Celebrating Parry

21 – 25 November 2018


Wednesday 21 November 2018

Merton College


6.15 pm: Evensong, Merton College Chapel
7.30 pm: 'Parry’s Choral Odyssey'


Lecture by Jeremy Dibble, Professor of Musicology, University of Durham

T S Eliot Lecture Theatre, Merton College



Thursday 22 November 2018

Merton college


1.15 pm: Organ Recital: 'Music by Parry & Friends'

Organ: Benjamin Nicholas


6.15 pm Evensong



Friday 23 November 2018

St John the Evangelist Church, Iffley Road, Oxford


Parry: 'Songs of Farewell'


Oxford Bach Choir


Benjamin Nicholas Conductor

Stephen Clarke Organ

Athena Hawksley -Walker Violin

Tom Herring Baritone

Francesca Millar Soprano


Music by Parry, Elgar, Stanford, Ireland, Dove and Vaughan Williams

Hubert Parry



The Oxford Bach Choir and Merton College combine to mark the 100th anniversary of Hubert Parry’s death with a festival of evensongs, recitals, talks and concerts celebrating the music of Parry and friends.




2018 - 2019 Concert Season


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Friday 23 November 2018, 7.30 – 9.30 pm

St John the Evangelist, Iffley Road, Oxford




Sunday 25 November 2018, 3.00 pm

St Helen’s Church Abingdon, OX14 5BS


Music by Parry, Stanford, John Ireland, Vaughan Williams and Jonathan Dove marking both the centenary of the Armistice and the death of Hubert Parry, who had a close association with the Choir over many years.



Saturday 15 December 2018
Sheldonian Theatre


A programme of seasonal music for all the family. The choir will be joined by singers and instrumentalists from the Oxfordshire County Music Service.



Sunday 10 March 2019, 5.00 -7.30 pm
Sheldonian Theatre


Mozart’s motet, Ave verum Corpus, and his great Requiem. The programme also includes JS Bach's Trauer-Ode, a magnificent and heartfelt elegy written on the death of a much-loved Saxon queen.



Saturday 11 May 2019
“Feel the Spirit!”
Come & Sing Workshop with Brian Kay
St John the Evangelist, Iffley Road, Oxford
A jazz themed workshop focussing on John Rutter's “Feel the Spirit” and George Shearing's “Songs and Sonnets”.



Saturday 8 June 2019
Sheldonian Theatre


Handel: Athalia
The Sheldonian Theatre was opened in 1669, 350 years ago, and the OBC celebrates this anniversary with one of the greatest pieces premiered there, Handel's oratorio Athalia.


Benjamin Nicholas appointed as Principal Conductor


The Oxford Bach Choir is delighted to announce that it has appointed Benjamin Nicholas, Director of Music, Merton College, Oxford as their Principal Conductor with effect from October 2018.


Ben has worked with the choir several times in the past, most recently last term when he rehearsed and conducted them in an exhilarating performance of Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.


Peter Gilliver, Chairman of the Oxford Bach Choir said, “I'm delighted that the Oxford Bach Choir has appointed Ben Nicholas as its new Principal Conductor. He is a fantastic musician, who brings both passion and expertise to the music he conducts; the Choir already has first-hand experience of what an enormous pleasure he is to work with, and the marvellous music-making that he can produce with us.”


Of his appointment, Benjamin says “I am thrilled to have been appointed Principal Conductor of the Oxford Bach Choir. I enjoyed working with them last year and look forward to my appointment starting in the autumn. I have long been aware of the important role the choir plays in Oxford's musical life and it is very exciting to be part of the choir's future.”


Benjamin was a chorister in the Choir of Norwich Cathedral before holding organ scholarships at Lincoln College, Oxford and St Paul's Cathedral. As an undergraduate he was Conductor of The Oxford Chamber Choir, and in 2000 held the post of Director of Music of St Luke's Church, Chelsea.


At the age of twenty-three he became Director of the choir of men and boys at Tewkesbury Abbey where he remained until 2012. From 2011-2016 he served the Edington Music Festival, firstly as conductor of the Schola and then as Festival Director.


As Director of Music of Merton College, Oxford, Ben's work with the choir has been acclaimed through recordings on the Delphian label and broadcasts on the BBC, the most recent of which was a broadcast on Radio 3 from St Peter’s Basilica, The Vatican.


He has directed the choir on tour in the USA, Sweden, Italy and France, and in world premieres of music by Birtwistle, Chilcott, Dove, Jackson, MacMillan, Tabakova and Weir. As an organist, he has appeared with The Tallis Scholars, and his most recent recording, of Elgar’s organ works, was described by The Sunday Times as ‘a musical achievement… captivating”.


Benjamin Nicholas




Benjamin Nicholas brings considerable experience to this new role, having worked with numerous choirs and orchestras including the City of London Sinfonia, BBC Singers, Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra, CBSO, The Trondheim Soloists and The Holst Singers in works such as Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, Verdi’s Requiem, Holst’s Savitri and Berlioz’s Te Deum.



To read more about Ben please visit his website:



2018 Concerts with Gloucester Choral Society

by invitation


We are delighted to have been invited by Gloucester Choral Society to join them in the performance of two concerts in May 2018 as part of the Parry and his Pupils Festival, to mark the centenary of Parry’s death in 1918.


Parry was born and raised in Gloucester and was, at the time of his death, President of Gloucester Choral Society. Both performances are with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Adrian Partington.


Dates & Tickets


5 May

Gloucester Cathedral



10 May

The Royal Festival Hall


The concerts feature Parry’s I was glad, originally written for the coronation of King Edward VII, Ode on the Nativity and Jerusalem, but also celebrate Parry’s legacy through the works of two other great British composers: the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Parry’s former pupil, Vaughan Williams and (only in the Royal Festival Hall concert) Elgar's Cello Concerto, who learnt much of his craft from studying articles Parry wrote for Grove’s Dictionary of Music. The Gloucester concert also includes another work by one of Parry’s former pupils - Holst’s Hymn of Jesus.


But, you might ask, what connection has OBC with GCS or Parry, apart from the fact that many of us have friends in both choirs? Well, GCS’s conductor, Adrian Partington, who is Director of Music at Gloucester Cathedral, has not only been conductor of GCS for almost 10 years, but he has had a long association with OBC for even longer. Over 25 years, he has been both accompanist at rehearsals, played the piano or organ at concerts and events, and was also our Associate Conductor before taking the post at Gloucester Cathedral.


Oxford Bach Choir certainly had a number of connections with Parry during his lifetime. In 1948, we commemorated the centenary of Parry's birth as follows:

In our March 1948 concert we performed; Job, Blest Pair of Sirens and Jerusalem

  • In May 1948 we gave the world premiere of Vaughan Williams’ Prayer to the Father of Heaven, written especially in Parry's memory for the occasion. In addition, the "Cantata Section" of the choir performed some of Parry's shorter choral works, at a concert in Exeter College Chapel.
  • We have also sung Blest Pair of Sirens and the Songs of Farewell a number of times since the 1940s.

With all these connections, we are all looking forward immensely to this collaboration, and we hope that this will be the start of many future joint projects.


Hubert Parry and Oxford Bach Choir



Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry was Professor of Music at Oxford from 1899-1908.



Oxford Bach Choir collaborated with him on several occasions:


  • February 1905, Parry conducted Oxford Bach Choir in a performance of Blest Pair of Sirens.

  • December 1908, the choir took part in a performance of Parry's The Glories of our Blood and State and Job

  • June 1917, Oxford Bach Choir gave the world premiere of one of the Songs of Farewell; "Lord, let me know mine end" in the presence of Parry, conducted by our then conductor, Hugh Allen

  • 1919, Oxford Bach Choir took part in the first performance of the complete cycle of Parry’s Songs of Farewell.


November 2016


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Jonathan Dove

For An Unknown Soldier; An Airmail Letter from Mozart


Oxford Bach Choir took part in the recording of “For an Unknown Soldier” (see our news item of 13 September 2015). We are delighted to announce that the recording has now been released (as of 4 November 2016) on Signum Records and has already been featured on Radio 3.



Buy the CD via Easyfundraising and support OBC


Easyfundraising: Oxford Bach Choir







June 2016


The 2015-2016 season was one of change, as we reluctantly said goodbye to both our Principal Conductor, Nicholas Cleobury and our Associate Conductor, Tim Byram-Wigfield.


After almost 18 years as our Principal Conductor, Nicholas left to take up the appointment of Head of Opera at the Queensland Conservatorium in Brisbane. He is an experienced choral, orchestral and opera conductor, having conducted widely in Europe, USA and beyond. The choir benefited greatly from his experience and performed a wide range of music from the classics of Bach, Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Britten to the contemporary music of such as David Matthews, Nicholas Maw and Jonathan Dove.


Tim has left to concentrate on his post at All Saints, Margaret Street, London, and his freelance career as examiner with the Royal College of Organists, pianist, singer, composer and choral arranger. Tim was Associate Conductor for eight years and presented diverse programmes such as Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Jerome Kern’s “Showboat”.


We were delighted that Paul Brough accepted our invitation to be our guest conductor for our performance of Verdi’s Requiem in March 2016 at Oxford Town Hall. This was an exhilarating performance with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and soloists Sally Silver, Kate Allen, Luis Gomes and Thomas Faulkner. Paul teaches conducting at the Royal Academy of Music and is Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Singers as well as conducting many orchestras across the UK, and we spent a very happy term becoming reacquainted with the Verdi.


7 November 2015


SPEM IN ALIUM    Come & Sing workshop


Oxford Bach Choir was delighted to welcome back our former Associate Conductor, Adrian Partington, to conduct our latest Come & Sing workshop.  He had conducted  ‘Spem in alium’ workshops with his choirs in Bristol and Gloucester most successfully.  We in Oxford  had been keen to run this workshop for some time, not only as a fund raiser, but also as a good excuse to network with our fellow singers, and when we were able to get the conductors, a date and the venue organised, there was no stopping us!

‘Spem in alium’ is a 40-part motet composed by Thomas Tallis, in around 1570, for eight choirs of five voices each.  It is considered by some to be the finest piece of early English music.  There are several schools of thought as to why this was composed, but whatever the reason, it has given us a wonderful, challenging work.

Despite atrocious weather, around 250 singers arrived (from London, North Yorkshire, Guernsey, Southampton, various other parts of the UK and beyond!). The singers had previously been divided into the eight choirs and into each of the five parts.  Sorting out the singers so that the choirs were all well balanced with experienced and not-so experienced singers evenly spread through the ensemble, proved a mammoth task!  However, it seemed to work!  All the music had been sent out in advance so that singers had a chance to do some initial practice, which seemed to help.  The notes themselves are not difficult, but singing together with all the other parts, in all the other choirs means an awful lot of counting and concentration.

We started discussing ‘Spem in alium’ with Adrian well over a year before the event took place, and then managed to acquire the splendid services of Deborah Miles-Johnson, Ben Nicholas and Tom Hammond-Davies to assist with the rehearsals – all most accomplished conductors in their own right.  After we all had an initial warm-up with Deborah, the rest of the morning was spent with pairs of choirs rehearsing with their respective conductors in nooks and crannies of the venue.  After lunch, everyone came together for a  warm up and rehearsal of Tallis’ “O Nata Lux” and ‘Spem in alium’ – we then sang them both twice to a small, but appreciative audience.

The feedback for this event has been extremely positive for the conductors, the singing, the organisation and especially for the cake provided in the tea break. Here are a few samples of comments we received:


'Change nothing – it was fab!'

'Very enjoyable'

'I thought the organisation was thoroughly professional and extremely friendly – exceptional.'

'Congratulations on amazing organisation – and great cakes!'

'I had never had the chance to sing the Tallis before, so a very special occasion.'



 Now, what shall we do next? More cake anyone...?

Adrian Partington conducts Spem in alium in Oxford
Come and Sing with Oxford Bach Choir conducted by Adrian Partnington - Spem in Alium
Come and Sing in Oxford with ~OBC and Adrian Partington


13 September 2015


Oxford Bach Choir took part in the recording of Jonathan Dove’s 'For an Unknown Soldier'.


Oxford Bach Choir were delighted to take part in the recording of For an Unknown Soldier, a powerful new work by Jonathan Dove commemorating the outbreak of World War 1.  This was commissioned by Portsmouth Grammar School (PGS) and the London Mozart Players (LMP).  The first two performances took place on their respective home grounds (Portsmouth and Croydon) in November 2014 and the third was performed in Oxford by OBC in March 2015 with the LMP and a children’s choir  from Oxfordshire Schools – all conducted by OBC’s Principal Conductor, Nicholas Cleobury.  When it was mooted that this work should be recorded, it was met with great enthusiasm, as we all felt that it was an important work which should be made available to a much wider audience on CD, download and any other recorded medium.


The original plan was to Crowd fund via Kickstarter, but sadly this route did not reach the target by the specified date, and a feeling of gloom pervaded all to think that this recording would never happen.  However, as if by magic, a substantial amount of funding was procured from various sources, and the recording session was once again on.

Roderick Williams soloist and composer


Because of the high costs of hiring recording studios and recording engineers, the work had to be done on one day, in two long sessions, which happened on Sunday 13 September.  After an early start by OBC members from Oxford, and the Portsmouth Choir from the south coast, we all met up ready to record, together with soloist Nicky Spence, in the depths of Blackheath.  The children’s choir who had sung in the Croydon performance had an easier time, with a short journey and not being required until after lunch!  Being involved with the exacting standards of the recording team, hearing the orchestra rehearsing their sections and listening to one another in the various parts of the work, made it feel very real, and we felt we were in the trenches, or sitting at home worrying about the men folk at the front.  The powerful, if upsetting, words set by Jonathan seemed to become even more real than in the concert.  After nearly eight hours of recording Jonathan Dove seemed pleased, as did the recording team.


It was a privilege to work with Jonathan, and an experience for many to be involved in a recording session who had not done so before.  An early start is tiring enough, but singing for several hours ensured that there was a lot of snoozing on the coach on the way home!


July 2015


Another fabulous Vice President for Oxford Bach Choir

Roderick Williams


Hot on the heels of James Gilchrist, we are all absolutely delighted that Roderick Williams has also recently kindly agreed to become associated with the Choir as one of our Vice Presidents.


Roderick is much sought after as a soloist and composer. He is busy singing around the world, and encompasses a wide repertoire from baroque to contemporary music, in the opera house, on the concert platform and in recital. As a composer, he has had works premiered at the Wigmore and Barbican Halls, the Purcell Room and live on national radio.


He has agreed to sing with the Choir during the 2016-2017 season, so watch this space for further news in due course.


Roderick Williams soloist and composer


16 May 2015


Mahler Resurrection Symphony No. 2

Oxford Bach Choir and Merton College Choir



Members of the Oxford Bach choir were once again delighted to have been invited by Benjamin Nicholas, Director of Music at Merton College, to join Merton College Choir and the Kodaly Choir for a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No 2 “The Resurrection”. David Briggs (Artist in Residence at St James Cathedral, Toronto, and Organist Emeritus of Gloucester Cathedral) played his own organ transcription of the Mahler in the glorious acoustic of Merton College Chapel, on the chapel’s new Dobson organ. This was indeed a different performance from Mahler’s original, but it was much appreciated by the audience and choir alike. The choral movement was conducted by Benjamin Nicholas, with soloists Rachel Bowden (soprano) and Grace Durham (mezzo), and provided a spectacular end to this concert, which showed David Briggs’s great virtuosity.


The Oxford Bach Choir values the association with Merton College Choir and the Kodaly Choir, and there are plans for future collaborations.


Dobson Pipe Organ.  Merton College Oxford


James Gilchrist

Vice President appointment and a fundraising recital


Earlier in 2015 the choir was delighted to announce that James Gilchrist became one of our Vice Presidents.


James’ extensive concert repertoire has seen him perform in major concert halls throughout the world, and we were thrilled that James, and his accompanist Anna Tilbrook, kindly agreed to perform at St John the Evangelist Church, Iffley Road, in support of the Choir in September.


There was a varied programme of lieder including Schumann, Lizst and Poulenc, and a selection of English song to include Vaughan Williams and Gurney.



James Gilchrist vice president of Oxford Bach Choir



Events in 2014


Flanders 2014


Our little ‘Three Choirs Festival’


After the summer concert, around 20 members started rehearsing, under the baton of Tom Hammond-Davies (Director of Music at St Michael at the North Gate, Oxford), for a series of joint concerts with two choirs from Belgium, the Lepers Kamerkoor and Music Nova from Boom near Antwerpen. In the first concert, on 5 July in the University Church in the High Street, the OBC group sang three of Parry’s Songs of Farewell and the Belgian choirs performed Duruflé’s Requiem and Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna.


After a few further rehearsals in September, the OBC contingent set off for Belgium, where the three choirs performed the whole programme together, firstly in Saint Michielskerk in Antwerpen on 20 September and then in Leper (Ypres) Cathedral the following afternoon, the latter being an exceptionally appropriate venue for a concert with a remembrance theme, as the town had been virtually razed to the ground in the First World War. In the Belgium programme, the music was interspersed with readings from Kipling, Owen, Remarque and Feis, giving a sober reflection on the realities of armed conflict.


For all who took part, these were very memorable events and we are grateful to Tom Hammond-Davies for directing us so ably and for accompanying us to Belgium, to James Brown, organist at The University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, who played in all three concerts, and to our Treasurer for organizing the joint venture.



Martin Peters

1949 - 2014


It is with deep sadness that OBC reports the death of Martin Peters, its Artistic Administrator, after a long battle with cancer. He will be sorely missed, not only by members of the Choir, but by the whole of Oxford’s classical music world, in which he was heavily involved.


As well as with OBC, he worked with Music at Oxford and the Oxford Lieder Festival, and also forged a special relationship with the orchestras and soloists with whom we all worked. Many of OBC’s achievements over the past few years could not have taken place without him.


It was a measure of the great love and affection that so many felt for Martin - from all parts of his life including his time in teaching and his life in music - that his funeral at Christ Church on 3 May, was absolutely full. The amazing service had been planned by Martin down to the last detail – which was absolutely typical of his methodical organisation!


He had a zest for life and we will miss him, his marshalling skills at concerts and his organisation but, most definitely, his outrageous sense of humour!




Oxford Bach Choir and Merton College


During 2014, Merton College is celebrating its 750th anniversary. One of the events to mark this occasion was a performance of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius in the Sheldonian Theatre on Saturday 1 March 2014. Merton College’s Director of Music, Benjamin Nicholas, invited the Oxford Bach Choir to join the Choir of Merton College and the Kodaly Choir to sing at this prestigious event. The Oxford Philomusica, under the baton of Benjamin Nicholas, and an exceptional team of soloists, including Sarah Connolly, made the event a special concert to remember. We felt very privileged to collaborate with Merton College Choir on such an occasion and we hope that this venture will be the first of many collaborations.




Events in 2013


OBC on BBC Radio 3


On Sunday 27 January 2013 the Oxford Bach Choir could be heard on BBC Radio 3 in a recording of a concert given in the Sheldonian Theatre in December 2012 with the English Chamber Orchestra. This concert launched the Britten in Oxford season - a festival to mark the centenary of the composer's birth - and featured the rarely-heard Ballad of Heroes, composed to commemorate the British soldiers who had fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, and The Building of the House, written to mark the opening of the new Snape Maltings concert hall in Aldeburgh in 1967.


The concert also included the world premiere of two psalm settings written by Britten as a student but which had remained unperformed.


Passion tide at St George's, Windsor


In March this year, OBC was invited to take part in a concert of Passion tide music in the beautiful setting of St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. For this we were privileged to join the Choir of St George's in a concert which included Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem and Rheinberger's Cantus Missae, conducted by Tim Byram-Wigfield, OBC's Associate Conductor, who was also until recently Director of Music at St George's.


Organ Recital at Keble


In May, OBC members, friends and other audience members were treated to a concert given by Timothy Byram-Wigfield on the new Kenneth Tickell organ in Keble College Chapel, Oxford. The programme was diverse, and included music by Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn and Copeland, interspersed with Bach musical "sorbets". We are very grateful to Tim for generously giving this recital in aid of Choir funds.




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