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.
Our first 50 years in pictures