Portsmouth Festival Choir was founded in 1971 for the first Portsmouth Festival, made up of about forty singers drawn from local choirs, and conducted by Raymond Calcraft until 1974; in 1975 John Eliot Gardner became its musical director until 1978. During that time, although the Portsmouth Festival still existed, John Eliot Gardner encouraged the choir to give concerts outside the festival period, including a performance with the Monteverdi Choir in the Royal Festival Hall. This meant that when the Portsmouth Festival itself was discontinued, the choir was able to go on as an independent organisation, while retaining its original name. During this time it had several famous guest conductors such as David Willcocks, Roger Norrington, Norman del Mar and Richard Hickox, while the permanent musical directors have included David Gibson, Rupert d’Cruze, Andrew Cleary and Peter Allwood. The choir was named “Best Classical Music Act” in the Portsmouth News Guide Awards 2011. In January 2017, Thomas Neal became musical director, only to be appointed, in little more than a year, to the prestigious choir school at New College, Oxford. The current conductor is Ben Lathbury, who brings his wide experience of local music-making to the choir.
Portsmouth Festival Choir has performed most of the standard choral repertoire, from the baroque masters to the twentieth century, occasionally exploring less familiar music by living composers. For example, to mark its 40th anniversary, the choir commissioned a new work, Shipping Forecast, by Cecilia McDowall, in 2011, and in 2013, as part of the Portsmouth Festivities, the choir joined a large group of young singers in the world premiere of Ahoy! Sing for the Mary Rose, by Alexander L’Estrange; also, in November 2014 a concert of Reflection and Remembrance, to commemorate the start of the First World War, included a new work by Adrian Bawtree entitled 1914. ..and they went to war. Less familiar music of another kind was tackled by the choir in March 2018 when Thomas Neal conducted them in the rarely performed Brockes Passion by Handel, to an audience which filled the large Baptist Church in Emsworth. In this concert they worked with the Consort of Twelve, an established Chichester-based baroque orchestra, using a new edition provided by Neil Jenkins. In contrast, the children’s choir of Castle School, Portchester, joined the choir in June 2018 to perform John Rutter’s Mass of the Children in an all-English programme which also included Holst, Parry and Vaughan Williams. Future plans include works by Handel, Haydn, Stanford and Vierne.
Portsmouth Festival Choir usually performs three concerts per season, working regularly with professional soloists and orchestral musicians. Since its first concert in Portsmouth Guildhall the choir has performed regularly in Portsmouth Cathedral and other venues such a St George’s, Portsea and Emsworth Baptist Church, as well as hosting “Come and Sing” events and vocal workshops at St Paul’s, Chichester and St Thomas’, Bedhampton. Although its performances are mainly based in Portsmouth, the choir has travelled to Germany, France and Austria, and has sung in Canterbury Cathedral. Since 2014 the choir has spent annual weekends in Oxford and Cambridge, performing appropriate music in different college chapels; it will be going to Oxford in August 2018.
Please view the complete Works of Portsmouth Festival Choir from 1971.