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Bach’s Mass in B Minor is a major family affair

06 February, 2020 — By Michael White

James Picton-Turbervill, right, with his father David and grandmother Shirley

THE Bach Choir is a venerable institution, founded in 1876 and with a loyal following over the years. But there can’t be many so loyal as the Picton-Turbervill family who have sung with it generation after generation – with the latest, 23-year-old James Picton-Turbervill, making his debut in the tenor section for next Tuesday’s Bach B Minor Mass at the Southbank.

“My great-great-grandmother, a campaigning suffragist and rather formidable figure, was a founder-member back in 1876,” he tells me.

“My grandmother joined in 1954, sang with the choir for 40 years, and met her husband there. My father has been a member since 1984. And now me – which is sort of inevitable since Monday night rehearsals at 6pm in Westminster have been the bedrock of our family life for 150 years.”

The only question is why James didn’t join before – and the answer is that he’s been study­ing in Exeter as well as being a choral scholar at the cathedral there.

Now back in London, teaching in a school in Pimlico, he’s making up for lost time. And Tuesday’s B Minor Mass is good repertoire to start with because it’s in Latin. When the choir sings the Bach Passions it’s always in English translation from the original German – which means, says James, “my girlfriend’s mother won’t come because she’s German and doesn’t like it”.

Latin-lovers take note: it’s 7.30pm, Tuesday February 11, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX, 020 3879 9555,

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