||Houston Chamber Choir Mission Statement
The Houston Chamber Choir is a professional ensemble dedicated to
increasing the awareness, appreciation and esteem of choral music and musicians
through performance, outreach and education.
Described by Peter Phillips, founder of the Tallis Scholars, as “one of this country’s leading ensembles,” the Houston Chamber Choir was established in 1995 by Artistic Director Robert Simpson. The flexibility and artistry of the 24-28 musicians of the Houston Chamber Choir has enabled it to bring Houston audiences concerts as diverse as our city’s first period instrument performance of Bach’s B minor mass, and an evening of choral jazz with the legendary Dave Brubeck and his quartet. David Ashley White, Director of the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music, credits the Chamber Choir’s performance of the B minor mass with “setting a new standard in terms of how choral/orchestral music from the Baroque era should be performed in Houston.” The Chamber Choir is characterized by Bob Chilcott, noted conductor, composer and former member of The Kings Singers, as, “an elegant choir with faultless intonation.”
Invitations have taken the Chamber Choir on tour in this country and abroad including concerts at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and Wales, where it won honors at the Llangollen International Choral Festival. Its first national exposure came in 1999, three years after its founding, when it was invited to perform at the American Choral Directors Association national convention before 6,000 choral directors from around the world in Chicago’s famed Orchestra Hall. Since then it has received similar invitations from Chorus America, The Association of Anglican Musicians, the Association of Lutheran Musicians, and the Texas Choral Directors Association. To mark its 10th Anniversary, the Chamber Choir toured the South including an appearance at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. In a note of thanks one of the concert organizers wrote, “Your concert was fabulous. Interesting program and beautifully prepared. The best on our series this year.”
Houston Chamber Choir performed the national premiere of Giovanni Paolo Colonna's "lost" manuscript, Psalmi ad Vesperas (1694) in October 2011. Their recording of the composition will be the first of this monumental work created for a grand festival at the Basilica of St. Petronio in Bologna. Regional premieres include Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 and Vivaldi's lost treasure, Dixit Dominus, which it performed with guest commentator Bill McGlaughlin, host of public radio's "St. Paul Sunday" and "Exploring Music."
With the active involvement of period pianist Brian Connelly, professor at the Shepherd School of Music, Rice University, the Chamber Choir performed Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle with two 19th century French pianos and harmonium, and Brahms’s Requiem in the two piano version employing late 19th century Bösendorfer pianos similar to those Brahms himself would have played. For this performance the Chamber Choir became proficient at singing at A=435, the pitch of Viennese pianos in Brahms’ day.
At the invitation of the Houston Chamber Choir, Dave Brubeck and his quartet returned to Houston in December 2006 after a 20-year absence. Performing to a standing room audience, the Chamber Choir and Brubeck performed a sampling of his sacred choral works interspersed with his classic instrumental compositions.
Continuing its exploration of jazz in May 2009, the Chamber Choir and members of the Ebony Opera Chorus presented Duke Ellington’s seldom heard Third Sacred Concert, his last masterpiece. Two performances were given at Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church, Houston. This work was commissioned by the United Nations in 1973 to mark its 25th Anniversary, and was premiered at London’s Westminster Abbey. Shortly thereafter Duke Ellington died and the scores were given to trumpeter and band member Barrie Lee Hall for safe keeping. Mr. Hall, a Houston resident, was joined by several other former Ellington musicians and an all-star group of area jazz musicians to play these performances.
The Houston Chamber Choir champions new music and is particularly eager to promote the music of Texas composers. It has commissioned and premiered works by Christopher Theofanidis, David Ashley White, Thomas Conroy, Anthony Brandt, Jefferson Todd Frazier, and Michael Horvit. In March 2008 it had the honor of singing Stravinsky’s Les Noces under the direction of renowned Dutch conductor Reinbert de Leeuw.
The National Endowment for the Arts has supported the Houston Chamber Choir in two projects in recent seasons. Tallis at 500 was a three-day symposium presented by the Chamber Choir which brought students, singers, scholars and conductors together to study the music and influence of Thomas Tallis on the 500th anniversary of his birth. Featured presenters were Peter Phillips and Alex Blachley, an American Renaissance scholar and conductor. At the conclusion of the symposium Peter Phillips wrote, “By far the most thorough celebration of Tallis’s genius in his 500th year was undertaken by Robert Simpson and the Houston Chamber Choir. Nothing in Europe rivaled the care with which this series of lecturers and masterclasses was planned and brought to life. And nothing rivals Tallis’s Spem in alium for a grand finale which was performed four times during the week.”
Again, in January 2008, the Chamber Choir was selected by the NEA to host an American Masterpieces Festival. The resulting celebration of American music, Lift Every Voice and Sing, featured nine local choirs and a gala closing concert with 500 singers conducted by Joseph Flummerfelt and Gospel Music specialist Barbara Wesley Baker. Appalachian music was sung by Revels Houston, while the Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Choir and the Greater St. Matthew’s Choir featured Gospel Music. The Rice University Chorale and University of Houston Concert Chorale presented spotlight concerts. Noted musicologist Howard Pollack, author of definitive biographies of Copland and Gershwin now serving on the University of Houston music faculty gave a major presentation on American choral music. The Chamber Choir premiered a four-movement work it commissioned from Christopher Theofanidis, a Houston native now teaching composition at Yale. The resulting work, Messages to Myself, is a major addition to the choral repertoire.
Following his guest appearance with the Chamber Choir at this Festival, Joseph Flummerfelt wrote, “Robert Simpson’s Houston Chamber Choir is an ensemble of consummate artistry and it was a joy for me to have the opportunity to make music with them.”
Audiences and critics alike have responded to the Houston Chamber Choir’s programming and artistry. Charles Ward in his last review for the Houston Chronicle before retiring praised the Chamber Choir for its “beautiful, lithe, well-honed sound…the ensemble is a formidable one that performed with dexterity, grace and excellent unanimity.”
In 2010 the Houston Chamber Choir released a compact disc of 19th and 20th century Russian secular choral music, Ravishingly Russian. The CD received enthusiastic reviews and significant radio airplay throughout the country. Musica Russica, the preeminent authority on Russian music in this country wrote, “The Houston Chamber Choir’s achievement is formidable, reflecting a depth of exploration and an intelligent interpretation of a foreign culture’s choral repertoire that clearly demonstrates a great deal of love and enthusiasm on the part of the director and his singers. The musically convincing results offer a great reward both to the performers and the listener. To choral conductors, this CD will offer a wealth of programming ideas, while to lovers of beautiful, first-rate choral singing, it will provide a most enjoyable and enduring listening experience.”
The 2010-2011 Season marked the 15th Anniversary of the Houston Chamber Choir. As part of the 15th season, the Chamber Choir presented to a sold-out house its first ever Broadway-inspired performance with special guest star Judith Blazer, a Broadway Drama Desk nominee. The season finale “Venetian Vespers” featured music of seventeenth-century Italy. Of particular note was a rare complete performance of Messa a Nove Voci Concertata con Stomenti (Mass for Nine Concerted Voices with Instruments) by Giovanni Paolo Colonna edited by Dr. Anne Schnoebelen, Mullen Professor Emerita of Musicology at The Shepherd School of Music, Rice University. Dr. Schnoebelen has spent her career studying Italian sacred music of the 17th century and she is recognized as the world's foremost authority on the music of Colonna. She remarked of the May 2011 performance, “It's a musicologist's dream come true. The choir sounded beautiful, [the] tempos and spirit of each contrasting work and movement brought the music to life. One could feel [the Chamber Choir’s] involvement in the passion of the music... And the program, taken in its entirety, was a grand success of contrasting works.”
Audience responses to the Chamber Choir have been equally positive. One attendee described his experience at a Chamber Choir concert as, “one of the most divine evenings I’ve spent with any group in any venue.”