St Albans Bach Choir

Next concert: Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem), Strauss Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs) - Saturday 18th November

Michael Papadopoulos - a familiar face returns!

Michael apadopoulos.jpg

For our Carol Concerts this year it was a great pleasure to welcome back our former accompanist, Michael Papadopoulos on the organ. Apart from accompanying some of the carols, he showed off the full power and range of the organ with the Toccata-prelude 'Vom Himmel hoch' by Edmundson.

From my place in the front row of the tenors, his became a very familiar face during rehearsals and I not infrequently I found myself catching his friendly eye over the top of the piano. So I managed to button-hole him between the concerts and grabbed a brief interview.

It's great to have you back, Michael. As an introduction, could you tell us a little about your background before you came to St Albans?

I wasn't a chorister or anything, I kinda fell into church music when I was at school, and I ended up playing the organ for the chapel choir at my school in the 6th form. After that I got an organ scholarship to Oxford (Trinity College) and there I took lessons and did more music. After that I came here as Organ Scholar.

What was your role, exactly, here at St Albans?

I was the Organ Scholar from 2013 - 2015. I was the accompanist of the girls' choir, playing two evensongs a week for them, and I also played one evensong a week for the boys. I accompanied the Parish Singers during the 9am Sunday Eucharist, made booklets for big services, assisted Tom [Tom Winpenny - Assistant Master of the Music], and did various other things, as well as being the accompanist for the Bach Choir.

So how did you enjoy it?

I loved it! Both because I got on with both Tom and Andrew [Andrew Lucas - Master of the Music] really well, which made a huge difference and also because the instrument is such a joy to play on - so colourful but also incredibly exciting. The level of training I received is also something I am immensely grateful for, and which has stood me in very good stead since.

Accompanying the Bach Choir, I think you had to transpose at sight for something we did, didn't you?

Not quite at sight, as I had practiced the music in advance, but yes we did two things down a semitone, the St Matthew Passion and the Christmas Oratorio. As an organist, you’re trained to be able to transpose at sight, but with Bach it’s never straightforward!

Was there anything particularly memorable about your time accompanying the Bach Choir?

One Christmas I had bought a toy megaphone for Andrew. The next Bach Choir rehearsal he brought it with him and at the first opportunity, when I hadn’t quite heard one of his instructions, he took it out and repeated it loudly on this ridiculous, but quite effective, toy. I think everyone enjoyed that…

So what is your most enduring memory of your time here in St Albans?

There are quite a few things that are stuck in my mind. The concerts I did with the Bach Choir when I was playing continuo were quite special - doing my first St Matthew Passion, my first Christmas Oratorio - that kind of thing is fantastic. I did a CD here with the girls' choir, which was really fun. We did loads of big services - seeing this massive nave full, kind of inspires you.

Finally, what are you doing now, having left the Abbey, and what are your plans for the future?

Immediately after the Abbey I went to Clare College Cambridge as their assistant organist for a year, and at the same time I was appointed Assistant Director of Music at St Paul's  Church in Knightsbridge where I am still today - that's a Sunday morning and they have quite a busy music schedule outside of that as well. During the week I'm an opera répétiteur. I did a year's training at Guildhall before becoming a Conducting Fellow in their opera department. My last project with them is as assistant conductor for Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, and I'm working with Opera Holland Park this Summer as a Young Artist. Playing for the Bach Choir, having to support so many singers, was very good training for me in terms of being an accompanist for opera singers and having to produce an orchestral body of sound from the piano.

Thank you Michael, and it's been great talking to you. Let me just finish by wishing you every success in the future!

Interviewer: Philip Le Riche
(Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect an official St Albans Bach Choir view.)

This is getting to be a habit!

 Pic from Mary-Jess tweet

Pic from Mary-Jess tweet

One of the (many) great things about being a member of St Albans Bach Choir is that you get the opportunity to perform in some truly wonderful, world class venues (see our Venues page). And yesterday, a bunch of us were back at the Royal Albert Hall. Twice, we've been invited to take part in John Rutter's hugely popular Christmas concerts there, and this was the second time for which we were taking part in the BBC Songs of Praise Big Sing.

We'd had a rehearsal in St Albans last week with the musical director Paul Leddington Wright and yesterday we joined with members of the Adventist Vocal Ensemble, Coventry Cathedral Chorus, Guildford Choral Society and Wimbledon Choral Society to form a choir of around 200.


Most of us took a packed mid-morning train to London then converged on the Albert Hall by one or two different routes, for doors opening at 12.30. None too soon as it was beginning to drizzle as we waited outside, with a blustery wind that reminded us that Summer was definitely behind us.

We were led to our dressing rooms, into what always seems like the bowels of the earth. According to the timetable we'd been given, it looked like we'd have the better part of an hour to eat packed lunches and maybe relax briefly with a coffee in the artist's bar. In fact, I didn't even get to the bar before the very efficient stewards started rounding us up like sheep and lining us up to go onto stage, strictly in seating order.


Once on stage we had plenty of time to relax, take in the immensity of the place and the multitude of lighting effects, microphones and cameras, though still without coffee. In fact we were under strict orders not to take anything spillable onto the stage with us. No doubt the reason for that was the mass of electrics, and I wondered how many miles of wiring went into the event, and rolls of sticky tape went into securely taping it down.

Eventually we got started, and there followed a full 3 hour rehearsal, on camera. But even in that time we didn't manage to cover everything. With the full orchestra we were able to appreciate for the first time the power of the music we were to sing and its settings and arrangements.

We had a break of (on paper) an hour and a quarter, during which we were supplied with a welcome and much appreciated bag containing a sandwich, a bag of crisps, an apple, a carton of juice and a Kit-kat. But I had not long finished mine when we were told that we would soon have to line up again to go back on stage. I quickly made my way to the artist's bar and joined a queue for coffee. Unfortunately the urn had already run out but I found a sachet of coffee granules and added hot water and almost the last of the milk. Not everyone was so lucky.

 Pic by Alessandro Pelosi

Pic by Alessandro Pelosi

Next came three recording sessions, with Aled Jones as compère and with several famous soloists (though I'm ashamed to say, unfamiliar to me): Katherine Jenkins (@KathJenkins), Mary-Jess (@MaryJessMusic), JB Gill (@JBGill), Shane Filan (@ShaneFilan) and boys vocal group Libera (@OfficialLibera), not to mention a capacity audience of 5,000.

For the second 90 minute session we were asked to transport ourselves into Christmas mood, which both performers and audience did with a will, adding festive additions to our attire to taste. I had a self-sealing polythene bag with me containing a length of tinsel which I use on such occasions, but it left an impressive trail of lametta behind me as I took it out on my way back from the dressing room during the break. Nevertheless, it served its purpose, together with my red bow tie. (Mental note made to save myself a new piece of tinsel when Christmas comes according to the calendar.)

There followed another brief pause, barely long enough to put my tinsel away (yet more glitter shed) and remove my red bow tie, but not quite long enough to find the clip under my chin on my black one. To finish the evening with the last of our remaining stamina, we recorded four more hymns for a Hymn-writers' Hymns edition of Songs of Praise to be broadcast at an unknown date. I managed to secure my bow tie for the last three.

Exhausted but happy, the time came for us to wend our weary ways home. After removing the last itchy bit of glitter from my collar, I flopped into bed and fell almost instantly asleep.

Catch us on Songs of Praise on the 24th and 31st December.

Philip Le Riche
(Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect an official St Albans Bach Choir view.)

A truly memorable season!

 Laurence Cummings, soloists, choir and orchestra acknowledge enthusiastic applause for a very memorable Messiah.

Laurence Cummings, soloists, choir and orchestra acknowledge enthusiastic applause for a very memorable Messiah.

Well, that was certainly a season to remember.

Even before we started in earnest, last September around 50 of us joined with several other choirs for a BBC recording of the Big Sing in the Albert Hall.

Thoroughly enjoyable but exhausting, we were there from 12.30 until 9.30 in the evening, during which we rehearsed, then went into two recording sessions. One was for a programme broadcast a month or so later in October, and for the other, we had to transport ourselves into Christmas mood for a programme which was broadcast on Christmas Day. The evening closed with a re-take of "For unto us" from the Messiah.

Our November concert consisted of the Bach Magnificat and the Mozart Requiem. Bach is always a sheer joy to sing. The energy of the Magnificat is quite incredible and requires a lot of vocal agility in several movements, but one of my favourite movements was the Gloria Patri. Block chords alternate and contrast with triplets which build and entwine amongst the 5 parts into a truly glorious sound!

For me, and probably a good few other choir members, the Mozart Requiem brought back many vivid memories of our first foreign tour, when we performed it in the Rudolfinum in Prague in 2008. From the brooding intensity of the opening to the searing emotion of the Lacrymosa this is always a uniquely moving work to sing.

I was reminded of a conversation I had with one of the altos during that tour, whose close friend's son had very recently been killed, only a week or so into his deployment to Afghanistan. That made it an incredibly poignant work to be performing.

Fantastic though the Autumn concert was, we had a rare treat in store for us in the Spring term, in the Dvořák Stabat Mater. Few if any of us had heard it before, but what a revelation! Exploring the thoughts and emotions of Mary as she stood watching her Son die an excruciating death on the cross, and set to music of remarkable intensity, we were unable to imagine how such a gem of a work had lain dormant for so long - the choir last performed it in 1938!

Such a little known work attracted a smaller than normal audience, but Andrew led us through an intense performance that will live in our memories for a long time, as also in the memories of the audience.

Of course, we all love the Messiah and most of us had sung it a number of times before. But our Summer concert, as part of the International Organ Festival turned out to be anything but "just another Messiah". We were to perform it under the baton of Laurence Cummings, Musical Director of the London Handel Festival and a leading baroque exponent, and with the London Handel Festival Orchestra and superb soloists.

Laurence had sent us some 50 pages of markings to add to our scores, which included some remarkably brisk metronome marks that surprised many of us.

But when Laurence joined us for rehearsal a week before the concert, suddenly it all made sense under his wonderfully insightful direction. The sheer energy of the performance was electrifying and was met by rapturous applause from the audience.

In "All we like sheep" it was as though the sheep were scuttling in all directions like ants on a hot tin roof, yet the concluding Adagio to that movement was heart-rending in its pathos and intensity. A similar contrast came out in reverse in "Since by man came death", with every eye needing to watch the baton like a hawk in the contrasting allegro sections. When it came to the Hallelujah Chorus we threw everything we had at it and a bit more, and the finality of the "Amen" on the closing page of the work felt like it could have settled the disputes of the entire world!

That will indeed be a hard season to follow, but a good bunch of us look forward to starting the new season with another Big Sing in the Albert Hall before getting down to work on the Brahms Requiem - yet another favourite.

Philip Le Riche
(Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect an official St Albans Bach Choir view.)

Starting a new blog...

 Gideon Nissen

Gideon Nissen

Thank you for finding our choir website! Whether you came to one of our concerts, or heard about us somehow, or perhaps you were looking for a choir in the area and got here via a web search, you are most welcome.

This blog will keep you up to date with what is going on with the choir 2 or 3 times a term - maybe an insider's view of rehearsals or of a recent concert, maybe a profile of a choir member, or perhaps something of more general interest about music or musicians.

Alternatively, you can follow us on Twitter (@StABachChoir) or copy this RSS feed into your feed reader to be notified of new entries:

See you soon!

Gideon Nissen