Music has always played an important part in the life of Dulwich, largely through the Foundation Schools (Dulwich College, James Allen’s Girls’ School and Alleyn’s School.) There has also been a long tradition of church music at Christ’s Chapel, which has been taken up by the local parish churches since their establishment in the late nineteenth century.
The Dulwich Choral Society was founded in 1944, first as a local authority evening class which rehearsed at Dulwich Hamlet School. In the 1970’s it became an independent society under its long-standing conductor Graham Stewart, who was also director of music at St Stephen’s Church and the Alleyn Chorale.
The Dulwich Choral Society has about 80 members and gives three major concerts a year, mainly in churches in the Dulwich area, though it has also appeared in such venues as St James, Piccadilly, Southwark Cathedral, St John’s, Smith Square, the Fairfield and Blackheath halls. At most of its concerts the Society performs with members of major London orchestras, using top class soloists. The Society has now inaugurated the practice of singing in a Dulwich church at Christmas in aid of a local charity.
The Society’s present director of music is the distinguished young conductor, Aidan Oliver, who is also director of music at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, the Parliamentary Church next to Westminster Abbey. Aidan is also the founding chorus master of Philharmonia Voices, a professional chorus which performs with the Philharmonia Orchestra. The Society’s Honorary President is the eminent soprano Dame Emma Kirby.
The Society presents a wide repertoire of choral music; recent performances including Haydn’s Creation, an Elgar 150th Anniversary Promenade Concert, Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem, and The Song of Moses by Thomas Linley the Younger (whose portrait hangs in Dulwich Picture Gallery) and The Pilgrim’s Progress, a dramatic sequence of words and music devised by Aidan Oliver. These concerts have been very well attended and much appreciated.
Over the last ten years the Dulwich Choral Society has undertaken singing tours to Paris, Prague, Venice, Leipzig and Estonia and a visit is now planned to Latvia.
The next concert will consist of performances of Carmina Burana by Cark Orff and the Passing of the Year, a virtuoso showpiece by British composer Jonathan Dove at St John’s Church, Auckland Road, Upper Norwood on Saturday 6th December at 7.30pm In addition the Dulwich Choral Society will be presenting a programme of Christmas music from across the ages at St Stephen’s Church, South Dulwich on Monday 22nd December at 6.30pm when there will be a retiring collection in aid of St Christopher’s Hospice. A performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah is planned for Saturday 28th March 2009 which will mark the tercentenary of the composer’s birth.