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.
( Please see article in the News on 7th March 2014 about Sir John Eliot Gardiner's concert in Portsmouth Guildhall on 21st March 2014 - see extract below
That blend of radicalism and realism is typical of the man who also has an organic farm in Dorset and was music director of Portsmouth Festival Choir from 1974-78.
He says of that time: " It was a learning experience for them and me. They were delightful people and I enjoyed their company and their attitude to music-making." )
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. In September 2011, Peter Allwood was appointed musical director.
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.
Recent performances have included Bach's Christmas Oratorio, Haydn's Creation, a Holocaust Memorial Concert of Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man and Ralph Vaughan Williams' Dona Nobis Pacem, Verdi's Requiem with the University of Portsmouth Choir and PGS ( Portsmouth Grammar School ) Parents' Choir, a programme of Victorian music as part of the Portsmouth 2010 Festivities and Handel's Messiah in full. 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.