Washington Chorus


Active: 1961
The Washington Chorus is one of the leading vocal ensembles of the capital city of the United States. It is a symphonic chorus that gives its own yearly subscription series and often appears with the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. was deliberately planned and founded to be the national capital of the newly formed United States. Its very location represented a political compromise, being located in land donated by the relatively small State of Maryland for the purpose and located roughly in the middle of the U.S. east coast and thus not dominated by either Northern or Southern interests. Accordingly, it is historically not a mercantile, financial, or cultural center of the country; its occupation is politics and government and it has usually been dominated by people who do not even consider it their home.

Thus there was a lack of suitable concert halls before the late 1940s. While church choirs were important, there had been several choirs founded by music societies such as the Washington Philharmonic Society, the Mozart Choral Society, and the Harmony Club. A city of Southern outlook, Washington's history of segregation resulted in the simultaneous existence of black choirs such as the Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society, the Washington Permanent Chorus, the Amphion Glee Club, and the Burleigh Choral Society. In addition to these concert choirs, Washington is also a center of black gospel choirs.

This chorus, originally called the Oratorio Society of Washington, was founded in 1961. It quickly established itself as one of the leading choruses in the capital city and soon began appearing with the National Symphony Orchestra. It is not the only important local choir to do so; the Paul Hill Chorale, and the Choral Arts Society also have close ties with the symphony.

In its first 40 years the Washington Chorus appeared with the NSO some 275 times and has been conducted by such maestros as Seiji Ozawa, Neville Marriner, Raphael Fr├╝hbeck de Burgos, Charles Dutoit, Karl Richter, Zdenek Macal, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Leonard Slatkin. The Washington Chorus' music director since 1971 has been Robert Shafer. A leading choral conductor and a member of the faculty of Shenandoah University, Shafer has raised the standards and membership of the chorus, which now numbers 180 singers.

He conducted the chorus and his Shenandoah Conservatory Choir with the National Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Britten's War Requiem that won the Grammy Award of the U.S. National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences as the Best Choral Performance of the Year for 2000 on a Washington Chorus disc, released by Naxos internationally. The chorus also appeared on the Grammy-nominated recordings of John Corigliano's Symphony No. 1 (Of Rage and Remembrance) conducted by Maestro Slatkin on RCA and Mstislav Rostropovich's taping of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov on the Erato label.

Under his leadership the chorus tours regularly, including international trips every other year since 1994.