Portsmouth Festival Choir was founded in 1971 by Raymond Calcraft for the first Portsmouth Festival. Initially made up of 40 singers drawn from local choirs, the Choir’s numbers had increased to 120 by the time of the 1974 Festival, which was followed in May of that year by a tour to Duisburg, Portsmouth’s twin town in Germany.
Following Raymond's departure in 1974, we were delighted and privileged to have John Eliot Gardiner as our Conductor until 1978. He encouraged the choir to give further concerts outside the Festival, including a memorable performance in London’s Royal Festival Hall. Thus, when the Festival was subsequently discontinued, the Choir was in a strong position to progress as an independent organisation albeit retaining its original name.
While the Festival existed Portsmouth Festival Choir had a number of distinguished guest conductors including Sir Charles Groves, Sir David Willcocks, Sir Roger Norrington, Norman Del Mar, Alexander Lazarev and Richard Hickox. David Gibson became the musical director in 1978, and Martin Merry, Adrian Lucas, Rupert d’Cruze, David Truslove and Andrew Cleary took up successive appointments. Under Andrew's leadership the choir was named 'Best Classical Music Act' in the Portsmouth News Guide Awards 2011. Peter Allwood was appointed musical director in September 2011.
The Choir performs most of the standard choral repertoire from the Baroque masters to the 20th century, occasionally exploring less familiar music by living composers such as Malcolm Archer, Cecilia McDowall, Andrew Carter and Alex L'Estrange.
Portsmouth Festival Choir presents at least three concerts each season, its 60-strong members regularly working with professional soloists and orchestral musicians. Since its first concert in Portsmouth's Guildhall the choir has performed regularly at Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral and St Mary’s Portsea, and further afield at Chichester, Huddersfield and Basingstoke. In addition the Choir has sung in Germany, France and Austria, most recently Salzburg.
In summer 2011, the choir commissioned a new work Shipping Forecast by the composer Cecilia McDowall to mark its 40th anniversary. The piece was widely covered to much acclaim on national BBC TV and radio, and in the media generally.
In Summer 2013 as part of Portsmouth Festivities, the choir joined a large group of young singers in the world premiere of Ahoy! Sing for the Mary Rose by composer Alexander L’Estrange.
In November 2014, a concert of Reflection and Remembrance to Commemorate the First World War included a new work by Adrian Bawtree entitled 1914......and they went to war.
In September 2014, the choir spent a weekend in Oxford where it rehearsed a number of European Sacred Anthems in five different college chapels. At the end of the Sunday afternoon, the choir performed an informal concert in Exeter College chapel. In September 2015, a weekend in Cambridge took place, singing in seven different College chapels including Compline in Queens’ with the weekend culminating in singing Choral Evensong in Corpus Christi College. A return to Oxford took place in September 2016.