History of the society
Gloucester Choral Society (GCS) began life in 1845 as a Choral Meeting comprising both sacred and secular music. That was the year in which Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Britain made her maiden voyage across the Atlantic and it was also the year that Mendelssohn was commissioned to write Elijah. A second meeting took place the next year, with a chorus of 90. The choir currently numbers 125 members.
Since 1856 the Society has been conducted by the Cathedral Organist and Director of Music. Celebrated musicians of the day have become conductors, including Samuel Sebastian Wesley, Herbert Brewer, Herbert Sumsion and John Sanders. In the past, noted dignitaries have been our presidents. For many years now, successive Deans of Gloucester have assumed this role. To celebrate the Society’s 150th season, a concert was given of music composed by previous musical directors and one former president, Hubert Parry. For this event a work by John Sanders, Gloucestershire Visions, was commissioned. To celebrate the Millennium the Society and the Dean and Chapter co-commissioned Creation from David Briggs, our then musical director. Adrian Partington succeeded Andrew Nethsingha as musical director in January 2008.
Until the Second World War, concerts took place at the Shire Hall. Since then all concerts have been given in Gloucester Cathedral. Initially only sacred works could be performed, and it was not until 1984 that Society members voted to allow applause after The Dream of Gerontius.
Many well known soloists have appeared with GCS over the years, including the legendary Jenny Lind and Dame Janet Baker. In 1937, the Verdi Requiem was performed with the City of Birmingham Orchestra under the baton of Herbert Sumsion, and broadcast by the BBC. Another memorable performance of this work was given in 2005, in aid of the Tsunami Appeal. All performers, including distinguished soloists, volunteered their services, and we were joined by singers from as far afield as Birmingham and Truro. In excess of £10,000 was raised for the appeal.
This tradition of supporting charities dates back to 1861. In that year, two People’s Concerts raised £5 each for the Infirmary and Ragged School. Our annual Boxing Day Carol Concert has, in recent years, also included a collection for a local charity.
The Society has pioneered a number of outreach initiatives over the last few years, including inviting other Gloucestershire singers from primary school age upwards to join with them in making and performing choral music, singing on hospital wards and using GCS volunteers to assist in the Three Choirs Plus Mindsong project (using choral music to help people with dementia).
In 2009, the choir performed two concerts in Northern Cyprus, in the first-ever overseas tour by the Society.