The Collegiate Chorale has been a prominent force in the musical life of New York City for more than 60 years. Founded in 1941 by Robert Shaw and taking its name from its first rehearsal space at the Marble Collegiate Church, The Chorale has performed L.v. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony under the baton of Arturo Toscanini and subsequently sang under such conductors as Thomas Beecham, Leonard Bernstein, Serge Koussevitzky, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, and Dimitri Mitropoulos. Through the years the Chorale has established a national reputation through its commitment not only to the traditional choral repertoire but also to American music and to new works - many of them commissions or premieres - by such leading composers as Barber, Bolcom, Benjamin Britten, Copland, Dvorák, Paul Hindemith, and Sessions.
In recent years the Chorale, under the direction of Robert Bass, has explored the operatic repertoire, in which the chorus plays a significant role. In 1982 they joined Juilliard’s American Opera Center for the New York premiere of Montezuma by Roger Sessions, and other concert performances of operas followed: in 1984 Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and the American premiere of Dvorák’s Dmitri; in 1985 L.v. Beethoven’s Fidelio; in 1987 the New York premiere of Ottorino Respighi’s La fiamma; and in 1989 the New York premiere of Strauss’ previously unrecorded one-act opera, Friedenstag, which was recorded live and released on the Koch label in 1991, reaching the top 25 on the classical Billboard charts. In 1997 the Chorale gave the New York premiere of Schubert’s Fierrabras, in 1998 Verdi’s Nabucco, in 1999 presented Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco, and in 2000 Ponchielli’s La Gioconda. In 2001 The Chorale performed Verdi’s Macbeth, in 2002 Weber’s Oberon, in 2003 La forza del destino, and in 2004 Un ballo in maschera - all with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.
In addition to its appearances in five annual Richard Tucker Foundation Galas, the Chorale sang in Pavarotti Plus!; all six programs were televised nationally on PBS, the latter as part of the Live From Lincoln Center series (1990). The 1991 Tucker Gala was released as a CD on the BMG label. The Chorale has also made recordings with the New York Philharmonic, perhaps the best known being Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”) under Leonard Bernstein.
The Chorale is featured in a video of a 1948 performance of L.v. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra and on the CD Dvorák Discoveries from America on the Music and Arts label. It’s recording of the March 1994 all-Beethoven Carnegie Hall concert of the previously unrecorded Der glorreiche Augenblick and of the Cantata on the Elevation of Leopold II was released on CD by Koch International.
Highlights of recent seasons include the Chorale’s performances of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass in its first New York performance in over 25 years, as well as of Berlioz’s Requiem; the 60th Anniversary tribute to Robert Shaw in 2002, which marked a historic moment for The Collegiate Chorale featuring a two-day salute including a Carnegie Hall concert featuring Robert Shaw’s signature piece, Johannes Brahms’ Requiem and the world premiere of Ned Rorem’s Now Voyager; an Evening with Kathleen Battle; the American premiere of Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall; and performances of Orff’s Carmina Burana, Mozart’s Requiem, George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, and Haydn’s Creation. Since 1993 the Chorale has been performing exclusively with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.
In 2003 Maestro Bass founded The Collegiate Chorale Singers, the professional ensemble of the Chorale, which gave its first performance in a program of all-American music. Three summers ago, the Chorale embarked on its first European tour, performing in Prague and Vienna. In 2005 the Chorale appeared at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland, performing the Verdi Requiem under the baton of James Levine.
Among the many guest artists with whom the Chorale has performed in recent years are Donnie Ray Albert, John Aler, Martina Arroyo, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, Grace Bumbry, John Cheek, Mignon Dunn, Kallen Esperian, Simon Estes, Lauren Flanigan, Elizabeth Futral, Maria Guleghina, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Salvatore Licitra, Richard Margison, James McCracken, Kevin McMillan, Sherrill Milnes, Leona Mitchell, Paul Plishka, Juan Pons, Florence Quivar, Eduard Tumagian, Benita Valente, Deborah Voigt, and the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus and Riverside Choral Society. Music Directors for the Chorale have included Margaret Hillis, Abraham Kaplan, and Richard Westenburg. Robert Bass has been music director and conductor since 1980.