A brief history of the Parliament Choir

The Choir's first concert, St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, 2000

The Parliament Choir, which is based in the Houses of Parliament in London, UK, was founded in 2000 as a result of a conversation between Lord Filkin and Simon Over (then music director of St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster). The conversation focused on the difficulty experienced by Peers and Members of Parliament in joining a regular choir, because of the requirement to work in Parliament in the evenings, when most other choirs rehearse.

From that conversation, and subsequent discussions with other parliamentarians, a small choir was formed. Weekly rehearsals were held, with Simon Over as the choir's first music director, in St. Mary Undercroft, the chapel within Parliament. The choir gave its first public performance in St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster, on 6th December 2000, singing Handel’s ‘Messiah’ with Emma Kirkby as soprano soloist.

Since then the Parliament Choir has expanded hugely both in numbers and in repertoire. Currently there are about 100 members, drawn mainly from the ranks of Peers, MPs and staff working in the Houses of Parliament. Those who have monitored its progress since the early days say that its standard of singing and performance has improved beyond recognition – this despite the fact that the choir has never auditioned its members.

The choir’s repertoire has been wide-ranging and ambitious, including an Opera Gala, Verdi’s ‘Requiem’, Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah’, Elgar’s ‘Apostles’ and Ryba’s ‘Czech Christmas Mass’ – in Czech! It has also performed several works composed for the choir by Nick O’Neill, its chorus master. The choir has been fortunate to sing with some exceptional guest soloists, including Sir Thomas Allen (the choir’s patron) and Dame Felicity Lott, and has collaborated on larger works with other choirs, particularly the St. Michael’s Singers from Coventry.

Since its inception the choir has benefited hugely from sponsorship from BT, which has enabled it to stage large and challenging works, and has given it the opportunity to sing in a wide range of venues, including Coventry and Westminster Cathedrals, Lancaster House, the Tower of London and York Minster.

In 2010, its 10th anniversary year, the Parliament Choir performed for the first time within the Palace of Westminster (the official name for the parliament buildings), singing Mozart’s ‘Requiem’ and O’Neill’s ‘Of All Persons and Estates’ in Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the Palace. In November 2010, the choir took on one of its biggest challenges to date, in giving two performances of Benjamin Britten’s ‘War Requiem’ – the first in Coventry Cathedral on 13th November, the eve of the 70th anniversary of the bombing of the Cathedral, and the second in Westminster Cathedral, London, on 17th November.

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