The Oxford Pro Musica Singers was originally founded in 1977 by Michael Smedley as the Oxford Pro Musica Chorus, to sing with the then Oxford Pro Musica Orchestra in major choral works. In its early years the choir performed with some distinguished conductors, including Simon Preston, Christopher Seaman and Jane Glover. It also had a long and happy relationship with Denis Arnold, Professor of Music at Oxford University, who conducted many concerts of his beloved Venetian music. But the choir increasingly performed apart from the orchestra, and in 1985 claimed independence and adopted its current name. The choir is currently directed by Mark Jordan.
The choir has a wide repertoire and has performed hundreds of concerts of many types and recorded a number of CDs. Highlights have been the choir’s appearances at the Purcell Room, on London’s South Bank, in both 1993 and 2003 in concerts celebrating the Queen’s Coronation, concerts in St John’s, Smith Square and the Queen Elizabeth Hall and a string of concerts in the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, performing the finest choral works with professional orchestras. The choir has appeared several times on BBC Radio 3 – twice on ‘In Tune’ and several times on ‘Brian Kay’s Sunday Morning’, for which programme the choir specially recorded a set of part-songs in honour of Queen Victoria unheard for nearly 100 years. In 2003 the choir provided the chorus for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Benjamin Zander – an unforgettable experience!
‘…You transformed the Phil last night, to heights that they have never reached in the past. What a string section! and the voices excelled. This choir I have never heard before, which is to my loss…’
– From the message board of Benjamin Zander’s website.
Members of OPMS have twice provided the village church choir for episodes of the BBC’s ‘The Vicar of Dibley’, starring Dawn French – without doubt the choir’s highest profile engagement, with repeats of the episodes coming round at least once a year in primetime slots!
The Choir’s CDs have won many plaudits and range from ‘In the Mood’ – a programme of jazz arrangements – to a much praised programme of John Tavener, Arvo Pärt and Henryk Górecki. For details of all our CDs please go to our CDs page, where the discs are fully described and are available to buy.
The choir has a well-deserved reputation for performing new music and we have given many first and second performances. In 1997 the choir commissioned and performed ‘The Making of the Drum’ by Bob Chilcott – a piece fast becoming part of the choral repertoire – and in 2004 the choir was honoured to give the first performance, and make a recording, of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ ‘The Kestrel Road’, a group of choral songs commissioned by ‘Making Music’.
But the Oxford Pro Musica Singers are by no means limited to any one style or period of repertoire and are at home with both Tavener and Taverner, and with Palestrina, Bach, Schnittke and Rachmaninov. Not forgetting Gershwin and Cole Porter along the way!
‘[Bach] would have been proud of them … It was a superb performance which confirmed their worth and more … Little wonder that these singers are now winning national and international medals and broadcasting on Radio 3….’
– Oxford Times
Over the years the choir has particpated in, and initiated, a number of educational projects, bringing the joy of singing and choral music to young people through workshops and special concerts.
Highlights of this effort have been workshops based around OPMS’s Bob Chilcott commission, ‘The Making of the Drum’, and a performance of Paul Patterson’s ‘Timepiece’ with a large group of school children in Oxford Town Hall.
In the past the choir has competed successfully in a number of the world’s most eminent choral competitions, and the choir’s achievements include places in the final of the Sainsbury’s Choir of the Year, a bronze medal from the Llangollen International Eisteddfod and a silver medal from the Florilège Vocal de Tours. But OPMS is not a ‘competing’ choir, as such, and it spends most of its time entertaining audiences with thoughtfully programmed and thrilling concerts in Oxford and across the UK and, sometimes, Europe.
Honorary President – Michael Smedley