A Brief History of the YPC
It all began in the summer of 1953, when a group of former pupils of Thornes House School in Wakefield – who had been singing together as the Old Thornesians Choir with their former Head of Music, Margaret Markland, to carry on the love of singing she had encouraged in them while under her care at school – gave their first major concert under the title of the Thornesians Guild of Singers,a name they retained until 1989.
After almost 20 years in charge, Margaret Markland retired and handed on the baton to Jonathan Bielby, who, in addition to his responsibilities as Organist and Master of the choristers at Wakefield Cathedral.
Under Jonathan’s artistic direction, many things began to develop, not least the change to making Wakefield Cathedral its regular performance venue and the development of the repertoire to incorporate many of the great sacred choral works.
Yorkshire Chamber Choir
In 1986 the choir was looking for their third musical director. The position was awarded to David Angus, then of the Royal Northern College of Music and a rising star of the ‘conducting’ world.
David’s tenure was all too brief however. After featuring strongly in the Leeds Young Conductors’ Competition in 1988, he was approached to become the Chorus master of the famous Glyndebourne Opera Company, taking up that position in early 1989.
The idea of being a Chamber Choir began to set itself and in early 1989 it was decided to rename the choir The Yorkshire Chamber Choir. The next momentous thing to happen that year was the appointment of the newly named choir’s 4th Musical Director, Andrew Padmore who remains the present Artistic and Musical Director.
The first 10 years of Andrew’s direction saw the choir numbers increase from around 32 to 90 and more, and so in the late 1990′s the Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir was born, whilst retaining and incorporating the name – ‘Yorkshire Chamber Choir’.
Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir
Under the inspiring and dynamic leadership of Andrew Padmore working alongside an ever progressively minded Choir Committee, the ‘YPC’ has gone from strength to strength and is now recognised as one of the premier choirs in the North of England. It attracts large and knowledgeable audiences, the highest quality soloists and orchestras who testify to the joy of performing with the choir, and who regularly return.
Not only are the great choral works regularly performed by the choir but in recent years the choir has been in the forefront of featuring a wide repertoire of items in different musical styles, including Choral Jazz featuring such works as Mass in Blue by Will Todd, the Latin rhythms of Misa Criolla by Ariel Ramirez, as well as the astounding experience which is David Fanshawe’s African Sanctus, complete with native instruments and Zulu Dancers.
African Sanctus has been featured several times by the YPC in differing forms and venues (including the premier performance with Black Dyke Band in Bridgewater Hall, Manchester of the African Sanctus Suite), often with the composer present. David Fanshawe was lavish in his praise of the choir for its performances, even telling choir and audience alike that the YPC performances were so good and just as he had envisioned the work in his mind whilst writing it. The choir was honoured to be asked to be part of the tribute performance of the work in London’s Royal Festival Hall, a specific request of the family following the composer’s untimely death in 2010.
Since the start of the 21st century, under the enlightened chairmanships of the late Richard Haigh and now Derek Howell combined with the continued enterprising leadership of Dr. Andrew Padmore, the YPC has ventured into new and challenging areas, to benefit not only its own reputation but also the promotion of all the benefits of choral singing to as wide an audience as possible.
In pursuance of this, the YPC prides itself of the consistent high standard of all its performances and concentrates on meticulous preparation and choral training. Admission to the choir remains by audition and each member is subject to re-audition tests every 3 years, so ensuring the standard remains as ‘professionally’ high as a fully amateur choir can achieve.
Administratively, in February 2008 the Choir became an Incorporated Company to add to its Charitable status, to ensure a solid foundation on which to build for the future.
One of the choir’s main aims has always been the desire to attract and retain younger members. This has the triple effect of keeping down the average age, improving the quality of tone, and securing the future of the YPC. Audiences have commented on the benefits of the addition of younger members, which with experience is so necessary for maintaining consistent standards. In further pursuit of this aim, the YPC has been willing to make substantial financial provision in creating ‘The Margaret Markland Bursary’. This is so named in honour of the choir’s founder and is a bursary used to annually support the YPC’s partnership with the Leeds College of Music, whereby three selected and auditioned students become members of the choir as part of their studies. By so doing they receive the benefit of choral and personal training, organisation, and the experience of performing at the highest level a breadth of music which otherwise they might not experience. They are also given the opportunity to feature as soloists with the choir.
The choir has also been at the forefront of encouraging young soloists at the start of their professional careers. This has particularly been well received by audiences, whose feedback is very positive on hearing superb new voices bringing freshness to established roles.
Music selection is also playing its part in attracting both younger choir members and also a younger audience. The choir has consciously made the decision to be at the forefront of choral challenges. As mention earlier, it led the way in the performance of ‘Choral Jazz’, being one of the first to perform Mass in Blue, by the then largely unknown Will Todd. It has featured this work three times, the first time with the composer present and the second and third times with the Leeds College of Music Jazz Band in ‘The Venue’ which sits atop the LCM building in Leeds. Many others have now followed in performing what is now a major work, and Will Todd himself has become well known, having had a commissioned work performed in H.M. Queen’s Diamond Jubilee service in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
A new feel has also been added to older music too. The renowned saxophonist, John Helliwell, of the group ‘ Supertramp’ has joined the choir on several occasions, including one of their trips to France, to add his Jazz and R & B rhythms to the works of renaissance composers such as Lotti and Byrd, in a unique crossover presentation of those works.
The YPC continues to try to premier the works of Karl Jenkins in the Yorkshire region: Jenkins is now the most performed living composer in the UK. The choir were the first in the region to perform his now famous The Armed Man – A Mass for Peace to a packed Huddersfield Town Hall. It has since performed it on two further occasions, the latter in Leeds Town Hall as ‘Yorkshire Voices’.
Yorkshire Voices is an occasional performance-based partnership between the YPC and the Harrogate Choral Society, creating a chorus of over 250 ‘Yorkshire’ voices to perform major large scale choral works in the County’s premier venues. The Armed Man with African Sanctus was performed to a capacity audience in Leeds Town Hall in 2009 as was the magnificent Verdi Requiem in 2008. In 2016 ‘Yorkshire Voices’ came together again to perform Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in Leeds Town Hall.
Encouraging new composers is also part of the YPC’s agenda. It has sponsored writing competitions itself on certain milestone occasions. The YPC has also taken part in Making Music’s Adopt a Composer scheme and similar projects backed by the BBC and Classic FM. From these links have sprung new works and their premier performances by the YPC, such as The Nightingale and the Rose, a one act opera by Oliver Rutland which the YPC travelled to London to perform at the Royal College of Music.
The YPC commissioned a work from its former conductor Jonathan Bielby, who wrote his eclectic suite This Precious Earth. This was received to huge acclaim in Wakefield Cathedral in 2010. As its title suggests, the work concentrates on our delicate relationship with our planet and possibly created a new ‘first’ for the choir in performing with a didgeridoo.
All these exciting developments add to the attraction of the choir, as does the occasional production of CDs and broadcasts and the regular trips abroad or to other parts of the UK. Every three years the YPC can be found on a summer tour. These have included trips to Belgium, France, Ireland and Germany with shorter UK trips to Northern Ireland, Scotland and the West Country. In undertaking these trips, the choir performs in some of the finest Cathedrals and venues in those regions and draws substantial audiences wherever it travels.
The YPC celebrated its Diamond Jubilee year in 2013 with a series of exciting concerts, which in accordance with the above, included the first performance in the region of Karl Jenkins’ The Peacemakers. The choir also held its first ever ‘Choir reunion’ and formed an Alumni Society, open to all past members of the choir.
By its nature, a History recounts the past and the YPC is justly proud of the road it has travelled to date. However, the YPC is not prepared to ‘rest on its Laurels’ in any way and intends to continue to build on its strong foundations in all aspects of its musical and corporate life.
In particular, the YPC is concerned that despite the rising costs of producing and performing high quality music, it is determined that the people of Yorkshire should continue to have access to the very best choral music, performed to the highest standards and accompanied by first class orchestras and ensembles and all at realistic prices.
Accessibility is an important principle to the YPC not only to the music it chooses to perform, but also to those who are still to discover the joys, fun and well-being that music brings, especially in being a member of a choir like the YPC, which after all comprises a group of ordinary Yorkshire folk, from a cross section of ages, background and occupations, who come together each week to do something extraordinary – this is The Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir.