The Guinness Choir was established in 1951 by Victor Leeson, who was, at that time, a young member on the management staff of the Guinness Brewery in Dublin. The members of the Choir were also Guinness employees. The Choir (initially known as the St James’s Gate Musical Society) gave its first performance when the Rupert Guinness Hall was opened in May 1951.
The Choir subsequently became known as the Guinness Choir, and has been at the forefront of choral music in Ireland for over 65 years. Victor Leeson, a self-taugh musical scholar, conducted the Choir from its foundation in 1951 until 1984. He was truly inspirational in the growth and direction of the Choir. Early performances included the great oratorios of Bach and Handel, many of which were performed in Dublin for the first time. The choir’s repertoire now encompasses many of the choral works of all the major composers from the 17th to 20th centuries, including Britten, Stravinsky, Pärt, Mahler and Verdi.
On Victor Leeson’s retirement in 1984, John Dexter was appointed as Musical Director. The Choir gave many notable performances under his direction, including the Irish premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem.
David Milne has been the Guinness Choir’s Musical Director since 1991. With his inspirational direction, it has continued to grow in stature and renown. Highlights under his direction include a very successful performance of Verdi’s Requiem at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, in conjunction with the Belfast Philharmonic Choir and the Ulster Orchestra. The Choir gave the first performance of Handel’s Messiah in new Wexford Opera House in 2009. In April 2011 we joined forces with the University of Dublin Choral Society to perform Verdi’s Requiem in the Grand Canal Theatre. This tremendous performance was part of the celebrations marking 300 years of the teaching of Medicine, Chemistry and Botany at Trinity College. Another remarkable occasion was in 2016 when the choir gave a performance of Handel’s Messiah in the newly-rebuilt St. Mel’s Cathedral in Longford. Another exciting highlight of that year was the Choir’s participation on Easter Sunday in the choir of 1,000 voices, with the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra, in the RTÉ 1916 Commemoration concert of ‘A Nation’s Voice’ by Shaun Davey.
More recently we have invited special guest performers to join us at our annual Christmas Concert in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The great Paul Brady was our inaugural guest in December 2016 followed in 2017 by another of Ireland’s preeminent songwriters, Eleanor McEvoy. What a thrill it is to sing alongside such icons of Irish musicianship.
In 2001, as part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, we proudly introduced the inaugural Victor Leeson Perpetual Trophy to the Choir of the Year at the Cork Choral Festival. This award is presented each year to the outstanding Irish choir at the festival. Recent recipients include Voci Nuove from Cork, in 2016, conducted by Lynsey Callaghan and Laetare Vocal Ensemble from Dublin in 2017, conducted by Róis in Blunnie.
When, after 65 years, the Brewery withdrew its financial support in 2016, the choir was in danger of collapsing. However, determined that the choir would continue to perform choral works as has been its great tradition and to remain as an integral part of the musical and cultural heritage of Dublin, we introduced a number of initiatives. We are delighted, and indeed relieved, to have secured the sponsorship of two outstanding companies – DPS Engineering and the Spirit Motor Group, as well as new Patrons and Friends of the choir. And we are delighted to have the Rt. Hon. Earl of Iveagh, Edward Guinness, as our Honorary Patron.
The Guinness Choir is a fixture of the modern choral landscape in Ireland and a name that is synonymous with excellence, professionalism and sheer love of music. Many distinguished Irish and International soloists have sung with the choir over the years and we are committed to supporting emerging young Irish soloists.
We look forward to a bright future of choral singing.