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A chat with John Hugh Thomas

It’s not long now before we perform Handel’s Messiah at the Brangwyn, but did you know that Swansea Bach Choir have been performing this oratorio for nearly 50 years? As it’s been part of our repertoire since our early days, we thought it would be nice to have a chat with our founder and President John Hugh Thomas about our history with this masterpiece.

“I can’t quite recall the first time we ever sang Messiah, but it was definitely very early on,” John recalls. “Messiah is traditionally a Christmas oratorio, of course, but at the time there was no regular performance of the piece in Swansea. It wasn’t at the Brangwyn in those days, of course. We actually performed it at St. Andrew’s Church on St. Helen’s Road, which is now Swansea Mosque. As a church, the sound was absolutely beautiful, but the main reason we chose it was because it had moveable chairs so we were able to make space for the orchestra.”

This year, Swansea Bach Choir are looking forward to welcoming Réjouissance, who are the period ensemble in residence at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, to join us on stage at the Brangwyn. As a choir, we have always performed this piece with period instruments, and over the years we have welcomed some fantastic orchestras to the stage with us. John said: “From very early on, we’ve always used historical instruments for Handel’s Messiah, even for that first performance on St. Helen’s Road, and it wasn’t as easy to find musicians who could perform in the Baroque style in those days. We always did it though. It’s not so much a case of trying to recreate the original because you can’t really, but I think it’s important to be sensitive to how Handel intended it to be performed and that’s always been a part of our interpretation.”

When performing Messiah at the Brangwyn became a regular feature in Swansea's Christmas festivities, Swansea Bach Choir were one of the first choirs to take part. “Messiah now gets performed at the Brangwyn every Christmas and there are a number of choirs who take it turns. Swansea Bach Choir were one of the original choirs invited to perform it, and we’ve been doing it ever since.”

Each time we present this piece, it's something special. This particular performance is a little delayed, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we’re very excited to be back after a five year absence and looking forward to seeing you at the Brangwyn once more.

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