Our History

Stratford-upon-Avon Choral Society was founded in 1836 so it is one of the oldest choral societies in the UK. We have met and performed continuously since then, apart from short interludes during wartime and the COVID pandemic.

Our historic base has always been in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, the church where William Shakespeare was baptised and is buried.  We still perform most of our concerts there, though we rehearse elsewhere.  We have also performed in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and in the Levi Fox Hall at King Edward's School.

We have been fortunate to have some great Music Directors to lead us over the years. Our current MD is Oliver Neal Parker, who joined us for the 2021/22 season. His predecessor, Stephen Dodsworth, did a great deal to advance the choir over his 31 years as our MD. He lead several overseas tours and raised the overall standard of our performances.

The choir sings a broad classical repertoire, from Bach and Monteverdi through to contemporary composers. The choir sang in the first performances of Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem", "The Beatitudes" by Sir Arthur Bliss, "This Airy Day" by James Walker, Howard Goodall's "Let Us Be True to One Another" and Stephen Dodsworth's "Time's Glory". ‚Äč

Some memorable recent performances include

  • Singing Handel's Messiah in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, as part of the opening of the new main theatre in 2010

  • Performing the UK premier of Joseph Touchemoulin's Messe Solonelle in 2013. We believe this was the first performance of this work anywhere since the 18th centuary. It was re-disovered in a library in Regensburg in Germany, the town where it was written, and a new printed edition was created and edited by our then Music Director, Stephen Dodsworth.

  • The Society commissioned "A Shakespeare Cantata" by Toby Young to celebtate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. We performed the world premiere of this new piece in our usual Holy Trinity Church performance venue in March 2016.

  • The Society's performance of Dvorak's Stabat Mater in March 2017 raised hairs on the back of the neck, a beautiful concert and widely praised.

  • Our performance of Carmina Burana in March 2018 was loud and boisterous. We performed in the Levi Fox Hall as the church was not large enough for the choir along with a big orchestra and children's choir, as well as a large audience.

  • Our Spring concert in March 2022 was our tribute to the 150th anniversary of the birth of British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, and the second half featured his anti-war piece Dona Nobis Pacem, which we dedicated to the support of Ukraine. IT was a memorable evening which filled the church and raised over £1,500 in the retiring collection for the Ukraine fund.

A full history of the Choral Society was written by Diana Brownhill to commemorate our 150th anniversary - "An Illustrated History of Stratford-upon-Avon Choral Society. A Celebration of the first 150 years 1836-1986" by Diana M. Brownhill, ISBN 0951110403. The book is packed with pictures, programmes, facts and anecdotes and give a wonderful view of Stratford, the Choral Society and all related matters over the period. The book is out of print now, but is available on the Web and through book-sellers. Many members of the present choir have copies of it and of course there is a copy in the society's library.
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