Simon Halsey is a sought-after conductor of choral repertoire at the very highest level and an ambassador for choral singing across the world. Since 2001 he has been Principal Conductor of the Rundfunkchor Berlin, the permanent partner of the Berliner Philharmoniker. In the UK, Halsey has been Chorus Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Choruses for over 30 years and, in 2012, was appointed Choral Director of the London Symphony Orchestra and London Symphony Chorus. In this new position, Halsey leads choral activities across the LSO’s performance and education programmes.
Simon Halsey is also Artistic Director of the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Youth Choral Programme, as well as Director of the BBC Proms Youth Choir. Since 2014 he has been Artistic Advisor of the Choir Academy of the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival. Making singing a central part of these world-class institutions, Halsey has been instrumental in changing the level of symphonic singing across Europe.
Under Halsey’s leadership, the Rundfunkchor Berlin has gained a reputation internationally as one of the finest professional choral ensembles. Halsey has also initiated innovative projects in unconventional venues and interdisciplinary formats, such as human requiem (after Brahms) in collaboration with dance company Sasha Waltz & Guests, which – in addition to performances at Radialsystem V in Berlin – tours to Rotterdam this season. Other highlights of 2014/15 include performances of Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Together with the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Rundfunkchor Berlin tours Bach’s St Matthew Passion to New York as part of the Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, in Peter Sellars’s acclaimed staging, following performances at the Lucerne Festival and BBC Proms.
In addition to its work with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Simon Halsey’s CBSO Chorus is in high demand, working with other first-rate orchestras and leading conductors. Recent and upcoming highlights include performances with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and John Storgårds and with the Czech Philharmonic and Jiří Bělohlávek. With the CBSO in Birmingham, the 2014/15 season includes the UK premiere of James MacMillan’s St Luke Passion and a concert performance of Wagner’s Parsifal. At the CBSO Halsey has also founded a Youth Chorus and Children’s Chorus, as well as two community choirs in Birmingham and the surrounding area.
Since becoming Choral Director of the London Symphony Orchestra and London Symphony Chorus in 2012, Halsey has been credited with bringing about a “spectacular transformation” (Evening Standard) of the LSC. In 2014/15 the LSO and LSC perform Schumann’s Das Paradies und die Peri with Sir Simon Rattle. In addition to its work with the LSO, the choir joins the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and Alan Gilbert for a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the BBC Proms, and the BBC Philharmonic and Juanjo Mena for Beethoven’s Fidelio in Manchester. In 2014 Halsey also conducted the LSC in a series of a cappella concerts across the UK, including Tallis’s Spem in alium and Rachmaninov’s Vespers.
In August 2014 Simon Halsey was invited by the British Government to conduct a combined choir from the LSC and the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival at a commemoration ceremony to mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War I at St. Symphorien Military Cemetery. In February 2015 Halsey brings together the CBSO Chorus and LSC to perform Mahler’s Symphony No.2 with the Berliner Philharmoniker at London’s Royal Festival Hall, celebrating Sir Simon Rattle’s 60th birthday.
As Artistic Director of the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Youth Choral Programme Vokalhelden (‘Vocal Heroes’), Halsey leads a long-term education and performance project that brings together children from diverse backgrounds from all over Berlin. This season they perform the world premiere of Jonathan Dove’s Was lauert da im Labyrinth (The Monster in the Maze), conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. In London, the LSO Youth Choir and Community Choir perform the UK premiere of Dove’s new opera, as part of Halsey’s LSO Sing programme. In June 2014 Simon Halsey conducted the world premiere of David Lang’s Crowd Out, a community work for 1,000 voices, with performances in Birmingham, Berlin and London. Halsey’s BBC Proms Youth Choir, which is formed of young singers from all over the UK, performed Britten’s War Requiem with the CBSO and Andris Nelsons in August 2014.
Simon Halsey is Professor and Director of Choral Activities at the University of Birmingham, where he directs a postgraduate course in Choral Conducting, in association with the CBSO. Halsey is in great demand as a teacher at other universities and has presented masterclasses at top universities such as Princeton and Yale. In 2011 Schott Music published his book and DVD on choral conducting, Chorleitung: Vom Konzept zum Konzert, as part of its ‘Master Class’ series.
Halsey has worked on numerous recording projects, many of which have won major awards, including the Gramophone Award, Diapason d’Or and Echo Klassik. He has won three Grammy Awards for his recordings with the Rundfunkchor Berlin: 2007, 2008 (Best Choral Performances) and 2011 (Best Opera Performance). As part of a new relationship with Deutsche Grammophon, Halsey and the Rundfunkchor Berlin recorded Spheres with violinist Daniel Hope, as well as Morgenlicht, a choir-only recording of German hymns, both released in 2013. Highlights of his discography with the CBSO Chorus on EMI Classics include Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius with CBSO, Sir Simon Rattle, Dame Janet Baker and John Shirley-Quirk; Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle; and Mahler’s Symphony No.2 with CBSO, Sir Simon Rattle, Dame Janet Baker and Arleen Auger.
Born in London, Simon Halsey sang in the choirs of New College, Oxford, and of King’s College, Cambridge. He studied conducting at the Royal College of Music in London. In 1987, he founded with Graham Vick the City of Birmingham Touring Opera (now Birmingham Opera Company). He was Chief Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Choir from 1997 to 2008 and was also Principal Conductor of the Northern Sinfonia’s Choral Programme from 2004 to 2012. Halsey was awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2011, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to choral music in Germany, and holds three honorary doctorates from universities in the United Kingdom.
Simon Halsey is represented by Intermusica.
N2014/15 season / 1,034 words. Not to be altered without permission. Please destroy all previous biographical material.
London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus / Mozart Requiem
“The London Symphony Chorus has always been a good one, but since Simon Halsey, one of Europe’s finest choral trainers, took over last year it has undergone a spectacular transformation. Singing out unencumbered by scores, with crackling consonants and commitment to match, the choir brought a disciplined exhilaration to the party.”
London Evening Standard, January 2013
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra & Chorus / Elgar The Music Makers
“[The Music Makers] was a nice choice for this occasion, which Rice, Halsey and his superbly honed chorus certainly made the most of.”
The Guardian, June 2012
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra & Youth Chorus / Duruflé Requiem
“Hearing this lovely work sung with such tonal openness and clarity of utterance made it sound almost newly minted... Simon Halsey was at the helm – and what a sympathetic, empowering conductor he has become – drawing from the CBSO playing of luminous subtlety and refinement.“
Birmingham Post, March 2012
‘Vom Konzept zum Konzert’ / Schott Music Oct 2011 / ISBN-10: 3795707552
“A handbook for anyone interested in being part of the current choral music boom.
The two DVDs give a vivid impression of Halsey’s charismatic personality, showing one of the world’s most sought-after choral directors working on various pieces in meticulous detail.
Everybody here can learn something from a master.”
“A great deal of the conducting profession is visualized and presented in a pedagogically ideal fashion, with much information that would probably not be obtainable in a standard choral conducting textbook.
In this workshop, Simon Halsey has simply organized the tools in an optimal way.”
“Choral singers will find Simon Halsey’s book highly engaging, while choral conductors will find a treasure trove of valuable tips. In addition to Halsey’s experiences, it also features a wealth of material that he has picked up in his many concert projects with other conductors – not only from his friend Simon Rattle, but also from Marek Janowski, Daniel Barenboim and Kurt Masur.
The ideal gift for every music student and choral director.”
“The book is constantly absorbing because Halsey writes so naturally and fluently: it’s as though he were sitting opposite us and relating essentials from his rich treasure trove of experience.”
NDR Kultur, December 2011
“Halsey’s delightfully readable style, conveying his great enthusiasm for his subject, further contributes to the overwhelmingly positive impression.
With disarming modesty, the great choral director Simon Halsey imparts wisdom from his rich experience and provides comprehensive information on everything having to do with choral conducting.
Here he draws on his full expertise (without ever becoming ideological) and offers so many facets of his knowledge that every choral director will profit from it.
A compendium of choral directing.”
Musik und Kirche
Berlin Philharmonic & Radio Choir/ Bach Matthew Passion (staged by Peter Sellars)
“The most beautiful music event of the season…a jewel in the crown for Simon Halsey’s incredible Berlin Radio Choir.”
Berliner Zeitung, April 2010
“The star of these three and a half hours is Simon Halsey’s Berlin Radio Choir. The chorale ‘Befiehl Du Deine Wege’ has never been heard in a softer, more haunting pianissimo.”
Der Tagesspiegel, April 2010
“The real super hero of the performance is Simon Halsey.”
rbb Kultrurradio, April 2010
“The Berlin Radio Choir is in a class of its own.”
KlassikInfo.de, April 2010
“It is the Berlin Radio Choir that deserves the greatest respect – a choir of superlatives.”
Salzburg24.at, March 2010
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra & Berlin Radio Choir/ Szymanowski Stabat Mater
“The CBSO´s recording, for which Halsey prepared the chorus, was an award winner back in the early 1990s. This was a performance to fully remind us what beautiful music this is, Halsey perfectly blending his Anglo-German forces in the cause of Polish expressiveness.”
Birmingham Post, April 2009
Berlin Radio Choir & Orchestra/ MacMillan St John’s Passion
“The Radio Choir and Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of the energetic, adventurous and skilled Simon Halsey, gave the German premiere of James MacMillan’s gripping, two-hour-long St John’s Passion at the Berlin Konzerthaus, and what a vivid and memorable account it was!“
Berliner Morgenpost, March 2009
Komishe Oper Berlin / Angst
"It was the excellent Rundfunkchor Berlin, tackling the demanding vocal parts with outstanding musicianship under the leadership of Simon Halsey, who gave new life to the piece in this successfully staged performance.”
Neues Deutschland, January 2009
“The musical performance under Simon Halsey will have set the ultimate standard for future stagings, or even recordings, of the piece.”
Der Tagesspiegel, January 2009
Berlin Philharmonic / Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms (EMI Classics)
“Its Latin psalm settings rise from solemnity to ecstasy in music that brings the best from Rattle and choir (Berlin Radio Choir) and orchestra…”
Sunday Telegraph, July 2008
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Parry & Elgar
“Conductor and chorus emerged triumphant… This was a sensational performance, not least because Halsey contrived, as if instinctively, to get all the pacings right.”
The Independent, October 2007
“Simon Halsey conducted the outer parts of this Edwardian programme of English music. Parry’s coronation anthem I Was Glad was a suitably ceremonial opening, while Elgar’s the Music Makers… demanded inclusion too.”
The Guardian, October 2007
"In all three works, a large share of the responsibility for driving home the ecstatic high points falls on the Chorus. Happily, the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus lived up to the enviable reputation it has won under the long-term guidance of Simon Halsey. Augmented by the BBC National Chorus of Wales and members of the City of Birmingham Choir, it rose magnificently to every challenge."
The Telegraph, June 2007
"The weekend's heroes, however, were the enlarged chorus, prepared by Simon Halsey: precision, passion, pure, clear delivery."
The Independent, June 2007
Berlin Philharmonic / Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem
"The Berlin Radio Chorus, trained by Rattle's old colleague in Birmingham, Simon Halsey, sing with restrained passion and beautifully support Rattle's conjecture that this piece is as much a private as a public statement."
Gramophone Choral Award 2007
"Thanks to the marvellous transparency of the playing Rattle encourages from his Berlin players, and the outstanding choral singing, this is a modern version to reckon with. Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus director in Birmingham, appears, on this evidence, to have revitalised choral singing in the German capital. Rattle's Brahms really glows."
The Times, March 2007
Berlin Philharmonic / Ives & Shostakovich
"…the Radio Choir (trained by Simon Halsey) performed under Sakari Oramo with intensity and flexibility."
Neues Deutschland, January 2005
Minnesota Orchestra & Chorale / Handel Messiah
“...acclaimed choral conductor Simon Halsey led those four soloists, the orchestra and the Minnesota Chorale in an interpretation suffused with majesty and richly realized depth. Growing more emotionally engaging by the aria, the evening proved every bit as rewarding as you would expect a world-class collection of Handel practitioners to make it...the Minnesota Chorale responded marvelously to Halsey's charismatic direction.”
Pioneer Press, 9 December 2004
Music Director of CurlewRiver at BBC Proms
“…the piece unfolded with absorbing power, eight excellent instrumentalists casting aural light and shade on the austere plainchart that dominates the vocal writing.”
Evening Standard, 29 July 2004
“Musically it was a secret policeman’s ball, with strong vocal performances all round, but especially from Mark Wilde as the Madwoman and Rodney Clarke as the Ferryman, and the BCMG players captured that semi-improvised feel that Britten intended through his conductorless freedom of movement.”
The Daily Telegraph, 30 July 2004
“…it was also musically convincing; a moving and imaginative revelation of Britten’s most daring work of music theatre.”
The Guardian, 30 July 2004
“…one of the most powerful Proms experiences I’ve enjoyed. … [I was impressed] by BCMG’s beautifully detailed delivery of Britten’s transparent score, by the singing and acting of all concerned.”
The Independent on Sunday, 1 September 2004
“All five of the Birmingham Opera Company’s lead singers were excellent, notably the rising young tenor Mark Wilde in the central, cross-dressing role of the Madwoman. Halsey’s players excelled. Those listening on Radio 3 must have enjoyed a rare treat.”
The Observer, 1 September 2004
City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus & London Symphony Chorus/ Mahler Symphony No.8
"The City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus, the City of Birmingham Symphony Youth Chorus and the Toronto Children's Chorus, near-impeccable in attack, intonation and blend, were magnificent."
Evening Standard, 7 June 2004
"The City of Birmingham and London Symphony Choruses sang with precision and apparently limitless reserves of physical and emotional stamina. And it was wonderful to see as well as hear the enthusiasm of the City of Birmingham Symphony Youth Chorus and Toronto Children's Chorus, at one point cupping their hands to their mouths to make themselves heard through the tidal roar of one of Mahler's biggest climaxes. To get well over a hundred teenagers and younger children to sing German and medieval Latin with such precision and gusto is no small achievement."
The Independent 9 June 2004
Berlin Radio Choir / 25th Anniversary Concert
“It was not simply concentrated volume, but a fine art of song, tender pianos and orchestral colour which made the concert, directed by Simon Halsey and Daniel Reuss a pinnacle of choral singing”
Der Tagesspiegel, 17 February 2004
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra & Netherlands Radio Choir / Szymanowski Stabat Mater
“It is incomprehensible why this work is not performed more often, as this Stabat Mater has an ethereal beauty. The real star role was reserved for the Netherlands Radio Choir, which related Szymanowski’s Slavonic drama with crystal clear, angelic singing.”
Parool, 12 January 2004
Berlin Radio Choir
“The Radio Choir under the direction of Simon Halsey, showed good form throughout – not just in this extremely complicated premiere: excellent intonation and almost perfect balance with alert attention to all the rhythmical difficulties.”
Leipziger Volkszeitung, 20 March 2003
Edinburgh Royal Choral Union / Handel Messiah
“The Edinburgh Royal Choral Union looked and sounded jubilant…in a performance as professional and slick as any you would wish to hear…under the tart and efficient direction of Simon Halsey. This was a performance which carefully avoided any sensationalism or attention-grabbing dependence on the big numbers. It was operatic in concept. Halsey gathered together the various chunks logically, moulding these into slick and meaningful extended theatrical scenes. The whole of Part II was full of energy and passion, not least in the final, uninterrupted leap into the famous Hallelujah chorus. The concluding Amen was a satisfying climax to one of the most tasteful performances of the work I have ever heard.”
The Scotsman, January 2001
European Voices & Sir Simon Rattle / Salzburg Festival
“The performance possesses high vocal qualities, not least because of the choir European Voices, magnificently prepared by Simon Halsey, which also works hard on its dramatic role.”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, May 1999
“The chorus of European Voices also plays a decisive role. Their flexibility and dramatic intelligence supersede by far the ability and willingness of an old-fashioned opera chorus.”
Der Standard, May 1999
CBSO Chorus & Sir Simon Rattle at BBC Proms / Beethoven Symphony No.9
“Simon Halsey…had moulded receptive voices into a pliable, cohesive force of eloquence.”
The Daily Telegraph, August 1998