Chorus takes centre stage for first night of the Proms

The Crouch End Festival Chorus in their adopted home of Alexandra Palace's Victorian Theatre 

The Crouch End Festival Chorus in their adopted home of Alexandra Palace's Victorian Theatre - Credit: David Winskill

Nearly forty years ago, two Crouch End music fans decided to start a local choir.

Their first concert was Verdi's Requiem in Hornsey Town Hall, and The Crouch End Festival Chorus has gone on to perform on huge stages, and record with top artists including Ray Davies and Noel Gallagher.

In July it will come full circle, opening the first night of the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall with the same piece.

"Verdi's Requiem was the concert that started it all," says co-founder and conductor David Temple. 

"It's 38 years this month since our first rehearsal. My friend John Gregson and I decided to form this choir and put notices in newspapers, but had only a few replies. I was about to give up, when his partner, horror writer Clive Barker, did this gothic poster saying 'singers wanted for Verdi's Requiem'. We went to the rehearsal at Middle Lane Methodist Church and were astonished that 80 people had turned up."

Crouch End Festival Chorus Conductor David Temple

Crouch End Festival Chorus Conductor David Temple - Credit: Nigel Sutton

But when Temple lifted his baton, "no one sang a note". 

"We had a bit of a laugh about it and by the end it was starting to sound pretty good."

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Although the chorus has taken part in the BBC Proms many times, it was always with other choirs. The July 15 concert sees them join forces with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and chorus which will be broadcast live on BBC2 and on Radio 3

"Even though the last night of the Proms is more famous, the first night for classical musicians is the prestigious opening of this amazing festival of music - 260 singers live on BBC2 - we are not complacent, we are absolutely gunning for it."

An added pressure is that the 80-minute piece is "one of the most popular choral pieces of all time."

"It's unlike most pieces of music. The end was the first bit written. Verdi wrote this 25 minute piece in memory of Rossini, then decided to do a full Requiem. Lots of composers find it hard to end pieces but this was already there. It's very operatic and works just as well in Covent Garden as in a cathedral. Doing it in the Albert Hall with massive orchestra, off stage trumpets and big bass drum will be incredible."

However, after preparing his choir meticulously, Temple will then watch the concert from the stalls as Sakari Oramo takes the baton.

"I am more excited than nervous. With a relatively straightforward piece, if the choirs are really well prepared, it will be a magnificent performance."

CEFC have now adopted Alexandra Palace's Victorian Theatre as their permanent home. While they have two concerts in Wembley Arena in August performing music from Studio Ghibli, they are working towards an October concert featuring Cassie To’s Songs of the Reef using underwater sounds from Blue Planet 2 series, with 'live' choir and orchestra.

"It's all part of the rich tapestry which is Crouch End Festival Chorus. With so many projects postponed during Covid we are fitting two years of work into one year. I see more of the choir than I see of my family."

You suspect he wouldn't have it any other way.

The BBC Proms run July 15 to September 10 including Verdi's Requiem on July 15, a gaming prom exploring the musical world of gaming, and Cynthia Erivo celebrating the voices of Billie Holiday, Shirley Bassey and Nina Simone. https://www.bbc.co.uk/proms

The Crouch End Festival Chorus sing Verdi's Requiem on the first night of the BBC Proms 2022

The Crouch End Festival Chorus sing Verdi's Requiem on the first night of the BBC Proms 2022 - Credit: David Winskill