Founded in 1824, the Ipswich Choral Society can claim to be the second longest established choral society in Britain; the oldest being Halifax Choral Society founded in 1817.
The Suffolk Chronicle records that the Ipswich Choral Society was founded 24 January 1824 with about 20 members. The newly formed society met on Tuesdays once a fortnight to rehearse for their first concert. Ipswich Choral Society still meet on Tuesdays, although rehearsals are now weekly. Still a popular work for choral societies today, the Society last performed Haydn’s “The Creation” in May 2010. Incredibly, original hand-written scores for “The Creation” used for that first Ipswich Choral performance were discovered by Mr Spruytenberg in January 2012. The scores are now archived at the Suffolk Records Office in Gatacre Road.
Joining a choral society was a popular pastime in the late 19th Century. By 1885 there were 264 members of Ipswich Choral Society made up of 94 sopranos, 65 altos, 40 tenors and 65 basses. The society continued to prosper into the 20th Century. In August 2013, ICS were contacted by Mrs Jane Kemp of Ipswich who had discovered an old photo of the choir, dated 1909. Checking through the old concert programmes from the archive, the photo is believed to be taken at a performance of Handel’s “Messiah” on April 1st, 1909 at the Public Hall in Ipswich. Soloists were Miss Barwell Holbrook, Miss Alice Coppin, Mr Webster Millar and Mr Dan Price. The orchestra and choir were 400 in total, conducted by Mr William Hockey, uncle of Benjamin Britten.
Ipswich Choral Society has been fortunate to perform with some top-class soloists and orchestras throughout its history, as well as introducing new pieces to the Suffolk music scene. In 1904, the society performed a “Grand Concert”, conducted by Sir Hubert Parry (of “Jerusalem” fame), with a programme of works by Parry at the Public Hall. World famous baritone Plunket Greene performed with the choir, as did the Queen’s Hall orchestra from London. In 1911 the society gave the first performance in Suffolk of Elgar’s masterpiece The Dream of Gerontius.
Orchestras engaged to perform with the choir regularly included the London Symphony and Royal Philharmonic orchestras. In 1975, ICS performed in the Inaugural concert for the Ipswich Corn Exchange after its transformation into a performance venue. ICS were joined by the Ipswich Bach Choir and conducted by the Czech-born British conductor Walter Susskind and featuring the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 1947, a performance of Elijah was given by the Society for the centenary of Mendelssohn’s death and soloists included soprano Isobel Baillie and contralto Kathleen Ferrier. In 1960, contralto Janet Baker sang with ICS for a performance of Belshazzar’s Feast by William Walton at the Gaumont theatre.
In the 1970s the choir was conducted by John Cooper, the organist and Director of Music at St Mary le Tower Church. In the Queen’s Jubilee year, the society performed a concert of Coronation Music called Orb and Sceptre’ and this format of performing small collections of pieces as well as major choral works has remained popular to this date.
With Music Director Stephen Rumsey, the society continued the tradition of exploring music and performing a varied and ambitious programme. The society commissioned new pieces from composers such James McWilliam “Little Boy Lost, Little Boy Found” (2006), as part of the Adopt a Composer scheme and Aaron Parker (from Felixstowe) “Ave Verum Corpus” (2007). Most recently, ICS commissioned “Seasons” by Stevie Wishart, a homage to Benjamin Britten, former ICS president, which had its premiere at Snape in April 2014.