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Our first 50 years in pictures

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A short history of the London Oriana Choir

 

The London Oriana Choir was founded by Leon Lovett on 14 November 1973. Leon was an established musician and conductor whose experience included conducting Scottish Opera, the London Choral Society (including a Proms performance), and 30 years as Musical Director of the New Opera Company at Sadler’s Wells.

 

The Choir started life as an evening class under the auspices of the Inner London Education Authority, and its weekly rehearsals have been based in Westminster schools throughout its life, moving to its current venue – Grey Coat Hospital School – in the late 1990s. Over the years, the abolition of ILEA, a bleaker climate of funding for the arts, and an increasingly ambitious programme of own-promotions led logically to the establishment of the Choir as a self-standing limited company in 1993. It has been a registered charity since 1977.

 

The Choir’s early performances, starting just a month after its foundation, were at the invitation of other promoters, with the Choir promoting its first concert (of Bach’s St. John Passion) in March 1975. The Choir quickly grew in numbers and established a reputation for high quality vibrant performances of both the well-known major works and a wide variety of other music at some of London’s best venues. Through the years, it has continued to thrive musically, and keep its head above water financially, with a mix of its own promotions and acceptance of high quality invitations from a diverse (and sometimes unexpected) range of outside promoters including the Aix en Provence and Strasbourg Festivals, BBC, Save the Children, Raymond Gubbay Ltd., Live Nation, and Disneyland Paris!

 

David Drummond continued the development of the Choir in his 17 years as Musical Director from 1996. David, too, had an opera background, including appointments at Gothenburg Opera, ENO and Scottish Opera, as well as being Director of Music at University College London and a member of staff at the Royal College of Music. Thanks to his knowledge, the Choir enjoyed and performed an incredibly wide range of music, both contemporary and from across the centuries – best typified by two concerts composed entirely of music by women composers. David’s tenure saw a number of successful collaborations with other artists including Robert Plant, Beth Nielsen Chapman, and the Kensington Symphony Orchestra; as well as expanded opportunities for ‘on-site’ singing lessons during rehearsal time from professional singing teachers and Sunday workshops.

 

One of the Choir’s strongest and most attractive features throughout its life has been its friendliness and sociability, in turn inspiring the commitment of many members over the years to volunteer to help in its organisation whether as Chairs, Directors, committee members, concert managers, fund raisers, programme designers, flyer distributors, webmasters or organisers of rehearsal teas. Many friendships and quite a few marriages have been forged through the Choir, not least in the pub after rehearsals or on the popular tours that have taken place almost every year since 1979 to destinations from Reykjavik to Lisbon and Brittany to Kyiv.

 

The start of the Choir’s 40th Anniversary Season in September 2013 coincided with the appointment of Dominic Ellis-Peckham as the Choir’s third Musical Director. Dominic has a strong background in youth music, educational work, and (once again) opera, at the Royal Opera House. Dominic’s tenure got off to a flying start, including a sold out Christmas concert at St James’ Piccadilly, a collaboration with the Ulster Youth Choir in Belfast, and the appointment of Toby Young as the Choir’s first composer-in-residence. Toby’s first commission, Love and Harmony, was premiered at the Choir’s Gala 40th Anniversary Concert in March 2014.  In 2016 the Choir launched its pioneering five15 project to promote women composers.  Over the course of the project 15 new pieces were commissioned from five composers-in-residence: Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Rebecca Dale, Jessica Curry, Anna Disley-Simpson and Hannah Kendall.  The Choir has continued to attract high profile collaborations including Pete Townshend for the recording and world premiere of Classic Quadrophenia, Disney Concerts for Kingdom Hearts Orchestra world tour concerts, and Madonna for the Eurovision Song Contest Final in Tel Aviv.

Highlights of our first 50 years include:


1973   First rehearsal at Gateway School, London NW1
1975   The choir’s first self-promoted concert: Bach St John Passion at St                       Martin in the Fields
1976   Carols & Crumhorns in Central Hall Westminster: the choir's early                         music- themed Christmas Concert - a popular annual event until 1985
1979   The choir’s first overseas tour: Boulogne & Montreuil-sur-Mer,                                participating in the Festival de la Côte Opale
1980  First promotion in the Royal Festival Hall: Bach's Christmas Oratorio
1981   The first of several visits as Resident choir in the Music Festival in Aix en             Provence
1983   First concert in the Barbican: Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem
1983   Abbey Road Studio backing for Chariots of Fire track for one of RPO's                  'Classic Rock' recordings
1984   'Home on Sunday'; recording by the BBC for Lord Soper's 80th                              Birthday at Hinde St Methodist Church
1988   The start of 10 years of joining the cast of the annual televised Joy to                 the World charity event at the Royal Albert Hall, where Queen

           Elizabeth II recorded her 1989 Christmas message
1991   First of two visits to the Strasbourg Festival: Mozart's Requiem                              conducted by Theodor Guschlbauer
1992  Performed in Earl's Court Arena amongst the 'massed choir' in HM The           Queen' s 40th Anniversary 'Q40' event with highlights broadcast on                     BBC-TV.
1995  Participated in VJ Day 50th Anniversary  'Final                                                            Tribute inHorseguards' Parade and outside
           Buckingham Palace, in the presence of HM The Queen and Prince                     Philip;
1998   Singing at the opening of the winter season of Disneyland Paris
1999   Singing in the Sunday morning service at Notre Dame in Paris for the               first time
1999  Release of our recording of Richard Rodney Bennett's Nonsense Songs,             still the only such recording

2005 Release of our recording of Everyman by Walford Davies with the BBC               Concert Orchestra on Dutton Records, which became an Editor's                         Choice in Gramophone Magazine
2006  Service for Peace at St Paul's Cathedral in London with Beth Nielsen                 Chapman, followed by a concert in Glasgow as part of Celtic                                 Connections
2007 World premiere recording of Armstrong-Gibb's Odysseus with the BBC              Concert Orchestra, released on the Dutton Epoch label
2008 Release of our recording of Odysseus by Armstrong Gibbs on Dutton                 Records
2010  Performing with Robert Plant, Beth Nielsen Chapman, David Gray and             Newton Faulkner at Abbey Road Studios for Sound & Vision 2010 in aid             of Cancer Research UK, followed by the BBC's last ever Electric Proms               at the Round House in London with Robert Plant and the Band of Joy.
2013   Taking part in a TEDx talk entitled Singing from the Same Hymn Sheet              organised by the Houses of Parliament, given by then Musical Director              David Drummond
2013   Two nights at London's 02 Arena with Barbra Streisand to an audience             of 20,000+ each night
2016   Premiere of Classic Quadrophenia at the Royal Albert Hall with Pete                 Townshend, Alfie Boe and Billy Idol, together with the studio recording             issued by Deutsche Gramophon
2016  Launch of five15, the choir's ground-breaking initiative in support              of women composers, which concluded in July 2022 with a rousing                     finale at the Queen Elizabeth Hall
2017  The choir’s first venture into video game music from Final Fantasy at                 Methodist Central Hall, accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic                         Concert Orchestra at the invitation of French promoter La
           Fee Sauvage
2019  Our men performed in front of a television audience of millions at the               Eurovision Song Contest Final with Madonna in Tel Aviv, followed by                    the whole choir singing High Mass at St Peter's in Vatican City a
            week later.
2019  Performing a cover of 'The End of All Things'; from Everybody's Gone to             the Rapture at the BAFTA Games Awards 2019, composed by one of                   our five15 composers Jessica Curry
2020 Making Waves: the first in a series of online concerts streamed during               the pandemic
2021   Launch of the choir's Young Singers’ Scholarship Programme in                           support of aspiring 18-25 year old singers
2023   Celebrating the choir’s 50th anniversary with a busy programme of                    concerts, tours, workshops, recordings and social events

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