The founding of the choir
Our origins lie in St Peter’s Church Hammersmith when, in 1983, some members of the church choir wanted to form a group to sing more secular works. A little later they were joined by a group of similarly minded singers from Ealing. The then-named St Peter’s Singers expanded to about 18 singers and, in the summer 2023, our 40-strong chamber choir will be celebrating 40 years of singing together.
In 2011, when the choir had grown in size to around 30 singers, we decided to change our name to Petros Singers. It was felt this would better reflect the more secular nature of the choir, although we also continue to sing many sacred works.
The choir’s ‘home’
For nearly all its life, the choir has rehearsed and performed many of its concerts in St Peter’s Church, located in the historic Black Lion Lane in Hammersmith. At all times, in spite of being a secular choir, we have enjoyed and very much appreciated the fulsome support from each of the vicars at St Peter’s: Robert Foxcroft, Geoffrey Lang, Stephan Welch, John Record and Charles Clapham.
The choir’s first musical director, or conductor, was Chris Bracewell. After a few years he moved on and Michael Emery was appointed as his successor. Michael continued to lead the choir until 2005 when his career as a senior producer with the BBC Singers took him to other places. He was succeeded by Duncan Aspden who stayed with us for ten years until summer 2015. Since then, our musical director has been Richard Bannan who is, among other things, a Lay Clerk at Saint George’s Chapel Windsor (you can read Richard’s full bio here). For just one term in the autumn of 2015, pending Richard’s appointment, we were very lucky to have Libby Burgess act as our temporary musical director.
Andrew Wells has been our accompanist since 1987 – most of the choir’s existence. In addition to accompanying our rehearsals, Andrew plays the organ and piano at many of our concerts. He is also a composer and was commissioned by the choir to write a carol suite for our Christmas 2021 concert.
Our concerts are based on both secular and sacred works, and vary in scale from those with just choir and accompaniment to large-scale productions requiring an orchestra and many soloists. Examples of the latter include Bach B Minor Mass – which we are delighted to be performing again in 2023 – and Monteverdi Vespers. We performed the Vespers in Saint James’s Piccadilly, accompanied by His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts and the London Baroque chamber orchestra. The soloists were six members of I Fagiolini alongside two choir members, and we were joined by the Chamber Choir of Lady Margaret School.
The choir has performed in many auspicious venues including the Guards’ Chapel in Birdcage Walk; as St Peter’s Singers, we performed two concerts each in the presence of a member of the Royal Family, Princess Margaret and the then Prince of Wales. We were also privileged to sing the services at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle on a very hot July weekend in 2018.
During Duncan Aspden’s time as Musical Director, we twice combined with one of his other choirs to perform a joint concert, one week in London and the next in Thame. This enabled us to include works needing larger forces such as Bruckner E Minor Mass.
Often our concerts take a theme, such as the Foyer Sovereygnes Reygnes in 2018. This concert celebrated the music of Thomas Tallis and we were joined by the renowned Marian Consort and their director, Rory McCleery.
Our concert programmes demonstrate the development of the choir since its foundation: 1985–95; 1996–99; 2000–06; 2007–11; 2012–16; and 2017–22.
On a number of occasions, the choir has had the honour of giving the first public performance of works either commissioned by the choir or composed with us in mind. These include Dear Night which was commissioned from Rhian Samuel in 1998; Antiphon for the Feast of St Peter by Andrew Simpson, jointly commissioned by our choir and the choir of St Peter’s Church for its first performance on Sunday 4th July 2004; and the first performance of Bob Chilcott’s Pange Lingua was in Notre Dame, Paris, on Sunday 27th October 2002 when Philippa Boyle sang the soprano solo.
In the late 1990s the choir started holding workshops to enable us to focus on developing specific aspects of musical technique or prepare for special concerts. For example, one workshop was devoted to singing in German in preparation for performing Bach St Matthew Passion.
Later we started making our workshops open to the public, with either a single work, or the music of a specific composer or theme, being studied under the leadership of a guest director.
The very first workshop was led by Stephen Cleobury and in his footsteps many other well-known musicians have followed. The list includes Bob Chilcott, Sally Burgess, Miriam Allan, Deborah Miles Johnson, Giles Underwood, Sue Waters, Edward Caswell, Rory McCleery, James Vivian and Neil Ferris.
From time to time the choir has travelled overseas to perform concerts and, as has happened on three occasions, sing Mass. In Moscow during Spring 1997 the choir sang Handel’s Messiah on the State Radio – a first for the country. In Italy we combined forces with a local choir for a Saturday evening concert in Monticello and the next day, Sunday 23rd October 2000, sang at the 11:00 Mass in St Mark’s Venice.
Two years later in Paris we performed a concert on Saturday evening and then sang Byrd’s four-part Mass in Notre Dame for the 11:30 International Mass, during which Philippa Boyle was the soloist in the world premiere of Bob Chilcott’s Pange Lingua which he had dedicated to the choir. Our last overseas trip was to Rome in 2013 where we sang two concerts with the theme of 400 years of Choral Music from Great Britain, as well as singing the Saturday morning Mass in the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore.
Other trips have taken us to various locations in England to sing in some truly splendid venues. Again these visits have included concerts as well as singing in church services. One highlight was a weekend spent at St Nicholas Church, Dereham in Norfolk where we joined with the church choir to sing a concert on Saturday evening and then to sing at the Eucharist Service celebrating the 25th anniversary of the vicar, Richard Ames-Lewis, as their priest. Richard’s wife had been a member of Petros Singers and his brother still is a member.
Among the churches where we have sung evensong are Southwark Cathedral, Sherborne Abbey and Romsey Abbey. In Chichester the choir participated in the Chichester Festival on two occasions by performing Sunday afternoon concerts in St Richard’s Catholic Church, and some members of the choir also joined the Amici singers for charity concerts in Chichester Cathedral.
Most recently, in July 2018, we were invited to be the choir in residence for the weekend at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle singing Evensong on the Saturday and Sunday and the Matins on Sunday morning. At that service the congregation included a cricket team from the Vatican who, the previous day, had played against a Civil Service team in Windsor Great Park.
Throughout its existence the choir has supported a range of charities in various ways. These range from carol singing in Hammersmith Tube Station or Bedford Park, to concerts performed with fund raising as the main purpose, facilitating collections at the end of our concerts for nominated charities, participating in concerts organised for charitable purposes by other groups, and sometimes making donations from the proceeds of our concerts.
Among the charities and organisations supported by the choir have been West London Action for Children, the 2001 Poppy Appeal, St Mary’s Convent and Nursing Home in Chiswick (this at a concert The Seven Ages of Man where our guest reader was Vanessa Redgrave), Grandma’s and Mission Malawi charities supporting families affected by HIV/Aids; The Shooting Star Hospice for young children; Teenage Cancer Trust; the Friends of St Richard’s Hospital Chichester; the Holly Lodge Centre in Richmond Park; and The Upper Room. From the summer of 2021 we have supported London Youth Choirs whose mission is to unlock young people’s potential through the power of choral singing.