• The Choir

The ChoirThe Choir at WLS is one of the best in Britain. It consists of nine professional singers who, individually, have been at the synagogue between 1 and 25 years. They accompany the liturgy, singing at almost every service, either seated behind the Ark, or out in the congregational pews (increasingly popular with the congregation). As well as singing at the Sabbath services, the choir sings at Weddings, B'nei Mitzvot, and Memorials, both at the synagogue, and outside.

Whilst supporting and encouraging congregational singing, their repertoire is drawn from the great 19th and 20th century European tradition.  Almost unique amongst British synagogues, you will regularly hear the music of Sulzer, Lewandowski, Hart, Mombach, Naumberg, Bloch, Adler, Weiner, Janowski, Castel Nuovo-Tedesco, Helfman, etc., together with the finest of home-grown material by Salaman, Verrinder, Rideout, and Mark Raphael (who composed the famous V’shameru for our Sabbath morning service).

History: A mixed male and female choir, together with the organ, has played an important role in the liturgy since the Consecration Service, in January 1842.  By the 1850’s, the first choirmaster, Charles Salaman, and organist, Dr Verrinder, were setting about laying the foundation of a choral tradition, arranging the ancient melodies and composing much new music: a tradition that happily continues, unbroken, to this day, with the current Director of Music, Chris Bowers-Broadbent.

  • The Organ and Directors of Music

The OrganIt is hard to miss the presence of the organ, gloriously displayed as it is in the chamber immediately behind the Ark (which also houses the Choir and the organ console). The organ is a large 4-manual instrument built by Harrison and Harrison. It was beautifully restored in 2008 (thanks to a very generous benefactor from the congregation). Its Edwardian but bright sound is unusually perfect both as an accompanying as well as a solo instrument.

History: An organ was installed in our previous synagogue in Margaret Street in 1859 (the first organ to be installed in any synagogue), where Dr Charles Verrinder became organist and choirmaster. Verrinder was a remarkable man and a distinguished organist and composer.  Among his most loved settings of the prayers is Esah enai (Psalm 121).

Verrinder died in 1904, and was succeeded by Dr Percy Rideout, a professor of piano, organ and composition. Soon after Rideout’s appointment, the organ, originally built by Gray & Davison, was thoroughly re-built by Harrison & Harrison in 1908. Rideout continued the tradition of composing prayer settings, the Festival setting of ‘Vayehi’ being one of his most brilliant. The congregation celebrated his 50 year’s service in 1954, by which time Arnold Richardson, who had been his assistant, took over as organist.

Richardson, being a first-rate recitalist (he was one of the 4 organists to preside at the opening of the Royal Festival Hall in 1951), did not wish to be also choirmaster, so Mark Raphael was appointed to that post, to be succeeded by Sidney Fixman in 1968. Richardson suffered a heart-attack in 1970, and Chris Bowers-Broadbent (who had already been having lessons on this organ from Richardson, his Academy professor) took over for a short time, that year playing his first Yom Kippur, and finally succeeded to the post of organist when Richardson died in 1973.

Chris has now been the synagogue organist for as long as each of his predecessors.  As a long-time promoter and performer of avant-garde organ music he maintains a youthful view of things, not only retaining the best of the old, but composing many settings for the synagogue (in the tradition of his predecessors).  His recent setting of ‘Mi chamocha’, ‘home-recorded’ during the 2020 pandemic. Chris also became Choirmaster in 2012, and celebrated 50 years at the synagogue in 2018.