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STL Symphony Chorus History

Founded in 1976 by Music Director Jerzy Semkow, the St. Louis Symphony Chorus is an equal partner with the St. Louis Symphony in performing choral orchestral music at the highest artistic level. Directed by Amy Kaiser since 1995, the chorus is primarily a volunteer ensemble with a core of paid singers. Singers of all ages and varied backgrounds come from throughout the St. Louis region to rehearse together on Tuesday nights and perform with the orchestra four to six times a year.

Amy and Carmina castCast of the 2014 Carmina Burana production: Ryan Belongie, countertenor, Juliet Petrus, soprano, Nmon Ford, baritone, Amy Kaiser, Symphony Chorus director, Carlos Izcaray, conductor

The chorus performs repertoire in many styles and languages. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Handel’s Messiah, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Requiems by Brahms, Verdi, and Mozart, Haydn’s Creation, Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky, and Mahler’s Symphony No.2 are programmed regularly. Less frequently performed works by major composers are also highlights of each season. Occasionally the chorus has a role in a concert-version of an opera such as Aida, Wozzeck, Peter Grimes, Otello, Turandot, Eugene Onegin, Carmen or Die Fledermaus (for a New Year’s Eve gala). And the chorus also performs with Live @ Powell Hall events in programs such as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring movie, the birthday celebration of John Williams and his music, and Gladiator movie.

Keller CelebrationWe celebrate charter member Warren Keller upon his retirement from the chorus after 34 seasons!

Music Director David Robertson has expanded the chorus’ repertoire with exciting and challenging programs. For the 2014-15 season, members of the chorus performed Meredith Monk's Weave with the orchestra in Carnegie Hall. Members of the chorus, selected by audition, performed solo roles for the Beethoven Mass in C Major and the New Year's Eve festive concert. For the 100th anniversary of Benjamin Britten’s birth, the chorus and orchestra and top international soloists performed the opera Peter Grimes at Powell Hall and Carnegie Hall in 2013. John Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls and Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem were paired for a concert that took the chorus to Carnegie Hall in 2006. Mozart’s Requiem was preceded by Schoenberg’s a cappella Friede auf Erden. Selections from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, also a cappella, opened a program that ended with Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. The chorus has a special relationship with its Music Director which began when Robertson conducted Ravel’s complete Daphnis and Chloé ballet for his St. Louis Symphony debut in 1999.

Thomas Peck and 1978 Symphony ChorusThomas Peck and the St. Louis Symphony Chorus, 1978

The chorus has also performed at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica, Truman State University, the Fox Theater, Queeny Park, and Busch Memorial Stadium, singing the National Anthem in the 1982 World Series. Members of the chorus periodically perform on the "Sundays at Siteman Cancer Center" series, providing a respite for cancer patients and their families. On tour, the full chorus and the women of the chorus have performed a total of ten programs at New York’s Carnegie Hall. The recording of Alexander Nevsky, nominated for a Grammy award, is one of 12 commercial recordings featuring the chorus. The chorus’ 2011 performance of Orff's Carmina burana was broadcast live on PBS and featured in an award-winning advertisement for the symphony. In St. Louis and beyond, the St. Louis Symphony Chorus is recognized for its vocal and artistic quality.

Thomas PeckThomas Peck, Chorus Director, 1976-1994

Invited by Jerzy Semkow to become the first director of the Saint Louis Symphony Chorus, Thomas Peck was the assistant to Margaret Hillis, director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. In 1962  he founded the 100 voice all-professional Grant Park Festival Chorus. From 1975-78 he was director of the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus. He directed the St. Louis Symphony Chorus from its start in 1976 until his death in 1994 at age 56.

In June 1994, St. Louis Symphony Associate Conductor David Loebel paid tribute to Peck: "To work with Tom Peck was to feel magic. I know of no musician who believed more passionately than Tom did in music's ineffable power to transmit knowledge, to heal pain, to create ecstasy, to change our lives. Waiting in the wings to take his bow after the chorus' performances with the orchestra, he always looked like someone who had been transported to another world… I recall him saying after a particularly moving concert how tragic it was that so many people pass through life untouched by music's message. It was Tom's life's work to spread the word, and it is as much for his role as our artistic conscience as for his considerable skill that we will miss him”

Richard AshburnerRichard Ashburner, Chorus Manager, 1989-2011

Richard joined the tenor section of the St. Louis Symphony Chorus in 1981 and was appointed Chorus Manager in 1989.  While his position as Chorus Manager was part-time, there was nothing part-time about his commitment and devotion to the chorus.  All communications and administrative matters were consistently handled with meticulous attention to detail, creativity and humor.

In his early twenties Richard had performed as Rodolfo in La Bohème, Ferrando in Così fan Tutte and Albert in Albert Herring before becoming a professional speech language pathologist. For many years he enjoyed a full time career as an administrator for the  Special School District of St. Louis where he trained teachers to include children with special needs in standard classrooms.  He also helped train many musicians in the orchestra to give more effective presentations for children in schools.

Richard died after a brief illness on March 18, 2011 at age 57.  In his 22 years as Manager he helped build and nurture the St. Louis Symphony Chorus and touched the lives of his fellow singers;  he will long be remembered with great love and respect.

Carmina floribus et foliisCarmina burana 'floribus et foliis'
Gathering at stage doorGathering at stage door on 'black shirt Sunday'
Ligeti Clocks and CloudsSingers meet the challenge of Ligeti's Clocks and Clouds