The Chicago Symphony Chorus, under the current leadership of Duain Wolfe, has earned respect, admiration, and critical acclaim as one of the finest symphonic choruses in the world through its performances in the United States and abroad.
The Chicago Symphony Chorus’ storied history began in September 1957, when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra announced that Margaret Hillis, at Music Director Fritz Reiner’s invitation, would organize and train a symphony chorus. Auditions began two weeks later, and in March 1958, the Chicago Symphony Chorus made its subscription concert debut performing Mozart’s Requiem with Bruno Walter conducting. A few weeks later, Reiner himself led the Chorus for the first time in performances of Verdi’s Requiem.
Since then, the Chicago Symphony Chorus has performed and recorded virtually all the major works in the choral symphonic repertoire, given important world premieres, appeared with visiting orchestras and been a part of many noteworthy milestones in the CSO’s history. In June 1994, Duain Wolfe was appointed the second director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, succeeding Hillis, who was named director laureate.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra recordings featuring the Chorus have won 10 Grammy Awards for Best Choral Performance from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. These recordings include hallmarks of the choral repertoire, ranging from Beethoven’s Missa solemnis and Bach’s B Minor Mass to Orff’s Carmina burana, and two recordings each of Brahms’ A German Requiem and Verdi’s Requiem. The Chorus made its first commercial recording—Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky with Fritz Reiner conducting—with the Orchestra in 1959. Under Bernard Haitink the Chorus has been featured on CSO Resound recordings of Poulenc’s Gloria with soprano Jessica Rivera as soloist, Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, and Mahler’s Second Symphony. In addition, the women of the Chorus can be heard in Mahler’s Third Symphony under Haitink, the debut release from CSO Resound in May 2007. The Chorus’ most recent recording with the CSO—Verdi’s Messa da Requiem led by Riccardo Muti—was awarded two Grammy Awards in 2011: Best Classical Album and Best Choral Performance, the first Grammy Award for Chorus Director Duain Wolfe.
The Chicago Symphony Chorus made its Ravinia Festival debut in July 1960 in a performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony conducted by CSO Associate Conductor and Ravinia Festival Artistic Director Walter Hendl, and it has returned many times since, most recently in 2009 for performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony conducted by Ravinia Festival Music Director James Conlon. The Chorus made its Carnegie Hall debut with the CSO in 1967, in Henze’s The Sicilian Muses and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé with Jean Martinon conducting. The Chorus returned to Carnegie Hall for performances of Verdi’s Otello to commemorate Sir Georg Solti’s final concerts as music director in April 1991, and again in December 2000 for performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with Daniel Barenboim conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin. The Chorus will perform two concerts with Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in April 2011 at Carnegie Hall.
Internationally, the Chorus first toured with the Orchestra to London and Salzburg in 1989 for performances of Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust with Sir Georg Solti conducting. Ten years later, the ensemble won critical acclaim for its performances of Schoenberg’s Moses and Aron and Brahms’ A German Requiem with the Orchestra at the Berlin Festtage in April 1999.
Members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus are frequently featured in education performances with members of the CSO; have served as section leaders for the CSO Community Chorale; performed at Day of Music; and, in collaboration with Chicago Public Schools, have appeared at over 40 CPS high schools, presenting programs designed to coordinate with the students’ history and literature curricula. Chorus members also have been seen in numerous performances around the city, including the Great Tree Lighting Ceremony at Macy’s, on ABC 7 and NBC 5, and singing the national anthem for the Chicago Bulls.