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The Royal Choral Society - making music since 1872

25 January, 2012

“It’s an honour to be Music Director of the RCS in its 140th year. The choir has been conducted by some of the world’s musical greats, including Verdi, Gounod, Dvorák and Elgar, and by Sir Malcolm Sargent, who was its conductor for nearly 40 years.”
Dr Richard Cooke, Musical Director, The Royal Choral Society



The Royal Choral Society, resident choir to the Royal Albert Hall, celebrates its 140th anniversary season in 2012

• The Royal Choral Society (RCS) celebrates its 140th anniversary year in 2012 with 16 concerts, including a performance of Verdi’s Requiem for its special 140th Anniversary Concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 25th June; the choir gave the British premiere of this work in 1875, conducted by the composer himself.

• Founded in 1872 as the resident choir to the Royal Albert Hall (RAH), the RCS is one of the oldest choirs still performing to large audiences in Britain and overseas today. Its association with the RAH continues and it gives more concerts there than any other choir.

• The 140th anniversary season includes a Gala concert for St George presented by John Humphrys, a Gala for Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, starring Russell Watson, its annual Good Friday Messiah (a work the RCS has sung more times than any other choir), and the series of Classical Spectacular concerts, which is Raymond Gubbay’s most successful series of concerts at the Hall.

• Its special 140th Anniversary Concert will be held in the Royal Albert Hall, courtesy of the Hall’s annual free let to charity. Winning the Hall’s annual free let has given the choir the opportunity to support the music charity Nordoff Robbins, which will be awarded 20% of the net profit from this concert. The RCS will be accompanied by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and students from the LPO’s Foyle Future First mentoring and tutoring programme will have the opportunity to perform with the orchestra.

The Royal Choral Society (RCS) is delighted to be celebrating its 140th anniversary in 2012. Formed soon after the opening of the Royal Albert Hall as its house choir, its subsequent history reads like a Who’s Who of the musical world. Former RCS conductors include Charles Gounod and Malcolm Sargent – the latter, described as ‘the finest British choral conductor of his generation’, had a 40 year association with the choir. The present Music Director, Richard Cooke, took over the baton in 1995.

For its 140th anniversary year, the Royal Choral Society will be performing a packed season of concerts. This includes its annual performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall on Good Friday, a tradition since 1878. (It is thought that the Royal Choral Society has sung the work more than 265 times, and more times than any other choir.). Other Spring/Summer concerts include the Classical Spectacular concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, a Gala concert for St George presented by John Humphrys, a Gala for Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (starring Russell Watson) and involvement in the annual Proms in the Park. Autumn events include Carmina Burana, the RCS Remembrance Day Concert, further Classical Spectacular concerts and the magnificent RCS Christmas Carols Concert (2012 is the 100th anniversary of the RCS’s Carols concert at the RAH).

The RCS will also be celebrating its 140th anniversary with a special celebratory performance at the Royal Albert Hall of Verdi’s Requiem on 25th June 2012 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. This work has special significance for the choir as it gave the British premiere in 1875, conducted by Verdi himself.

Verdi’s Requiem, like Mozart’s before him, is a work of great dramatic power and perfect for a large concert hall such as the Royal Albert Hall. The match is all the more appropriate, given the RCS’s notably historic links with the work, and the choir is extremely grateful that it is able to perform the piece in the choir’s founding home thanks to the fact that it has won the Hall’s annual free let for 2012. In accordance with the terms of this free let, the choir has arranged for a number of students from the LPO’s Future First tutoring and mentoring scheme to play in the concert, alongside the members of this internationally-renowned orchestra.

Also, for this event, the RCS has chosen to support the music charity Nordoff Robbins (donating 20% of net profit). Virginia Edwyn-Jones, Choir Manager & Administrator says: “Nordoff Robbins is a specialist music charity which reaches out into local communities across the UK transforming the lives of vulnerable and isolated children and adults. Through music therapy and other music services, Nordoff Robbins supports thousands of people each year with a range of challenges such as autism, dementia, mental health problems, stroke, brain injury, depression and life-threatening or terminal illness, such as cancer. As a choir, with every rehearsal and every concert we give, we feel blessed that we can sing. We also realise how privileged we are to be able perform in the places we do and feel that music has transformed and enriched our lives. It therefore seemed entirely appropriate to choose to support a charity that reaches beyond the music community and one which uses music to such fantastic effect.”

Jasper Hope, Chief Operating Officer of the Royal Albert Hall, says: “The Royal Albert Hall is delighted this year to offer the Hall free of charge to our oldest musical partner, the Royal Choral Society in its 140th anniversary year. Of the dozens of applications that are received each year from a diverse range of excellent charities, the Royal Choral Society stood out as a constant and important part of the Hall’s unrivalled performance history since its opening in 1871. This combined with its desire to support the valuable work of the Nordoff Robbins charity and give the talented young musicians of the LPO’s Foyle Future First scheme the opportunity to perform on the world’s most famous stage matches our own desire to deliver inspiration and support the pursuit of excellence, particularly by young people”.
As well as concerts, the RCS also does some television work. Past events include being part of the choir that represented the fallen in Britain’s national commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the end of the Falklands War, and forming the choir that accompanied the Veterans and memorial Fleet of Little Ships that took part in the events to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuations. The choir also makes regular soundtrack recordings for Sky TV, and is the choir singing in the background of many of the Sky Sports idents. In December last year (2011), the choir was invited to record a soundtrack specially commissioned from composer Yann McCullough for the Channel 5 series “Brigade”, which will be aired in Spring 2012.

Tasmin, choir member since 2001, says: “I have sung with the RCS for ten years, and quite apart from the exhilaration of singing works like the Bach B Minor Mass in venues such as Winchester Cathedral, and performing at the Royal Albert Hall on a regular basis, the real privilege about singing with this choir is the special events that we are invited to take part in. Over the last few years, we have sung for the naming ceremony of the QM2, taken part in the events to mark the 25th anniversary of the Falklands War and helped re-launch the Royal Festival Hall, but for me the highlight was being part of the events to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuations; such an extraordinary and moving experience, and such a privilege to be there. I will never forget it.”

It is evident that the RCS has entered its 140th year in good health. With 175 singing members and an annual commitments list of at least 16 concerts, the choir is most definitely thriving.

Sarah, choir member since 1987, says: “Singing in the RCS enables me to take part in music of a far higher standard than I could achieve on my own or in a small group. Performing in venues like The Royal Albert Hall and Southwark Cathedral, with the top London orchestras, never loses its excitement, even after 25 years. The highlight of my twenty-five years with the choir has got to be singing the Rachmaninov Vespers at midnight, on a rock band stage at the Pohoda Festival in Slovakia; we received a standing ovation after every movement. I am immensely proud that in my twenty-fifth year of being with the choir, we are celebrating the choir’s 140th anniversary. We will take the roof off the Royal Albert Hall with our Verdi Requiem

For further information, interviews and photos please contact:
Jo Carpenter, Music PR Consultancy
Email: Tel: 07771 538868

Notes to Editors:
The RCS 140th anniversary season concert list is available here:
The Royal Choral Society – A brief history (p3)
Richard Cooke, conductor – biography (p4)
Royal Albert Hall and ‘charity free let’ (p4)
Foyle Future Firsts – background  (p5)
About Nordoff Robbins (p5)
The Royal Choral Society – A brief history
• The RCS’s first name was the Royal Albert Hall Choral Society (RAHCS) but the name changed to the Royal Choral Society (RCS) in 1888 when Queen Victoria became its patron
• Royal patronage continues: The RCS's patron is HM The Queen and its President is HRH The Duke of Kent, who regularly attends the choir’s concerts
• The RCS is one of London’s most historically notable choirs with associations with some of the world’s musical greats, including Verdi, Gounod, Dvorak, Elgar, and Sir Malcolm Sargent
• Verdi’s Requiem was premiered in Britain by the RCS, under the composer’s own baton
• The first performance of Dvorák’s Stabat Mater was given by the choir and was also conducted by its composer
• Elgar conducted the choir singing his Dream of Gerontius in The Royal Albert Hall on 26th February 1927, a live performance that was recorded by HMV Records and which is still available as a part work
• The choir also gave the first performance of Missa Criolla, composed by Ariel Ramirez, at London’s Royal Festival Hall; the composer and his son played the two grand pianos in that performance
• Sir Malcolm Sargent, described as ‘the finest British choral conductor of his generation’, had a 40-year association with the choir
• The RCS has always had a wide repertoire; its performance of new works has been a feature, with Verdi and Dvorák conducting the choir in premieres of their own works. More recently, the choir has given the world premiere performances of works by Raymond Premru, Anthony Milner and Geoffrey Burgon
• Recent changes and greater diversification for the RCS include outdoor events and summer festivals at Kenwood House, Marble Hill and Hampton Court
• There has been close co-operation with a number of national charities for Gala Concerts, programmes of opera selections and popular choral music. Venues have included Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s, and the Cathedrals of Canterbury, Winchester, Salisbury, Exeter, Chichester & Rochester, Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, St David’s Hall, Cardiff and Palais de Congrès, Lille
• The choir now makes an annual appearance on stage in Hyde Park to lead the audience as part of the Proms in the Park link-up with the Last Night of the Proms at the RAH
• The choir makes regular appearances on the television, including taking part in Britain’s national commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the end of the Falklands War. The choir also makes regular soundtrack recordings for Sky TV, and is the choir singing in the background of many of the Sky Sports idents. In December last year (2011), the choir was invited to record a soundtrack specially commissioned from composer  Yann McCullough for the Channel 5 series “Brigade”, which will be aired at the end of January 2012
• It is a regular performer in the bi-annual sell-out Classical Spectacular concerts presented by Raymond Gubbay at the RAH
• The Royal Choral Society’s renowned annual Good Friday performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall has established itself as one of the defining interpretations of Great Britain’s favourite choral masterpiece. It is thought that the Royal Choral Society has sung the work more than any other choir – more than 265 times
• In 2007, the choir was among the performers invited to sing an arrangement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by Billy Bragg, in the presence of the RCS’s patron, HM The Queen, at the reopening of the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank
• The RCS consists of 175 singing members
• Annual concert commitments: at least 16 a year
• The 140th anniversary celebrations began on 11th November 2011 with its annual Remembrance Concert, for which it performed Mozart's Requiem and Brahms’ Schicksalslied with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at Central Hall, Westminster
• 2012 will be the 100th anniversary of the RCS’s Christmas Carols concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. Plans are being laid for a return to the recording studio (previous CDs include Handel's Messiah and Verdi Requiem conducted by Owain Arwel Hughes)


Richard Cooke, conductor

Richard Cooke was appointed Conductor of the Royal Choral Society in 1995, becoming Music Director in 1998, and has appeared with them in many concerts in the Royal Festival and Royal Albert Halls. He has directed concerts with the RCS in the cathedrals of Peterborough, Winchester, Salisbury and Southwark and has also recorded Orff’s Carmina Burana together with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Richard was a chorister of St Paul’s Cathedral and Choral Scholar in the choir of King’s College, Cambridge. Born in Cornwall, he returns there each summer for his favourite outdoor activity, body-surfing off the north Cornish coast. He also enjoys cycling and hill walking, climbing Munros and their equivalents, in Scotland and Wales. In 2009 he cycled through Jordan together with twenty-five others, raising money for the Canterbury Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centre, and supported, amongst others, by many members of the Royal Choral Society.

He has received a Grammy award and four Grammy nominations, most notably for his work as Chorus Master for Tennstedt’s spectacular recording of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, and for Haitink’s recording of Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony, both of which were also voted for top awards by Gramophone Magazine. He has conducted in many European cities, most frequently in Sweden, where he has given concerts with the Gothenburg and Helsingborg Symphony Orchestras, and appeared throughout the country.

He has been Music Director of Canterbury Choral Society for 26 years and the University of Essex Choir for 30 years, performing regularly in Canterbury Cathedral and Snape Maltings. With Canterbury Choral Society he has recorded Elgar’s oratorio The Apostles with the Philharmonia Orchestra, and the Ultimate Last Night of the Proms together with the RPO. He also established the Canterbury Choral Society Youth Choir in 2007, which has already established itself as a high-quality ensemble performing in several major concerts in the Canterbury region.

Richard Cooke was made an Honorary Doctor of Music at the University of Kent in 2010, and an Honorary Doctor at the University of Essex in 1996, in recognition of his contribution to musical life both in Canterbury and Essex.

Royal Albert Hall
The Royal Albert Hall is the world’s most famous stage. Its breathtaking auditorium hosts over 370 shows a year by the world’s greatest artists. The magical atmosphere combined with inspired artists creates legendary events.  Opened in 1871 as part of Prince Albert’s vision for a centre for the Arts and Sciences, it is a registered charity operating without public revenue funding.
The Royal Albert Hall’s annual ‘charity free let’ is just one part of the extensive public benefit that the Hall provides. Whilst the Royal Albert Hall is a charity itself, it actively supports other charities in their fundraising activities. Each year the Hall offers one ‘charity free let’ whereby a registered charity which is staging an event on behalf of that charity can hire the Hall without paying any rental or ticket commission. In addition, the Hall awards 40 charity lets each year which offer registered charities a 20% discount on the hire fees.
Royal Albert Hall – registered charity no 254543 -


Foyle Future Firsts

The Foyle Future Firsts is an annual programme offered to 16 outstanding young instrumentalists on the threshold of their professional careers.

The programme is designed to nuture and develop these talented orchestral musicians giving them unique access to a world class orchestra via lessons, rehearsals, performance opportunities and mentoring.

The Foyle Future Firsts is generously funded by the Foyle Foundation with additional support from the Angus Allnatt Charitable Foundation, the Idlewild Trust, the Lord and Lady Lurgan Trust, Musicians Benevolent Fund and The Seary Charitable Trust.


Please visit: 

Nordoff Robbins is a national specialist music charity delivering music therapy and other music services to transform the lives of vulnerable people of all ages, right across the UK.

Established in the UK in 1974, they are the largest private provider of music therapy in the UK. No other organisation uses music to reach so many people, in so many contexts, with such consistently high levels of expertise.

Since 1974 music therapists have been trained to diploma level at Nordoff Robbins and in 1994 a Masters degree programme was implemented now recognised as a leader in its field. Nordoff Robbins also has a world-renowned training and research programme to ensure work is delivered to the highest standard.

Many thousands of people are helped each year and suffer from a range of challenges including autism, dementia, mental health problems, stroke, brain injury, depression and, in some cases our clients have a life-threatening or terminal illness, such as cancer. All of these people have one uniting factor - music dramatically improves their quality of life.

Delivering over 50,000 sessions per year in centres, units, schools, day centres, hospitals and care homes their work is expanding to meet the vision of reaching as many people in as many settings as possible.

The Nordoff Robbins centre in north London is the largest specialist music therapy centre in the world. As well as London, units in Croydon and Newbury are able to accept referrals from any source and offer a musical ‘lifeline’ to anyone who needs it. Nordoff Robbins also collaborate delivering music therapy services with over 100 national organisations across the UK. As one of our service users recently said, “I simply couldn’t live without this music every week.”

Through music, Nordoff Robbins gives individuals the ability and confidence to express themselves and communicate where they may have not been able to do so previously. The results have a profound impact on individuals and their families and all those around them.

Music therapists at Nordoff Robbins are trained professionals, regulated by the Health Professions Council. They are skilled in using music to help all kinds of people, in all kinds of places.

Nordoff Robbins receives no statutory funding and the organisation is reliant on fundraising income to support their work.

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