As part of their historic centenary season, Birmingham Bach Choir continue to surprise and challenge with Steal Away - a programme based on spirituals - and will be performing at Pershore Abbey on 22 June and the CBSO Centre on 6 July 2019.

The precursor to blues and gospel music, the African American spiritual was borne out of struggle, and proliferated in the latter half of the 19th century, leading up to the abolishment of slavery in the US. Powerful and emotional, the songs present a Christian message and while often describing the extreme hardships of life, they also offer hope and salvation.

Among the works to be performed are the famed spiritual Wade In The Water, first published at the turn of the 20th century and adapted by such artists as jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis and The Staple Singers during the 1960's, and My Soul’s Been Anchored In The Lord – both arranged by the late New Orleans-born composer and arranger Moses Hogan.

How other composers have taken inspiration from the African American folksong form is explored with the inclusion of Will Todd's hymn-like My Lord Has Come and John Rutter’s vivid Feel The Spirit, while A Child Of Our Time finds composer Michael Tippett innovatively incorporating the spiritual into a piece inspired by the oppression faced by European Jews during the late-1930s.

The choir’s conductor and musical director, Paul Spicer, says: “Birmingham Bach Choir has been programming increasingly different and challenging programmes in recent years and I felt that for its summer concert this year we should try something which is, in many ways, outside our comfort zone.

“Summer concerts are often a bit different and have a lighter element to them. This programme of spirituals or spiritual-related music is in some ways lighter - the music is often rhythmic, jazzy and hip-swinging - but of course the message pouring from these wonderful pieces is of deep unhappiness, of almost penal servitude (which it was for some), and the powerful prayers which ask for release from the slavery people endured.”

Concluding the programme is the premiere of Steal Away, Paul’s new musical setting for the moving religious spiritual of the same name.

“I decided to write what I call a ‘reimagining’ of the famous spiritual Steal Away as a gift to the choir in its centenary year,” explains the composer. “It’s completely different from all the other pieces in the programme, and the choir is singing it fabulously. It seems to do what I hoped it would when we have rehearsed it, so come and hear its premiere, and help give it a rousing send-off.”

Birmingham Bach Choir: Steal Away - Spirituals To Melt The Heart, visits Pershore Abbey, Pershore, Worcs, on Saturday 22 June 2019, followed by a performance at Birmingham's CBSO Centre on Saturday 6 July 2019. For tickets and more information, see:www.birmingham.bachchoir.com