BBC Singers

BBC Singers

Chamber Choir

• Founded 1924

Biography

The BBC Singers bill themselves as Britain's only full-time, fully professional choir. The ensemble was founded at the same time the British Broadcasting Corporation created its Symphony Orchestra, and for the same purpose: to be available for broadcast work of a wide range of musical repertory. Since the group's inception, the BBC Singers have excelled in the performance of works ranging from the Renaissance to the present day.

The BBC Singers were originally formed in 1924 as the Wireless Chorus, under the direction of the BBC's first chorus master, Stanford Robinson. The ensemble's first broadcast was on September 28, 1924, in a performance of Mendelssohn's oratorio, Elijah. From 1929 until 1994 the group sang for the Daily Service broadcast. Other broadcasts included premieres of new choral music and revivals of great British music from the Renaissance through the age of Purcell. The choir has sung world premieres of such notable works as Britten's A Boy Was Born and Hymn to St. Cecilia, Poulenc's Figure humaine, Henze's Orpheus Behind the Wire, and Magnus Lindberg's Untitled, a piece thought to be too difficult to perform. Over the years, the ensemble assumed various sizes and names -- including the Wireless Singers, the Variety Chorus, and the BBC Chorus -- but in 1972 the name BBC Singers was affixed permanently.

The group has always had its own chief conductor. Following Robinson were Leslie Woodgate (1934-1961), Peter Gellhorn (1961-1972), John Poole (1972-1989), Stephen Cleobury (1995-2007), and David Hill (2007-2017). In 2017, the BBC Singers announced the hiring of Sofi Jeannin as the ensemble's first female chief conductor. With conductor Stephen Cleobury, the Singers made numerous recordings, including the works of Charles Ives and Richard Strauss, and became the first choir to sing an a cappella selection as a part of one of the traditional Proms Concerts. Along with its chief conductors, the group has worked with guest conductors including Stravinsky, Milhaud, Beecham, Bo Holten, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, and Pierre Boulez.

The BBC Singers have commissioned a large number of works by such composers as Britten, Sir Peter Maxwell-Davies, and Iannis Xenakis, among many others. In 2002, the Singers named Edward Cowie as the ensemble's first associate composer. Cowie was followed by Judith Bingham -- a former member of the Singers -- (2004-2010), Gabriel Jackson (2010-2013), and Judith Weir (2015-).

The Singers began touring abroad in the 1940s, going as far as Japan and Mexico in the 2000s. While touring, the group has worked with distinguished conductors such as Herbert von Karajan and Wilhelm Furtwängler. The choir is also heard at festivals in the United Kingdom and Europe, as well as special events, such as the funeral for Diana, Princess of Wales.

The BBC Singers continue to make distinguished recordings, appearing on the Signum, Naxos, and Chandos labels, among others. In 2019, the Singers can be heard on G.F. Handel: Messiah, on Resonus, as well as Enrique Granados' opera Goyescas, on Harmonia Mundi.

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