Joining the birthday chorus in Sheffield

CHORUS  JULIE SMETHURST  Julie Smethurst, chairman of the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, pictured in the choir stalls at the City Hall.     13 August 2008

CHORUS JULIE SMETHURST Julie Smethurst, chairman of the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, pictured in the choir stalls at the City Hall. 13 August 2008

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Ten years ago, Julie Smethurst celebrated her 50th birthday with a rock gig. It was then that she started to dream about how she’d mark her 60th.

She explained: “I’d always dreamed of being able to sponsor a classical concert to the extent of being able to say what I wanted on the programme.” But could that ever be realistic, or suitable as a birthday event?

Well – the answer has turned out to be yes. Julie and her colleagues at Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus – one of the city’s largest and oldest musical groups – are gearing up for a special concert on June 4 at Sheffield City Hall, with a programme chosen by Julie and performed by hundreds of professional and amateur musicians.

Julie did not underestimate the task of putting on such a large-scale concert. But armed with experience from over 15 years of producing concerts, and noting the financial and practical implications, the list of ‘to dos’ and decisions isn’t too scary.

What about the choice of music? “Vaughan Williams became my favourite English composer in my teens, so the whole concert is made up of his music, including The Lark Ascending. All the pieces I wanted have made it to the final line-up,” Julie added.

Large choral works need an accomplished conductor, so the first real collaboration was with Darius Battiwalla, Music Director for Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus.

An initial conversation back in November 2013 confirmed the need for a full orchestra and a large place to put them. Julie explained: “There was no contest about the venue: Sheffield City Hall is the chorus’s ‘home’. It’s a grand experience.”

The concert is being co-managed by a team of professionals and volunteers. Sheffield Bach Choir colleagues and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic orchestra are also key musical forces in the event.

“The chorus is very experienced now at running concerts, but this is the first time working with an orchestra.”

Finding sponsors is important, as a full orchestra can cost £20,000. The group needs to sell at least 1,200 seats in the Irwin Mitchell Oval Hall. “Just another challenge for all of us,” Julie said.

n Tickets cost from £5. Visit www.sheffieldcityhall.co.uk/events/Celebration-Concert to book.