker Trust is helping us to support current students from The Royal College of Music in this term's concert," is Oliver's confident reply.

So many amateur choral societies have to use scratch, ad hoc orchestras to accompany their concerts (though the standard of their musicianship and rehearsal technique is almost always impressively high). But for several years SCS has had the services of one of the finest, well-establshed amateur orchestras in the Midlands, the Sinfonia of Birmingham, as Oliver comments.

"This is the fourth consecutive year that we have worked in partnership with Sinfonia of Birmingham, and we find them such a joy. They are a very intuitive and lively group, sympathetic to the needs of a Choral Society."

Oliver concludes by telling me about himself and his aspirations>

" I enjoy balancing my busy role as Director of Music at Repton School in South Derbyshire with a freelance career as a conductor and accompanist.
"Having been Head of Choral Music at Solihull School for six enjoyable years, it's a great joy to return to the borough every week to work with SCS. I am passionate about musical engagement with local communities, and both in Repton and Solihull I like finding new ways of reaching new, local audiences. I hope that this will play a big role in my future!"
Solihull Choral Society performs works by Vivaldi and Haydn in Solihull School Chapel on November 16 (7.30pm). Details on 0121-684-8538.

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