About The Society
President: Roger Harvey OBE
Conductor and Artistic Director: John Pryce-Jones
Halifax Choral Society is proud to be one of the most eminent names of the UK choral tradition.
The Choir celebrated its Bicentenary Season in 2017-18 by performing a completely new full-scale oratorio, commissioned from composer Philip Wilby. The Holy Face tells the biblical story of the life of John the Baptist, who in great humility baptises the Messiah in the Jordan. John the Baptist is the patron saint of the town of Halifax whose name is said to mean holy face. Later in the same season the Choir re-enacted a period performance of the very first concert – Joseph Haydn’s The Creation – which at the time had been a still quite new composition.
When the idea of a permanent large choir was first suggested in 1817 by founder William Priestley (eminent Halifax musician, antiquary and literary gentleman wool-merchant) he could hardly have foreseen that the Halifax Choral Society would still be going strong into the Third Millennium. Nor could he have envisaged it surviving to become the world’s oldest amateur choral society with an unbroken record of performance.
Throughout the nineteenth century the choir played a prominent part in the musical and social life of Halifax, a growing mill town, contributing to the many civic and national celebrations which typified Imperial Britain. The twentieth century brought the choir the major challenges of keeping going through two world wars, and the challenges of the advent of radio, TV, the gramophone, and now the internet, CDs and DVDs, in their era all new avenues for the Choral Society to explore and use to reach new audiences.
Since its inception, the HCS has been associated with the highest order of music making. A list of conductors (by no means exhaustive) needs no further comment: Hans Richter; Sir Henry Wood, Malcolm Sargent; Owain Arwel Hughes; Stanford Robinson; Sir Charles Groves; Sir Hubert Parry; Sir George Dyson; Richard Hickox; Paul Daniel; Mark Elder. Nor is a representative list of soloists any the less impressive: Heddle Nash; Walter Widdup; Isobel Bailey; Webster Booth; Elsie Suddaby; Stiles Allen; Roy Henderson; Gladys Ripley; Robert Easton; Owen Brannigan; Janet Baker; Brian Rayner-Cook; Raymond Herricx; John Mitchinson; Jill Gormez; Robert Tear; John Shirley Quirk; Peter Pears; Sir Thomas Allen; Michael Chance.
Throughout its long history the Society has also worked with first class orchestras including the Hallé, Northern Philharmonic; CBSO; many of the BBC’s orchestras, the Hanover Band, the Orchestra of Opera North, the Manchester Concert Orchestra, the Northern Sinfonia and the North of England Concert Orchestra. The HCS has also enjoyed a close professional relationship with the world famous Black Dyke Band whose base is just up the road from Halifax.
John Pryce-Jones – a tribute
After more than thirty years as our inspirational Music Director John stepped down following his final appearance conducting the Choir on 13th October 2019 in Verdi’s Requiem.
John brought a unique flair and drive to the Choir, being a highly-experienced professional conductor with, at the same time, an unwavering commitment to aspirational amateur performance. John encouraged the choir to perform a diverse feast of great choral music – all the way from Bach to Verdi and modern composers too numerous to mention here. There have been ‘fun’ concerts at Christmas and summertime, collaborations with brass bands (notably Black Dyke) and with other choirs and choral societies. He has been with us every step of the way!
Besides his work with the Society, John in partnership with his wife Alison has been tireless in his efforts with youth music-making locally and across Yorkshire. This has included such projects as Future Heroes (in collaboration with Calderdale Community Foundation), Yorkshire Youth Choir, the Calderdale Primary Schools choir competition and Singing for Fun (mostly for children but also at one time for adults, too).
Read his retirement interview in the Yorkshire Post here
The Society notes with sadness that Dr Donald Hunt, our music director between 1957 and 1988, died in August 2018. Originally from Gloucester (where he began his life-long musical career as a Cathedral chorister) Donald Hunt moved to Leeds in 1957, making his debut as a conductor with Halifax Choral Society that year. He was renowned as a great choral musician, particularly in the Church of England tradition but was also a strong advocate of French music. In 1975 he returned to his West Country roots to take a post at Worcester Cathedral but continued conducting Halifax Choral Society’s performances until 1988. You can read more in the Church Times obituary here: https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2018/17-august/gazette/obituaries/obituary-dr-donald-hunt