(Formerly Crosskeys College Choral Society & Coleg Gwent Chorale)
A brief history, 1981 – present
When Martin Hodson MBE became Director of Music at Crosskeys College in January 1981, it was his idea to form a college/community choir to sing the great choral works in the repertoire, using orchestral accompaniment and employing professional singers for the solo parts. The choir was made up of staff and students of the college and was also open to members of the local community. The first performance, in May 1981, was aptly of The Creation (Haydn) and was accompanied by an orchestra made up of peripatetic instrumental tutors, students and other available players. There were 44 choristers on stage and the venue was the college concert hall, since demolished.
The pattern for the future was set: a major concert would take place each May, and works by the great choral composers would be performed: Handel (Messiah, Judas Maccabeus, Samson); Bach (Christmas Oratorio, Magnificat); Mozart (Requiem, Masses); Verdi (Nabucco, Requiem); Mendelssohn (St Paul, Elijah) to name just a few.
Other appearances by the choir, apart from the main annual concert, have included hymn singing festivals (raising much money for local charities), a summer concert in lighter mood and the now much-loved Christmas celebration, Carols for All – a festival of traditional carols and readings, attracting large audiences each year.
The first May concert away from the college hall took place in 1984 at the Risca Leisure Centre: this was the first of two occasions when the choir has performed Mendelssohn’s Elijah. As the choir grew in size (eventually to more than 100 registered singers) it meant that larger-scale works could be undertaken and that larger orchestras could be employed. For smaller-scale works the college hall was still our normal venue, with some local churches also being used.
It was in 1994 that the choir decided to engage a professional orchestra for the first time. This was the Welsh Sinfonia, which has played for all our orchestrally-accompanied concerts since then, albeit under a different name – the Concert Orchestra De Cymru – in more recent years.
The year 2000 saw a memorable performance of Verdi’s magnificent Requiem. Ten years later the work was repeated as a retirement concert for Martin Hodson who, at the end of the evening, handed over the baton to the present Musical Director, Paul Cook. Other notable occasions in the choir’s history have included an outstanding Elijah in 1996, the Welsh premiere of Eugene Goossens’ rarely-heard orchestration of Messiah in 2004, and a second concert performance of Verdi’s opera Nabucco in 2005.
Our concerts have often boasted outstanding soloists, including many who started their careers as students of Crosskeys or who came from the locality, singing alongside soloists of international repute. Where possible, talented students and other young singers from the area were given the chance to take solo roles, a feature of the work of the choir to the present day.
The society started its days as a community choir and still prides itself on its links with the community, in particular in its desire always to perform locally, bringing a high quality of performance to a local audience and using as often as possible soloists that would grace the platform of any major concert hall in the country.
Our membership numbers remain high, but we always have room for anyone who would enjoy rehearsing and performing the great choral repertoire.
Potential members and visitors are welcome to come and listen to us working. Rehearsals take place every Wednesday from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, from September to early July, in Risca at the headquarters of Risca Male Choir on St Mary Street.
For more information please contact Colin Harvey: (01633 894914) or check the other pages of our website: www.gwentchorale.com
'A rose by any other word...'
When the choir started life in January 1981 it was as Crosskeys College Choral Society, a name it retained until 2010. By then, Crosskeys College, as such, had long ceased to exist as it had become a campus of Coleg Gwent. When Martin Hodson retired in 2010 and Paul Cook became the choir's new Musical Director, the opportunity was taken to adopt the name Coleg Gwent Chorale, in line with the new identity of the college.
The latest news is that, from the beginning of September this year, the choir will be known as Gwent Chorale as, sadly, we will not in future have any formal link with the college. However, the college will still assist us in a number of very valuable ways and we will use the term 'Supported by Coleg Gwent' in all our publicity material.
Above all, we hope that whatever our identity, you will still support us and help keep alive the tradition of choral singing that the choir has worked to sustain in the local community for many years.