In rehearsal, December 2007, photo © Magdalena Bradley
Southampton Philharmonic Choir celebrated its 160th anniversary in 2020! The Southampton Philharmonic was founded in 1860, making us Southampton's longest-established music society. We are noted for performing both from the established choral repertoire and also contemporary works. "First performances in Southampton" have included the Berlioz Requiem, Bartok's Cantata Profana and works by Stravinsky, Sir Michael Tippett, Sir William Walton, Gordon Crosse, Jonathan Harvey, Dominic Muldowney and, more recently, Karl Jenkins, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and David Bedford. We perform in a number of venues, including Southampton Guildhall, Southampton's Turner Sims and Winchester Cathedral. After the appointment of Professor Peter Evans as conductor in 1965 the Philharmonic was joined in its rehearsals and performances by the University Choral Society (now renamed the SU Philharmonic Choir) who have, according to the critics, added "youthful tone". The choir works with professional soloists and has a strong relationship with the New London Sinfonia and The Hanover Band.
During the 1970s we performed a wide range of established choral masterpieces such as the Beethoven Missa Solemnis and the Berlioz Grande Messe de Morts. In 1972 we commissioned a new work Cantata VII On Vision from the composer Jonathan Harvey, and the first performance was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 along with Haydn's Harmoniemesse. Then in 1976 we undertook a live broadcast of Britten's War Requiem with the Salisbury Cathedral Choristers and both the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta. This was one of the last broadcasts of his music heard by the composer before his death.In 1985, in recognition of our varied programme and regular inclusion of contemporary works, the Philharmonic received an Enterprise Award from the National Federation of Music Societies, now Making Music. 20th Century works performed by the Choir included Bartok's Cantata Profana, Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, Debussy's La demoiselle élue, and music by Kodaly and Szymanowski.
The Choir has, in its time, been conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, Sir Charles Groves, Carl Davis and David Hill. We have been fortunate to be able to work with soloists of the calibre of Dame Janet Baker, April Cantelo, Jill Gomez, Heather Harper, Alfred Deller, Lesley Garrett, Thomas Hemsley, Philip Langridge, Robert Tear, Justin Lavender and John Harle.
Under the direction of David Gibson (appointed in 1990) we have added a third major concert to our annual programme. We have also performed a number of works new to the Society, such as Rachmaninov's The Bells and Janacek's Glagolitic Mass. For the Millennium we commissioned a new work The Fall of Jerusalem by Dominic Muldowney, with libretto by James Fenton. This work was commissioned jointly with the Leeds Festival Chorus, and both Choirs performed this new oratorio, separately, in March 2000 in the presence of the composer. Many of our members said that this performance was the highlight of their choral singing careers, so it is highly appropriate that we performed the work again at the concert to mark our 150th Anniversary in 2010.
For a further interesting overview of the history of the choir, see Folklore of Hampshire by Penny Legg.