St. Peter's Singers

St Peter’s Singers





In just forty years, St Peter's Singers has become one of England's most acclaimed chamber choirs. A series of special events in celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the foundation of St Peter’s Singers in 1977 unfolded from a Lunchtime Concert at Leeds Town Hall with organist David Houlder on Monday 13 February at 1.05 pm.


Rehearsals are held at Leeds Minster every Sunday evening during the Season, and the members of the Singers provide invaluable assistance in the regular presentation of worship at the Minster working closely with and alongside the Choir re-founded by Vicar Hook in 1841.

As a group, the beginnings of St Peter's Singers may be traced back to the foundation by Senior Leeds Lay-clerk Harry Fearnley (1939-2000) in the early months of 1977. By mid-summer that year St Peter's Singers was up and running and giving concerts. Earliest members included Mr Fearnley himself, a number of colleagues and friends from among the adults of the Minster Choir and the West Riding Singers. Additionally, a significant nucleus of younger singers was provided by sixth-formers from Leeds Girls' High School and by undergraduates of the University of Leeds and Leeds College of Music. Leading Yorkshire singing teacher Sybil Chambers (1938-1998) brought many of her own pupils and students into the Singers over the years and herself sustained the role of Principal Soprano with great distinction for a decade or more. Similarly, other leading professional and semi-professional singers of the calibre of principal baritone Quentin Brown have been committed in that role for over a quarter of a century.


Other soloists include Claire Strafford, soprano and Paul Dutton, tenor - both valued regular guests over a very long period. The present solo line-up from within the choir's present or former membership has recently included, additional to Quentin Brown sopranos Kristina James, mezzo Lucy Appleyard and bass Philip Wilcox. Kristina and Lucy are former alumini - and graduates - of Leeds College of Music. Besides her concert work, Lucy is a full-time Choral Director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Leeds.


Notable "away" concerts by the Singers have included, in 2008, a gala evening in the Quire at York Minster in celebration of the 60th birthday long-serving SPS conductor Dr Simon Lindley, special concerts at Derby and Ely Cathedrals, Evensong at St Paul's Cathedral and Guildford Cathedral as well as recital tours of Romania in 2007, Mallorca in 2009 and 2013 and Brittany in 2011. The most recent Tour saw a visit to Germany and the Netherlands in October 2015. East Anglia was the venue for the highly successful 2017 Tour between Saturday 21 October and Wednesday October 25 with venues including Waltham Abbey, Ely Cathedral St Edmundsbury Cathedral and St John’s Parish Church, Peterborough.


St Peter's Singers have worked regularly with guest conductors over the years and these have included leading composers Dr Donald Hunt OBE and two Organists Emeritus of York Minster - Mr Philip Moore and Dr Francis Jackson CBE besides the late John Coates, Carleton Etherington (now at Tewkesbury Abbey), Timothy Gray, David Houlder and Jonathan Lilley, the present Director of Music at Waltham Abbey, Essex who was here at Leeds between 1996 and 2003.


A recent acclaimed centenary revival featured Sir Arthur Somervell's The Passion of Christ. This performance, and the Town Hall lunchtime concert in February 2014 in commemoration of the Centenary of the First World War - the Great War - entitled We will remember them were each the subject of very favourable critical review in the Church Times.


The Season 2015 began with the Foundling Hospital Anthem and the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne – both magnificent, yet rarely heard works, being heard at historic Fulneck Moravian Church on Bank Holiday Monday 31 August 2015.


The 2016 Good Friday Concert at Leeds Minster comprised Brahms – Motets and his German Requiem with Soloists Kristina James and Quentin Brown and Vaughan Williams – “The Lark ascending” played by David Greed. The Singers joined in November 2016 with Sheffield Bach Choir in a special performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at Sheffield Cathedral on Saturday 12 November at 7.30 pm and are sustaining a similar collaboration in early March 2018 at Sheffield Cathedral when both choirs will combine in Bach’s St Matthew Passion on Saturday 3 March at 6.30 pm. Please note the early starting time. The role of the Evangelist is in the hands of leading tenor Stephen Liley, who also sings the tenor arias and the part of Christ is sung by Worcester based baritone Thomas Hunt, whose father, Dr Donald Hunt was the distinguished Organist of Leeds Parish Church from 1957 to 1975 and subsequently Director of Music at Worcester Cathedral and the Three Choirs’ Festival. Other soloists are Ella Taylor and Anna Harvey (both educated in Sheffield) and Sam Carl.


Our distinguished and long-serving alto soloist Kathryn Woodruff, for many years Head of Music at Abbey Grange Church of England Academy in Leeds, passed away on 10 July 2016; her funeral service held in the Minster on 19 July involved music presented by St Peter’s Singers as well as the other choirs with which she was involved.


The Singers presented highly praiseworthy accounts of two corner-stones of the double choir unaccompanied repertoire in October 2016 at Leeds Town Hall in the form of accounts of Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir and Vaughan Williams’s Mass in G minor. These pieces were very well-received by a large audience.


A further concert at Leeds Town Hall at the start of the Singers’ fortieth Anniversary Year was dedicated to “Popular Choral Favourites” presented alongside English and Belgian organ music. The final work, the Benedicite in G was from the pen of the legendary Dr Francis Jackson CBE, Organist Emeritus of York Minster, who attained his centenary on  2 October 2017.


Summer 2017 was marked by the passing of Jan Holdstock, a great figure in musical education and a long-serving alto member as well as one who acted as the Choir’s Secretary for a number of years, whose life and work were remembered at a special service of thanksgiving at the Minster on Monday 17 July. Our performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor on Good Friday 2018 was dedicated to her memory (see below for details)


The Singers’ fortieth Anniversary Concert was at Leeds Minster on Sunday 25 June and included music by E J Moeran, Palestrina [his Missa Brevis] and Bach’s Ascension Oratorio – all sung at the very first concert in Summer 1977 inspired by Vicar of Leeds from 1971 to 1982, Canon [later Bishop] Graham Foley, who passed away early in August.


The Fulneck Baroque weekend was marked with Bach’s Cantatas 78 and 147 [Jesu, joy of man’s desiring] along with Handel’s Foundling Hospital Anthem at 4.00 pm on Bank Holiday Monday 28 August at the Moravian Church, Fulneck, Pudsey. Soloists were Claire Strafford, Lucy Appleyard, Peter Condry and Quentin Brown. Alan Horsey was at the Fulneck organ and the Principals of the National Festival Orchestra were led by Sally Robinson. The choir visited Holy Trinity, Boar Lane on Saturday 30 September with the complete Handel Coronation Anthems from 1727 as well as the “Anthem on the Peace” from 1749 containing music extracted from “Messiah”, composed seven years earlier. This event formed part of the Leeds Handel Festival presented by Arts@Trinity with generous support from Leeds Inspired and other sources.

A special Choral Recital at the Moravian Church, Fulneck, on Sunday afternoon 15 October at 3.00 pm featured music for the choir’s upcoming Tour of East Anglia [from 21 to 25 October] – this event includes events and services at Waltham Abbey, Norwich’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Ely Cathedral, St Edmundsbury Cathedral and St John’s, the Parish Church of Peterborough.


The Singers appeared in Howells’s Hymnus Paradisi at Leeds Town Hall under the direction of Dr David Hill on Saturday 26 November, joining with Leeds Philharmonic Chorus and Yonni Levy’s Leeds College of Music Student Chorale. The Orchestra of Opera North and soloists Sarah Fox and Ben Hulett completed the line-up and SPS Music Director, Dr Simon Lindley, was at the organ. St Peter’s Singers formed the Semi-Chorus for this concert – an event that proved the subject of wide acclaim in the press locally and nationally.


St Peter’s Singers were at Leeds Town Hall on Monday 12 February 2018 with Darius Battiwalla, City Organist. The programme comprised music by S S Wesley, Henry Purcell and William Byrd. Philip Moore’s Three Prayers of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sir Edward Bairstow’s Lord, Thou hast been our refuge and Sir Hubert Parry’s Blest pair of Sirens make up the programme; the music unfolds from Wesley’s wonderful anthem Ascribe unto the Lord. This was a Leeds International Concert Season event.


On Good Friday 2018, 29 March, at 7.00 pm in Leeds Minster, the Singers presented Bach’s Mass in B minor in happy and grateful memory of the late Jan Holdstock, composer and animateur extraordinaire of music for young people. Jan was for long a member of the SPS alto section and, latterly, of the Choir of Leeds Minster. The National Festival Orchestra joined us, along with organist David Houlder. Jan's son Robin and his partner Alison flew in from their home in the United States near Denver, Colorado especially for this concert.


The Music for Good Friday presentation in 2019 on 19 April at 7.00 pm comprised a complete performance of Bach's St John Passion sung in the English version by Sir Ivor Atkins, born at Llandaff near Cardiff exactly 150 years ago in 1869. Stephen Liley was the Evangelist and the Aria singers were Ella Taylor, Lucy Appleyard, Stephen Liley and Quentin Brown. Sally Robinson led the National Festival Orchestra; the harpsichordist was Alan Horsey and the organist David Houlder. 


St Peter's Singers acknowledges with gratitude the ongoing support of a number of local individuals and charities, most notably the Charles and Elsie Sykes Trust and the Friends of the Music of Leeds Minster.