story of the choir begins in the early 1950s, when David Aylett
organised an ad hoc group of singers, mainly from local churches, to
go carol-singing to raise money for the ‘Save the Children
Fund’. The next year being World Refugee Year, the group
organised a formal concert with full orchestra and the international
soprano Isobel Baillie as soloist, raising the equivalent of £1,000
for the fund. Following the success of this, the choir was
permanently founded in 1958 as the December Festival Choir, and began
to give formal performances of the standard choral repertoire of
oratorios and masses, as well as concert versions of operas and other
lighter works. The Choir was renamed the Aylesbury Festival Choir in
January 2001 to reflect our close association with the town.
conducted the choir for 26 years. He was succeeded by Helen Blakeman
and, in 1995, by Piers Maxim, our first professional conductor and
now our President. Under Piers’ expert direction the Choir
continued to develop and flourish, expanding the repertoire to
include 20th Century works. Justin Doyle succeeded Piers in May 2001,
and was in turn succeeded by Madeleine Venner (Lovell) in March 2006.
James Davey joined us in January 2009, at the time also being
conductor of Chantage, the BBC Choir of the Year 2006. Piers, Justin,
Madeleine and James have all gone on to illustrious roles in the
For our November 2008 concert, which
showcased the première of With
a major new work written by David Aylett specially for the Choir’s
Golden Anniversary, we were very pleased to welcome back guest
conductor William Carlsake, who has led us less formally on many
In January 2017, we were delighted to
welcome Nick Austin as our new Music Director. Nick, who is also
conductor of Thames Voyces and (since late 2018) Amersham &
Chesham Bois Choral Society (AMCHOR), has been an immediate hit with
the choir members, keeping us up to scratch with our singing whilst
making us laugh with a fund of anecdotes.
To conclude our
year in 2019, the choir had a celebratory lunch. Our invited guests
included Helen Blakeman, who had been our conductor
from 1984 to 1994, and Barbara Fell, the only surviving member of
group from the 1950s. We were also pleased to welcome 5 of our
previous Chairmen. Members past and present enjoyed the opportunity
to chat and catch up with each other and to share musical memories.
We had a celebration cake, of course, and toasted the choir’s
60 successful years. A new work, Gloria
by Nick Austin will be performed at our November 2019 concert, to
mark this anniversary.
The Choir continues to be supported
by high calibre soloists and musicians. That our concerts are known
for their high standards of performance and presentation is testament
to the vision, commitment and enthusiasm of many people whose varied
talents, expertise and hard work behind the scenes have enabled the
Choir to flourish throughout its long history.
And as we
pass the 60 years - we look forward to the next decade of singing!