Our History

On 8th December 1931 at the Assembly Rooms in Pier Street, Mr A.J. Leckie raised his baton to conduct the first appearance of the newly formed UWA Choral Society in a performance of Stanford’s “The Revenge” and a selection of part-songs. There was no orchestra, Miss Elsie Watson accompanying the choir on the piano. In 2006 that same society presented a programme of three concerts including a Gala Performance of Mozart’s Coronation Mass and Vespers to celebrate their 75th anniversary. During those years they have taken part in a vast range of works and are thus one of the oldest surviving choirs in Australia.The Society was the brain child of Mr. A.J.Leckie and Professor A.D. Ross. The Senate gave its blessing and a starting gift of £25. Professor Ross was the founding president and Mr. Leckie the Honorary Conductor and they took the society through its early years. There were outstanding events in this period. In 1932 Winthrop Hall was opened and the Society took part in the celebrations. In the years that followed it sang in concerts under such distinguished visitors as Percy Grainger, Dr. (later Sir) Malcolm Sargent , and Sir Thomas Beecham. In 1938, under Malcolm Sargent a combined choir including 70 members of U.W.A.C.S. took part in its first major choral work with orchestra, Mendelssohn’s “Elijah”. This was under the auspices of the ABC – a relationship that was to be significant in the choir’s development.The war years proved difficult and in the late 1940s both Mr. Leckie and Professor Ross resigned from the choir. The choir went through an uncertain period but in 1952 the Senate appointed Mr. Frank Callaway as Reader in Music in the Faculty of Education. For the next 26 years under his leadership the Society flourished. In conjunction with the ABC and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra they were to give the first performances in Western Australia of such works as Vaughan William’s Sea Symphony, Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Verdi’s Requiem. When the Perth Concert Hall was opened in 1973 the Society provided the choral forces to perform “A Choral Fanfare” specially composed by James Penberthy under a guest conductor, Tibor Paul.

Under a series of conductors, – Roy Rimmer, Ian Westrip, Warwick Stengards, Prue Ashurst – the Society continued to perform both on its own and with other groups. In 1988 the University’s 75th anniversary was commemorated by a concert including a combined choir performing Walton’s “Belshazzar’s Feast” and Orff’s “Carmina Burana”. In 1989, as part of the Festival of Perth the choir took part in Berlioz’s “Requiem” under Louis Fremaux. 1991 saw the Society reach its own Diamond Jubilee with a concert in which Sir Frank Callaway, Mr. John Winstanley, Mr. Roy Rimmer and Mr. Ian Westrip each conducted an item. The occasion was marked by the presentation to the Music department of two basset horns for the University orchestra. The 1990s proved difficult years in that the Society was totally dependent on its own resources and the cost of presenting major works had soared. In spite of this music making continued with “Messiah” being presented not only at Winthrop Hall but also in Bunbury, Fremantle, Belvoir and at Leeuwin Estate Winery. The Festival of Perth (1991) invited the choir to participate in “The Axion Esti” conducted by the composer, Mikis Theodorakis – which involved singing in Greek! 1992 gave Perth audiences the opportunity to hear a more modern work, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Requiem” in the Concert Hall and the same venue was used for Elgar’s “Dream of Gerontius” the next year. In 1994 a group of choristers joined the World Festival Chorus in Verdi’s “Requiem” with Luciano Pavarotti in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Other works included Purcell’s “King Arthur”, John Rutter’s “Requiem”, Bruckner’s “Mass in E minor” and Bach’s “Matthew Passion”.In 2000, John Beaverstock accepted the position of Musical Director. In 2006 he handed the baton on to Burhan Güner. In 2009 Burhan led the Society in Bach’s “Mass in B minor” which brought back memories of the 1985 performance for some members. Jangoo Chapkhana took over for 2010. In 2011 Christopher van Tuinen was appointed as Conductor.