Short History of Bromley Philharmonic Choir

For over 70 years, Bromley Philharmonic Choir has been entertaining audiences in the Bromley area and beyond. This is our story...
(Page last updated 24th September 2023)
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The Choir at 60
The Choir at their 60th Anniversary,
July 2010

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Bromley Philharmonic Choir began over 70 years ago in 1949 under the leadership of the late Audrey Langford as the Choir of Chislehurst Road and Bromley Technical Institutes. The Choir’s debut was at the Croydon Music Festival on November 21st 1949, where it won first prize. During the 1950s, the Choir went from strength to strength, performing in many prestigious venues such as the Wigmore Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southwark Cathedral, St. John’s Smith Square and Fairfield Halls, besides making several broadcasts.

In 1951 the Choir qualified for the final of the Festival of Britain and performed at the new Festival Hall in front of the Queen (then Princess Elizabeth), achieving 4th place overall in the Ladies’ Section and 7th overall in the Mixed section — an astonishing result for a chorus formed only two years earlier. Around this time, the Choir was renamed the Orpington and Bromley Choir, reflecting the fact that it rehearsed in both towns on different days, the two sections coming together for performances. After the Orpington section disbanded, the Bromley section assumed its present name in 1963, eventually separating from the Evening Institutes in 1985 to become a private choir.

Audrey Langford led the Choir for 32 years, retiring in 1981 when she passed her baton to David Parry who was with ENO North (now Opera North) at the time and now conducts some of our major orchestras. His recordings of opera in English for Chandos, and of rare works of the nineteenth century on the Opera Rara label are receiving excellent reviews.

He was followed by Mark Fitz-Gerald (with a brief ‘interregnum’ under Paul McGrath and Tomás Creagh-Fuller), but Mark left the Choir in 1997 when he was appointed Assistant Conductor to the Strasbourg Philharmonic and the Opéra National du Rhin in Strasbourg. Since his return to England, apart from returning to conduct Kentish Opera, and many other orchestras including the Orchestra of Opera North and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, he has begun recording works by Shostakovich for Naxos.

In its early days the Choir had a number of well-known musicians as Vice-Presidents, including Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gerald Finzi and Edmund Rubbra. The joint Presidents for many years were Jack and Dorothy Marriott: Jack was also a local councillor and Mayor of Bromley.

The other great stalwart and supporter of the choir was Laurence Gerrish who was the Choir’s accompanist from its inception until he finally retired at the end of 1994 - a period of some 45 years. Sadly, Laurence passed away in 1999, and the Choir gave a performance of Brahms Requiem in his memory on April 1st 2000.

Christmas 2012
Christmas Concert,
December 2012

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Our current Music Director is Robyn Sevastos, who took over from Mark Fitz-Gerald in 1997. She had been working with him as accompanist both at Bromley Philharmonic and at Kentish Opera, and she and the Choir have enjoyed a fruitful artistic partnership ever since. She was replaced as accompanist by Diana Dunk, again a very able accompanist and long associated with the Choir. When Diana stepped down from the post, she was followed by Tracey Renwick, who also works with Robyn at Sevenoaks Philharmonic Choir.

Our Choir President, Pamela Morgan, died on May 4th 2023 and her successor will be decided at the next Choir AGM, later this year. Pam had been associated with the choir since its inception. She was a founding member of the Choir and previously was one of the choir's Vice-Presidents, with her late husband, Peter. He also sang with the choir from its earliest days. We have two Vice-Presidents, Sid Ellis and David Coronel, both long-standing members.

Prior to the Covid pandemic, the choir had been expanding, with a regular membership of around 75, and we are recruitinging new members to continue our consolidation. Bromley Philharmonic Choir rehearsals are lively and great fun. The Choir works hard at an interesting and imaginative programme. There are four concerts a year at various venues throughout the Borough. The Spring and Autumn Concerts are the major events, and often include an orchestra and soloists.

The Choir has taken part in Borough events and led the Mayor’s Gala Concert in 1997. It has also performed at the Penge Proms and worked with the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Society in Croydon. A particularly successful venture during the 1990s was the link-up with the Amici di Verdi Society of London to perform three early Verdi operas at Blackheath Concert Halls under the baton of the late Sir Edward Downes. Members of the Choir have also visited Bromley’s twin town, Neuwied in Germany, and performed with the local choir there. In return, the Niederbieberchor of Neuwied has twice visited Bromley to sing with the Bromley Philharmonic Choir. Joint concerts have also taken place with Kentish Opera, Orpington Chorale, Sevenoaks Philharmonic Society and Faversham Choral Society. More recently, to celebrate the Choir’s 60th Anniversary, a joint concert with Bromley Youth Music Trust Adult Choir and Bromley Youth Chamber Orchestra was held at St.Clement Danes Church in central London, to perform Bach’s St.Matthew Passion.

The Choir over the years has covered a wide range of works which have included some world and UK premières including Finzi’s Magnificat. Many well-known soloists have worked with the Choir and these have included Josephine Veasey, Heddle Nash, Martyn Hill and Sir Geraint Evans to name but a few: a more extensive list appears here. In addition, many members of the Choir performed as professionals elsewhere, including the Royal Opera House and Sadler’s Wells/English National Opera.