Cheltenham Bach Choir returns to Tewkewsbury Abbey

Cheltenham Bach Choir (photo: Glenn Parker)

Cheltenham Bach Choir (photo: Glenn Parker) - Credit: Glenn Parker

Cheltenham Bach Choir is returning to the magnificent surroundings of Tewkesbury Abbey this month for what’s sure to be a moving performance of Rachmaninov’s Vespers

Founded in 1946, the Cheltenham Bach Choir is recognised as one of the foremost choral societies in the South West of England.

With over 100 auditioned singing members, the choir's repertoire of choral works spans six centuries, and they perform in major concert venues in Cheltenham, as well as further afield in Gloucester, Tewkesbury and Cirencester.

We caught up with membership secretary - and low bass - Andrew Gummer to find out more…

How long have you been with the choir, Andrew, and what is your role?

I'm one of the longest-serving members, having been with the choir since 1983. I'd just finished university where I'd been singing, and I think I saw a leaflet and was lucky enough to be accepted. My position within the choir is low bass, which you wouldn't necessarily think from my speaking voice, and really comes into its own first thing in the morning or after a heavy night!

How many performances do you do in a year, and how are the pieces chosen?

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We do three concerts plus a Christmas event. This year's festive concert (December 21) features Flowers Brass Band, one of the best in the country, so it's sure to be a fun and informal event. The summer concert (June 26) is usually quite light and is generally held in Pittville Pump Room. We tend to have two more heavyweight performances in the year, so our November concert at Cheltenham Town Hall is Mozart Mass in C.

The Messiah in December at Cheltenham Town Hall was an incredible experience. That's got to be up there with your best performances, surely… what have been some of the other highlights?

For me, as we're the Cheltenham Bach Choir, Bach has to be the number one composer. St Matthew Passion and St John Passion are two of the greatest works, and we've performed both of those in the last few years. As well as the Cheltenham venues - the Town Hall and Pittville Pump Room - we've also played in some wonderful places, such as Gloucester Cathedral, Tewkesbury Abbey and the Parish Church in Cirencester.

I loved that, during the interval, members of the choir mingled with the audience in the bar, and even thanked and waved us off as we left. Is it important to have that sort of connection with the audience?

Yes, I do. It's not something that we've always done, but I think it ends the night on the right note. We are trying to avoid being too stiff and formal, and since our music director David Crown joined us about four or five years ago, we've had a lot more younger singers coming along to join us, which is a wonderful thing to see.

March sees the choir at Tewkesbury Abbey for Rachmaninov's Vespers, which should be deeply moving…

Rachmanivov wrote the piece in 1915, about two years before the Russian Revolution, when there was a brief high point of Russian Orthodox Church music. As it's Vespers, it's well suited to a night time performance.

My position within the choir is low bass, which is perfect for this concert as it was written for really, really low Russian voices. There are bottom B flats in this piece, which is beyond what you might call the normal human vocal range by a tone or two.

Oh, and don't be misled by the 'All Night Vigil' tag; that's just what Vespers has become known as colloquially. The concert will last around 90 minutes so there's plenty of time for the last bus home!

March Vespers

Cheltenham Bach Choir

Rachmaninov Vespers (All Night Vigil)

Saturday, March 28, 7.30pm

Tickets £20 adults; £8 children/students

Tewkesbury Abbey,

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