Collection BC1338 - The Philharmonia Choir of Cape Town Archive

Reference code



The Philharmonia Choir of Cape Town Archive


  • 1947-2004 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

29 archive boxes

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Administrative history

The year 2007 marked the fortieth anniversary of the Philharmonia Choir of Cape Town. It was reconstituted as such in February 1967, with a nucleus of experienced singers from its predecessor, the Melodic Choir, which had been directed by Dr Claude Brown from its inception in 1934 until his retirement at the end of 1966. John Badminton, who succeeded Dr Brown as Music Master at the Diocesan College (Bishops), the rehearsal venue for the Philharmonia Choir during its first ten years, gradually expanded the membership of the choir through auditioning new recruits, and the Phiharmonia was soon established as a recognised oratorio choir. However, its repertoire has catered to both serious and popular musical palates, and in the forty years of its existence it has performed over fifty choral works, ranging in genre from Bach's Mass in B Minor to Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, as well as Christmas carols and some lighter music. An important tradition since 1968 has been the annual performance by the Philharmonia Choir of Handel's great oratorio Messiah at Easter. For many of Cape Town’s music‑lovers, attending one of the choir's performances of Messiah has become an integral part of their Easter worship. The choir has had a succession of outstanding Directors of Music, including Christine Reynolds, Raymond Hughes (subsequently the Chorus Master at New York's Metropolltan Opera), Vetta Wise and Margaret Barlow. These directors raised musical standards immeasurably, leading to a number of important engagements, such as the choir's working with the late Lord Yehudi Meruhin and Luciano Pavarotti as well is Sir David Willcocks (who has been Honorary President of the choir since 1974). In 1998 the Philharmonia Choir participated in the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan by singing at Cape Point as part of a unique "round the world' performance of the choral movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, in which choirs in different continents were linked by satellite television transmission to the conductor, Seiji Ozawa, in Japan. A very happy and fruitful collaboration was that with the late Reinhard Schwartz, who was based in Germany and Austria but visited Cape Town regularly as a guest conductor for CAPAB (now Artscape). He conducted the choir on numerous occasions, including several of the Easter performances of Messiah, and as a result of this the choir was invited to participate in the Schubert Bicentenary Festival in Vienna in May 1997, singing with great success both there and in Munich under his baton. In June 2004 Maestro Schwartz, nearing the end of his life, chose for his last concert in Cape Town to conduct the choir in a performance of the Dvorák Requiem that was a profoundly moving farewell to this much‑loved mentor and friend. In May and June 2001 the choir undertook another successful tour, giving concerts in several cathedrals and churches in England. The highlight of this tour was a critically acclaimed performance of EIgar's The Dream of Gerontius in Worcester Cathedral on 2 June, the anniversary of the composer's birth. This performance, in which the choir was joined by Dr Donald Hunt's Elgar Chorale, was conducted by Dr Hunt, another musician of international renown who has shown much interest in the Philharmonia Choir, conducting it frequently at Easter and on other occasions on his numerous visits to Cape Town. It was indeed a privilege to begin this, our fortieth year, with another concert under Dr Hunt's direction, this time joining with the St George's Singers in a tribute to Dr Barry Smith on his retirement as Cathedral organist. Other eminent visitors to Cape Town who have worked with the Philharmonia Choir have included the British conductors Nicolas in the Vivaldi Cleobury (2003 and 2006) and Sarah Tenant‑Flowers, whose Harlow Chorus sang with the Philharmonia in the Easter performances of Messiah in 2005. The Norwegian conductor Kåre Hanken, who conducted the choir Gloria and the Mozart Requiem in October 2005, will return for a performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in December this year.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Scope and content

The collection consists of not only a record of the highlights of the performances presented by this well-known oratorio choir, but of details of the day to day organisation and planning involved in the running of a large choir of amateur singers aiming at achieving professional standards. An almost complete set of the minutes of the Annual General Meetings from 1973 to 1994, and the minutes of the choir Committee Meetings from 1974 to 2003 reflect both these facets of the life of the choir, from the concerns of individual members to the negotiations with the big names in choral music who have conducted the choir at various times. The sections dealing with Correspondence and with the organisation of Performances detail a similar spectrum of the ordinary, the irritating and the sublime. A valuable source is available in the list of the choir’s over 200 performances from 1967 to 2007, and copies of most of the programmes for these performances are also included. Collections of photographs, audio and video cassette recordings and CDs bring the actual real work of the choir to life.


All the sections of the collection will be added to and updated as material becomes available.

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No restrictions apply

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Language of material

  • English

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  • English



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