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Hastings Philharmonic Choir

Hastings Philharmonic Choir. (Image supplied by Chris Cormack)

Hallelujahs return to Hastings

In its 90th anniversary year, the Hastings Philharmonic Choir goes back to its roots to perform Handel’s Messiah at Christ Church, St Leonards this Saturday 10 November at 7pm. Back in 1928 and 1929 the Choir performed the Messiah on three separate occasions, these being the Choir’s first three concerts, and the audience still wanted more! Chris Cormack writes.

In fact, the Messiah had been a favourite among Hastings audiences from much earlier; starting from 1857, railway excursions from Hastings to Crystal Palace were frequently arranged to watch the mass performances at the Handel Triennial Festival. There were audiences of 20,000 plus, choirs of 3500 and orchestras of 400. These statistics were reported for Sir Henry Wood’s final Messiah concert at Crystal Palace in 1926 and this was not at all out of the ordinary.

This 1926 Messiah was the last of its kind at Crystal Palace and, on the inauguration of White Rock Pavilion in Hastings in April 1927, it was decided to have as an annual event a Good Friday Messiah concert every year at the White Rock Pavilion with a large choir, the Hastings Municipal Orchestra  and some nationally famous soloists. Hastings had such a choir before the Great War under a famous Hastings Choirmaster, Dr Abrams. Dr Abram’s celebrated Choir, known as the Hastings Choral Union, was a frequent performer of the Messiah to packed audiences, from 1870 to the outbreak of the First World War. On one occasion in 1877, the Choir used a skating rink in Cambridge Terrace to maximise capacity, and 1200+ people were packed in for the performance.

Excerpt from the Hastings Observer March 23 1929

Excerpt from the Hastings Observer March 23 1929


Unfortunately the Hastings Choral Union was dispersed on the outbreak of the First World War and unable to reform with the passing of Dr Abrams in 1918. Hastings bemoaned the absence of a town choir in the post war years, especially one that could match the eminence of the newly established Hastings Municipal Orchestra and be a fitting partner in the purpose-built new concert hall, the White Rock Pavilion. In the earliest years the Hastings Madrigal Society merged with Battle Choral Society to produce the Good Friday Messiah concert.

The Hastings Philharmonic Choir, then as yet unnamed, was an ad hoc choir formed in 1928 out by joining the ‘St Mary’s Centenary Choir’ and the ‘Wellington Square Choral Society’ for the purpose of celebrating the centenary of St Mary in the Castle where a concert of the Messiah was given in February 1928. St Mary’s was packed full and it was so successful that it was repeated in February 1929. By this time, the quality of the merged choir was well enough known around town that it was considered a fitting companion for Basil Cameron’s Hastings Municipal Orchestra for the 1929 performance of the Messiah on Good Friday at the White Rock Pavilion. The Hastings Madrigal Society was unceremoniously dumped.

From that year on until the early 1980s just before the White Rock Theatre was closed for refurbishment, the Choir always performed a Good Friday Messiah which became a popular fixture supported by the Town Council. The Choir, usually numbering 120-150 produced some splendidly acclaimed Messiah performances with the name Hastings Choral Union until the beginning of the Second World War and the Council opened its wallet to nationally famous soloists including Isobel Baillie, Mary Jarred, Freda Townson, Trefor Jones, Harold Williams, and Norman Walker. After the War a new austerity came to the town which closed down the Municipal Orchestra among other things, but the Good Friday concerts continued to draw the crowds.

Today’s Hastings Philharmonic Orchestra are returning fresh to the Messiah after a seven year break but with new fervour and an aim to uplift the audience in the traditional way. Seats can be booked through the Choir’s website. Prices start at £12.50 and the performance commences at 7pm.


Posted 12:43 Friday, Nov 9, 2018 In: Music & Sound

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