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 every year since 1979 to destinations from Reykjavik to Lisbon and Brittany to Kiev.

 

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 is one of Britain’s finest young conductors with 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.

Our first 40 years in pictures

London Oriana Choir Highlights

14 Nov 1973

London Oriana Choir is founded by Leon Lovett, recentlyreturned from a trip to Cape Town where he had conducted the Cape Town Oriana Choir. Two of its members, recently arrived in London, are among those attending the first rehearsal. One is still with the Choir.

23 members were present at the first rehearsal. By a yearlater, numbers had grown to 109. The subscription for thefirst year was set at £3.50.

29 May 1974

A formal Constitution for the Choir is approved by theCommittee, enabling membership of the NFMS (nowMaking Music) and access to grant funding.

22 March 1975

Bach St John Passion at St Martin in the Fields

The Choir's first self-promoted concert.

14 & 17 May 1975

Appeared with the New Opera Company in performances of King Roger in Sadler's Wells, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras

16 Dec 1976

Carols & Crumhorns in Central Hall Westminster

The Choir's 'early music' themed Christmas Concert - a popular annual event until 1985. By then the Choir's Christmas concert was in the Royal Albert Hall and subsequently a more traditional format was adopted using the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble.

8 July 1978

Concert in St. Martin in the Fields includes 1st performance of Brian Chapple's Veni Sancte Spiritus

13 Dec 1978

Christmas Carol concert in the Royal Albert Hall in aid of the Leukaemia Research Fund

The first of many concerts in the RAH performed for charities, usually in the presence of their royal patrons

13 May 1979

Monteverdi's Vespers in Romsey Abbey

The Choir had a lengthy association with Romsey Abbey throughout the 1980s.

July 1979

Tour to Boulogne & Montreuil-sur-Mer - participated in the Festival de la Cote Opal

The Choir's first overseas tour.

21 June 1980

Queen Elizabeth Hall concert featuring 1st performance of Robin Holloway's He, She, Together (a setting of 3 poems by James Joyce)

8 Dec 1980

Bach's Christmas Oratorio in the Royal Festival Hall

The Choir's first promotion in the RFH

July 1981

Resident choir in the Music Festival in Aix en Provence

First of several visits to the prestigous Aix en Provence Festival

27 Feb 1983

Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem in the Barbican Hall

The Choir's first concert in the Barbican Hall. Billed as the Choir's 10th Birthday Concert.

July 1983

Abbey Road Studio recording 'backing' for Chariots of Fire for one of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's 'Classic Rock' recordings

20 Dec 1983

A Victorian Christmas. A celebration with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (aka Prunella Scales and Anton Rogers)

A charity concert arranged to coincide with the major exhibition 'Albert: his life and work' at the Royal College of Art

Feb 1984

'Home on Sunday' recording by BBC for Lord Soper's 80th Birthday (broadcast July) at Hinde St Methodist Church

3 March 1984

Durufle's Requiem & Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb, recorded in St. Augustine's Church, Kilburn

The Choir's first 'commercial' recording, issued on cassette.

23 July 1984

Concert in the Union Chapel, Highbury

Performed before the Chapel had been renovated. Notable fora summer storm while the choir was singing in the gallery and having to reposition buckets to catch the rain pouring throughthe roof. No missed entries noticed!

23 Feb 1985

Handel's Messiah with soloists Heather Harper, Alfreda Hodgson, Robert Tear & Willard White

On Handel's 300th Birthday - in aid of Save the Children Fund

7 Dec 1987

Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur Conducted by Maximiano Valdel with the English Chamber Orchestra. Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3

20 Dec 1988

'Joy to the World' in the Royal Albert Hall, staged/directed by Major (later Sir) Michael Parker. Performers included Cliff Richard. Edited highlights broadcast at Christmas on BBC TV

The Choir relinquished its date in the Royal Albert Hall to enable this charity 'spectacular', with a royal guest of honour,to be staged on the understanding that the choir was booked to perform each year. It was a regular booking and broadcast for the next 10 years.

19 Dec 1989

"Joy to the World". HM Queen's Christmas message was recorded during the evening, the first time that members of the public had heard her speech ahead of the Christmas Day broadcast.

26 Oct 1992

Performed in Earl's Court Arena amongst the 'massed choir' in HM The Queen's 40th Anniversary 'Q40' event staged/directed by Major (later Sir) Michael Parker. Highlights broadcast on BBC TV.

Performed in front of virtually the entire Royal Family, this wildly overrunning event crammed in a huge miscellany of highlights and notable personalities of the Queen's reign including Vera Lynn, Cliff Richard, Sir Roger Banister, the Coronation coach, cavalry, James Bond's Aston Martin (with 'Q' at the wheel) and children from across the Commonwealth.

27 Aug 1993

The Choir becomes a company limited by guarantee

Establishment of the choir as a company was a necessary step following the demise of ILEA and the local authority 'evening class' status under which we had previously operated, and to mitigate the significant individual financial risks posed by our own concert promotions. Records show that over 530 people have been members of the choir/company since that date.

April & May 1995

50th Anniversary of VE Day celebrated by the Choir withconcerts in St. Martin in the Fields, London and in Arnhem & Munster

July 1995

Participated in VJ Day 50th Anniversary 'Final Tribute', Horseguards' Parade, and outside Buckingham Palace, in the presence of HM The Queen and Prince Philip; choir and orchestra directed by Sir David Wilcox. Live BBC broadcast.

Another spectacular directed by Major Michael Parker. A memorable musical direction by Sir David to sing Jerusalem as unmusically as possible so that we didn't get out of time with the marching bands!

7 Dec 1995

Christmas Concert in St. James's Church, Piccadilly. Leon Lovett's 'Farewell Concert'

23 March 1996

Handel's Messiah in the Royal Naval College Chapel, Greenwich

David Dummond's 'debut' as Musical Director, following his appointment at the end of January.

25 Oct 1997

John Gardner's 80th Birthday concert in St. John's, Smith Square, attended by the composer.

May 1998

Cork International Choral Festival

The Choir's only participation in an international choral competition. Our ranking in the actual competition (coming above only Bosnia Herzegovina) was outshone by much merriment and singing each night with the other choirs in the artists' bar, where Oriana definitely won hands down. Perhaps Rodney Bennett's Men in Bowler Hats wasn't a wise choice for a jury from the Irish Republic!

20 Nov 1998

Press launch of the winter season at Disneyland Paris

One of the Choir's coldest engagements, a nighttime outdoor performance in Dickensian costume.

16 April 2000

Sainsbury's Choir of the Year Auditions Guildford

Some good feedback from the judges: "This is a very fine choir" (Gregory Rose) and "A most effective and powerful performance" (Ralph Allwood), but we didn’t progress further.

29 June 2000

From Bach to Bagpipes: 25 Years of Oriana. Concert included MacIlwam's Tam O'Shanter with bagpipe accompaniment!

18 Oct 2003

First performance for 60 years of Walford Davies' Everyman at St George's Harrow

The Choir subsequently performed this work at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in Feb 2004 and recorded it on the Dutton label -selected in Gramophone Magazine's top ten editor's choice in Feb 2005.

19 Nov 2006

Evensong at St Paul's Cathedral with American singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman

The first of a number of enjoyable collaborations with Beth Nielsen Chapman, through a connection with a member of the choir. A DVD of the service was released by her label.

Nov 2007

World premiere recording of Armstrong-Gibb's Odysseus with the BBC Concert Orchestra, released on the DuttonEpoch label

16 Nov 2008

World premiere performance of Adrian Snell's The Cry: a Requiem for the Lost Child in St Paul's Cathedral

Dec 2009

Carol singing for the charity Centrepoint at the Christmas tree in St Trafalgar's Square

The Choir has performed there for the charity most years since.

2010

A year of some spectacular outside enagagements:
- Sound and Vision for Save the Children at the world famous Abbey Rd Studios, with Beth Nielsen Chapmanand Robert Plant
- Star Wars at the O2 Arena
- Raisa Gorbachev Foundation's Russian Midsummer Gala at Stud House, Hampton Court
- BBC R2 Electric Prom with Robert Plant at the Roundhouse

Proving that the world of music and entertainment works through a series of seemingly random connections and conversations. The Choir provided background music at the Russian Midsummer Gala for a host of A-list celebrities. A memorable comment from Vanessa Redgrave "now that's what I call a real choir..!" One recently joined member of the choir found himself singing a solo only a few feet from the former President of the USSR.

8 March 2011

Beneath these Alien Stars: a Concert for International Womens Day

A concert featuring works solely by women composers. The concept was successfully repeated in 2013, and partly recorded by S4C TV for a feature on Grace Williams.

22 June 2012

Performed at TEDx Houses of Parliament, Banqueting House, Whitehall

The first of two invitations, thanks to a choir member connection, to perform at TEDx events organised by the Houses of Parliament Education Service on the theme of democracy.

13 July 2012

A summer celebration of John Gardner at St James' Piccadilly.

The concert celebrated the works of John Gardner who died in Dec 2011. After the concert, David Drummond was presented with John's original manuscript of his vocal score for the Shakespeare Sequence by his son Chris.

Nov 2012

Release of the CD Nativitie featuring arrangements of popular Christmas carols by David Drummond

1 and 3 June 2013

Performed in the finale of Barbra Live with Barbara Streisand at the O2 Arena

An unexpected email from the world's largest concert promoter Live Nation in Beverley Hills quickly leads to one of our most high profile, if short, performances to packed houses in the O2.

5 July 2013

A Choral Celebration at St John's Smith Square.

David Drummond's farewell concert, featuring a packed programme of his favourite works from 17 years as musical director of the Choir.

17 Oct 2013

British Choral Icons at St Martin in the Fields. Dominic Ellis-Peckham's inaugural concert as the Choir's 3rd Musical Director.

The directors received over 40 applications for the post of musical director, and were delighted to appoint Dominic in June, following interviews and choir auditions.

Oct 2013

Toby Young appointed as the Choir's first composer in residence

2 Nov 2013

Choir tour to Belfast

A number of firsts: our first visit to N Ireland, our first collaboration with youth choirs thanks to Dominic's connections there, and our first 'pop up' performance at a tourist venue (Titanic Museum) - now a frequent feature of our tours... 

14 Nov 2013

The Choir celebrates its 40th birthday at rehearsal with cakes and a Facebook post of the choir singing an arrangement of Happy Birthday.

14 March 2014

40th Anniversary Gala Concert at St Paul's Covent Garden, including the premiere of Toby Young's first work for the choir 'Love and Harmony'.

A number of former members joined us for this celebratory concert, with the London Mozart Players, and a gala reception at the ICA.  Christopher Biggins ( a participant in one of our 'Joy to the World' Christmas shows in the 1980s) hosted an auction and raffle raising £3000 for choir funds.

Oct 2014

'Die Fledermaus' at St John's Smith Square, with Opera Danube

Our first foray into opera for many years - a very enjoyable collaboration with Opera Danube and Orpheus Sinfonia for two performances of this classic operetta

5 July 2015

'Classic Quadrophenia' at the Royal Albert Hall, with Pete Townshend, Alfie Bowe, Billy Idol, Phil Daniels, and the RPO conducted by Robert Ziegler.

One of our tenors writes music for Pete; so when the project to make a symphonic reimagining of the classic 1970's rock opera came up - well there was only one choir to ask to record it and perform the world premiere to a packed Royal Albert Hall.

17 April 2016

The Choir launches five15 - a ground-breaking five year initiative to raise the profile of classical music written by women and encourage and develop the talents of women composers.

Cheryl Frances-Hoad is appointed as the launch composer-in-residence.

June 2017

Rebecca Dale is announced as the Choir's second five15 composer-in-residence, with her first work for the choir - Radiate - performed at the Cutty Sark, Greenwich in July.

June 2018

BAFTA Games Award-winning composer Jessica Curry is appointed as the Choir's third five15 Composer-in-Residence.

May 2019

Another cryptic email from California heralds an invitation from the Queen of Pop, Madonna, for a men's choir to perform with her at the Eurovision Song Contest Final in Tel Aviv.

The Choir reached out to friends in The Fourth Choir, Coro, Chantage and the Bach Choir for some of the 33 singers required for two weeks' intensive rehearsal in London and Tel Aviv .  The "Monks" contribution was well received on Twitter!

June 2019

At our five15 concert in Stationers' Hall, Anna Disley-Simpson is announced the winner of our young women composers competition to be our fourth five15 composer in residence.

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