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You are here: What's On > Exeter Philharmonic Choir: 170th Anniversary Season

Exeter Philharmonic Choir: 170th Anniversary Season

Exeter Cathedral
1 The Cloisters

Tel: 01392 285983

Exeter Philharmonic Choir: 170th Anniversary Season

Celebrate the 170th anniversary of the Exeter Philharmonic Choir with four concerts in this special Anniversary Season.


Messiah  George Frideric Handel with Exeter Chamber Orchestra

Saturday - 22 October 2016 - 7.30 pm - Exeter Cathedral

Tickets – £24  £18  £12    

Handel's Messiah is deeply rooted in the musical life of Britain and is rightly the first masterwork in our 170th Anniversary Season.

German-born George Frideric Handel arrived in London in 1710 hoping to make a name for himself with operas in Italian. Instead he made a name for himself with oratorios in English. When Charles Jennens presented his text for Messiah in 1741, Handel was at a very low point and considering leaving England. Instead he was invited to present a series of concerts in Dublin and set about composing Messiah, which he completed in just twenty-four days.

Jennens was displeased that Handel had not spent a year setting his libretto, writing: “He has made a fine Entertainment of it, tho’ not near so good as he might & ought to have done. I have with great difficulty made him correct some of the grossest faults in the composition, but he retain’d his Overture obstinately, in which there are some passages far unworthy of Handel, but much more unworthy of the Messiah.”

One of the special challenges in performing Messiah is to keep it sounding fresh. Exeter Philharmonic Choir is looking forward to making this masterwork as newly minted as the choir’s first performance of the music in 1847.


Carols in the Cathedral with Exeter Brass

Wednesday - 14 December* and Thursday 15 December 2016 - Exeter Cathedral

Tickets – £18  £14  £10 (*Supper Club £45. Wednesday 14 only)

Our ever-popular carol concert, performed on two nights, provides an opportunity to hear wonderful Christmas music in the glorious atmosphere of Exeter Cathedral and to join the singing of the congregational carols.


Requiem Giuseppe Verdi with Exeter Philharmonic Orchestra 

Saturday 18 March 2017* - Exeter Cathedral

Tickets – £22  £17  £12 (*Supper Club £49)

The second masterwork of our season brings the drama of Verdi’s Requiem to the cathedral. 

After Rossini’s death in 1868, Verdi suggested that a number of Italian composers collaborate on a Requiem in Rossini’s honour. Much to Verdi’s disappointment, the project came to nothing and the Libera Me he had composed remained unperformed.

On 22 May 1873, the Italian writer and humanist Alessandro Manzoni died. Verdi had admired him ever since he read his famous novel I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed) as a teenager, just as Italian school students read it today. On hearing of Manzoni’s death, Verdi wrote to his publisher Giulio Ricordi, “I shall propose something to honour his memory.” That something was the Requiem Mass, which included a revised version of the Libera Me originally composed for Rossini.

Audiences received the work rapturously in Milan, Paris and Vienna but, although it was a success in London, there were some reservations about the theatrical nature of the music. (Interestingly Handel’s Messiah was criticised for precisely the same reason.) Theatrical it certainly is. It was composed a year after Aida, and Verdi was working in the operatic idiom in which he always expressed high emotions and human experience, whether sacred or secular.  

George Bernard Shaw was a great admirer of the work and had the Libera Me played at his funeral.


Elgar The Dream of Gerontius with The Sinfonietta

Saturday - 20 May 2017* - Exeter Cathedral

Tickets – £22  £17  £12 (*Supper Club £49)

The Dream of Gerontius, another national treasure, is the final masterwork of our season.

At its first performance in Birmingham on 3 November 1900, the music was thought daring and inaccessible. Elgar was a Wagnerian and for many English music-lovers of that time Wagner’s music was difficult and modern. In addition, the subject matter was viewed in some quarters with intense suspicion given that the text, written by the Victorian Catholic convert, Cardinal John Henry Newman, presented doctrine rejected by the Protestant church since the time of the Reformation.

On top of all this, the work was under-rehearsed and the première did not go down well with the critics. However, Elgar knew he had created a work of outstanding merit and wrote: “This is the best of me...” Fortunately there were also those who agreed, notably Julius Buths, director of the North Rhein Festival, who arranged widely acclaimed performances in Dusseldorf in 1901 and again in 1902, thus ensuring the work’s place in the canon.


Choir History

With an unbroken history since 1846, when the Exeter Oratorio Society was set up, the choir is now one of the oldest musical organisations in the country. The first concert (Handel’s Messiah) was in 1847 and the choir, under one name or another, has performed concerts in Exeter in every year since.  See the website link for more details about the choir and our 170th anniversary season performances.

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