About Us

The Chester Festival Chorus was formed in 1981 by Martin Merry, a founder of the Chester Summer Music Festival and Artistic Director from its inception in 1978 until 1985.  Since its formation the Chester Festival Chorus has established itself as one of Northwest England’s leading large-scale mixed-voice choirs.  At the annual Chester Summer Music Festival the chorus has performed major choral works from Handel and Mozart to Britten, Poulenc and Tavener.  

The chorus made its first visit to the BBC Proms in 1992 when it gave the second performance of John Tavener’s We Shall See Him As He Is, conducted by Richard Hickox with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the world premiere having taken place in the Festival a few days earlier.  The chorus has since returned to the Proms on three occasions, with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in 1994 for a performance of Dvorák’s Requiem conducted by Libor Pešek, with the BBC Philharmonic in 1998 for a performance of Poulenc’s Gloria under Yan Pascal Tortelier and again with the RLPO in 2005 singing Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwarz.      

The Chester Festival Chorus has also appeared with the BBC Philharmonic and other choirs from the North of England at the opening choral concert at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester.

Repertoire over recent years has included Rachmaninov's Spring Cantata, Vaughan Williams' Five Tudor Portraits, Poulenc's Gloria and Elgar's Music Makers.  Recent conductors who have worked with the choir include David Hill, Harry Christophers, Martyn Brabbins and James Burton.  Many of the chorus’s performances have been broadcast by BBC Radio 3 and in 2005 the choir made its live television debut when its Prom concert was broadcast on BBC 4.  

In 2008 the choir sang the first Festival Commission since 1992 when it performed John Harle’s Earthlight, conducted by the RLPO’s chief conductor, Vasily Petrenko, in his long awaited first appearance in Chester.

2009 saw the choir celebrate the life and work of former Festival Director Richard Hickox with a performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt, with the RLPO conducted by James Burton. For 2012 we welcomed back Vasily Petrenko and the RLPO for Brahms' sublime German Requiem, and last year saw two performances, of Handel’s Coronation Anthems with Nicholas Kraemer and of Britten’s St. Nicolas with John Wilson.  2017 saw our last performance in Chester Cathedral for the time being as we performed Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony with David Hill, Roderick Williams and Sarah Fox.  2018 saw our debut performance in Chester’s Storyhouse theatre with a performance of Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Vivaldi’s Gloria, conducted by our new choral director, Ellie Slorach.  This was followed in 2019 by a concert of contemporary music, including works by Henryk Gorecki, Arvo Pärt, and Chester Music Festival composer-in-residence Dobrinka Tabakova.

From 1991 the chorus was trained by Frances Cooke, to whom, along with long-time accompanist Eve Taylor, we bade a fond farewell at the end of the 2017 season.  For 2018 we welcomed our new choral director Ellie Slorach and accompanist Graham Eccles.  

© Chester Festival Chorus 2022