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Celebrating 40 Years of the Colorado Symphony Chorus

March 12, 2024

Celebrating 40 Years of the Colorado Symphony Chorus

Throughout history, many of the greatest symphonic compositions — from Mozart’s Requiem to Handel’s Messiah and the Verdi Requiem — have reached transcendent levels of beauty through the marriage and interplay between instrument and voice. For nearly 40 years, audiences in Colorado have had the unique pleasure to witness many of these masterworks and more, thanks in large part to the Colorado Symphony Chorus.

The 2023/24 Colorado Symphony season marks the 40th year of the Colorado Symphony Chorus (CSC). Founded in 1984 by Chorus Director Duain Wolfe, the CSC has earned a reputation as one of the finest symphonic choruses in the United States, performing in Boettcher Concert Hall and across Colorado.

In a situation unique and exceedingly rare to many United States orchestras, the Colorado Symphony supports their own chorus as an integral element of the organization, giving it the ability to perform all the orchestral-choral masterworks.

“As Colorado Symphony audience members and music-lovers all over the state know, we are so fortunate to have a world-class symphony chorus right here in our own backyard,” said Peter Oundjian, Principal Conductor. “Duain Wolfe, Mary Louise Burke, Taylor Martin, the singers of the Colorado Symphony Chorus, and their entire team put incredible time and dedication into every performance, which is why it’s always a thrill and an honor to share the stage with them.”

The storied history of the Colorado Symphony Chorus begins with Wolfe, who was charged with forming the ensemble in 1984. Known then as the Denver Symphony Chorus, the 140-voice ensemble made its debut October 25, 1984 in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem.

“The Music Director of the Denver Symphony Orchestra at the time, Gaetano Delogu, wanted a chorus whose primary purpose would be to collaborate with the orchestra on the great masterworks,” said Wolfe. “I was asked to form this chorus, so we held auditions, set a rehearsal schedule for the debut piece, Verdi’s great Requiem, and the rest is history.”

Duain Wolfe, Colorado Symphony Chorus
Mary Louise Burke, Colorado Symphony Chorus
Taylor Martin, Colorado Symphony Chorus

For 40 years, Wolfe has provided consummate leadership and an unparalleled artistic vision for the ensemble, helping it to achieve a distinguished reputation throughout the world. Wolfe recently retired as Director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus after 28 years. During his tenure, he was the recipient of three GRAMMY® Awards for Best Choral Performance, Best Classical Recording (Verdi Requiem), and Best Opera Performance. In addition, he founded and conducted the Colorado Children’s Chorale in 1974, prior to retiring from that position in 1999.

“We have, in chorus director Duain Wolfe, a musician with remarkable training and talent,” said Eric Israelson, longtime Chorus Manager. “He sets the bar exceptionally high for excellence in choral singing. His sense of correct style, impeccable rhythm, and uncompromising attention to detail has brought widespread acclaim to this chorus.”

Today, the Colorado Symphony Chorus is made up of over 175 auditioned musicians. “Through careful recruiting, auditioning, orientation, and training, we have assembled an ensemble of singers who exhibit a sense of collaboration and fellowship unique in volunteer ensembles,” added Israelson.

“To meet the performing needs of the Colorado Symphony concert season, the members of this chorus dedicate an enormous number of volunteer hours,” added Wolfe. “Not only do they commit to their weekly rehearsals on Tuesday evenings, they also contribute five more evenings during each concert week. This is a commitment that touches not only the singers themselves, but also their families. The essence of their dedication becomes a family investment, an extended investment in the arts that reflects the dedication of many more people than we see on stage.”

“The essence of their dedication becomes a family investment, an extended investment in the arts that reflects the dedication of many more people than we see on stage.”

Duain Wolfe, Founding Director and Conductor

In an average season, the Colorado Symphony Chorus participates in 60 rehearsals and 30 performances. For each chorus member, that can mean as many as 240 hours per year. Most chorus members live in the Denver metro area but several members travel greater distances coming from Erie, Brighton, Fraser, Castle Rock, Evergreen, Fort Morgan, Longmont, Fort Collins, Boulder, Parker, and Greeley.

The Colorado Symphony Chorus has an excellent conducting and music staff: Duain Wolfe, Founder and Director; Mary Louise Burke, Principal Associate Director and Conductor; Taylor Martin, Associate Director and Conductor; Jared Joseph, Conducting Intern; pianists Hsiao-Ling Lin and ShaoChun Tsai. In addition, there are two managers, Eric Israelson and Barbara Porter who, through attention to a myriad of administrative details, enable the chorus to fulfill its musical mission throughout the performing season.

Starting with Gaetano Delogu in 1984, the Colorado Symphony Chorus has performed with seven Colorado Symphony artistic leaders, including Philippe Entremont, Marin Alsop, Jeffrey Kahane, Andrew Litton, Brett Mitchell, and currently Peter Oundjian.

While most Colorado Symphony Chorus performances take place at Boettcher Concert Hall, the chorus has performed at numerous venues throughout the metro area, including Ball Arena, Buell Theater, Ellie Caulkins Opera House, Red Rocks Amphitheare, Newman Center, Arvada Center, and Fiddlers Green Amphitheater.

The Chorus has performed at noted music festivals throughout the region, including Aspen Music Festival (over 25 appearances), Grand Teton Music Festival, Colorado Music Festival, and currently continues a longstanding collaboration with annual appearances at Bravo! Vail Music Festival.

Through the association with these festivals, the CSC has shared the stage with many renowned orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Aspen Festival Orchestra, performing masterworks under the baton of such notable conductors as Zubin Mehta, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Alan Gilbert, David Zinman, Robert Spano, James Levine, Jaap Van Zweden, Bramwell Tovey, Hans Graf, and Fabio Luisi.

The impact of the Colorado Symphony Chorus has also been felt outside the state during three European tours. In 2009, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the chorus, Duain Wolfe conducted the ensemble on a three-country, two-week concert tour of Europe, presenting the Verdi Requiem in Budapest, Vienna, Litomysl, and Prague. In 2016, the chorus returned to Europe for concerts in Paris, Strasbourg, and Munich featuring the Fauré Requiem. In the summer of 2022, the chorus toured Austria, performing to great acclaim in Vienna, Graz, and Salzburg.

Men singing in the Colorado Symphony Chorus

“I have always been impressed by our singers’ level of excellence, and also by the tremendous commitment involved,” said Mary Louise Burke, Principal Associate Director. “Our members come from all walks of life and bring to our chorus a great variety of past musical experience. Both individually and as a group, they make an ongoing commitment to excellence in many areas: vocal, musical, and dramatic. Furthermore, off the stage, our singers are powerful ambassadors in the communities of Denver, Colorado, and Europe.”

The Chorus has been featured in seven Colorado Symphony recordings, including the Berlioz setting of Hymne des Marseillaise (1988); Too Hot to Handel (2004); Harris: Symphony #4, “Folk Song Symphony”, Denler: Portraits of Colorado – American Symphony No. 1 (2013); Vaughan Williams Dona Nobis Pacem | Stephen Hough Missa Mirabilis (2015); Beethoven Symphony No. 9 (2017); and the world premiere of William Hill’s The Raven (2018).

None of this would be possible without the time and efforts of a dedicated management staff that oversees all 180 musicians as well as the scheduling of rehearsals, distribution of music, travel planning, and more.

“I have always been impressed by our singers’ level of excellence, and also by the tremendous commitment involved.”

Mary Louise Burke, Principal Associate Director

“Our management team is able to foresee and accommodate the needs of the directors and the singers, providing a conducive environment with the necessary space, materials, and organizational detail,” added Israelson. “The result is a chorus of singers, which, with the orchestra, provides the audiences of Colorado and beyond, a resource equal to any, and better than most, in the country. Adept at presenting the music of film scores, the best of Broadway and Hollywood, as well as the enduring classics of the choral literature, it serves to enrich the lives of all who have occasion to experience it.”

“Over the course of the 40-year history of the chorus, many singers have made this commitment to excellence,” added Taylor Martin, Associate Director. “In the next 40 years, we look forward to including many new singers in our Colorado Symphony family of wonderful musicians, celebrating many more decades of memorable performances.”

“I am extraordinarily proud of this chorus and what it has become over four decades – a first class ensemble that performs at very high standards, complementing the standards of this remarkable orchestra,” said Wolfe. “It has continued to mold and maintain its classical sound while also meeting the diverse challenges of other repertoire – films, Broadway musicals, and Pops. This is not an easy feat, but it is a significant hallmark of this chorus.”

For the last 40 years, the Colorado Symphony Chorus has shared the great musical masterworks of the world with thousands of arts patrons from Colorado to Europe. In performances with the Colorado Symphony and other renowned orchestras, they have spread an appreciation for symphonic music across the Centennial State and beyond. As the ensemble looks towards the future, they will continue to bring the best in symphonic choral music to audiences at Boettcher Concert Hall while upholding an artistic standard that is second to none.

Celebrate 40 Years of the Colorado Symphony Chorus

View all upcoming concerts featuring the Colorado Symphony Chorus.

Chorus Concerts
Celebrate 40 Years of the Colorado Symphony Chorus