Orpheus Choir of Toronto | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Orpheus Choir of Toronto

Orpheus Choir of Toronto (incorporated as The Orpheus Choir of Toronto Inc. in 1980). Amateur mixed choir founded in 1964 by John Sidgwick.

Orpheus Choir of Toronto


Orpheus Choir of Toronto (incorporated as The Orpheus Choir of Toronto Inc. in 1980). Amateur mixed choir founded in 1964 by John Sidgwick. The Orpheus Choir of Toronto debuted in a program of carols 26 Dec 1964 at Convocation Hall, University of Toronto, which was followed by a performance 6 Apr 1965 of Bach's St Matthew Passion with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO). Conductors of the choir have included Sidgwick 1964-70, James Whicher 1970-5, Lloyd Bradshaw 1975-80, John Barnum 1980-7, Brainerd Blyden-Taylor 1987-2002, Norman Reintamm 2002-2003 succeeded by Robert Cooper who retained the position in 2012, celebrating his tenth season with the choir.

In 2012, the choir comprised some 60 voices. Orpheus Choir concerts, four or five annually, plus occasional special events, have been presented at various Toronto churches and halls, including St James' Cathedral, Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, Metropolitain United Church, Convocation Hall, George Weston Recital Hall, Roy Thompson Hall, and Koerner Hall; the choir has also made appearances with, among others, the Toronto Philharmonic Orchestra, the North York Symphony Orchestra, the National Ballet of Canada, the Canadian Brass, and Opera in Concert.

Repertoire and Commissions

Performing both unaccompanied and with orchestra, the choir offers a varied repertoire of sacred, secular and popular music of all periods and a variety of cultures, including major works and works rarely performed. It has performed I Believe: A Holocaust Performance for Today by Zane Zalis based on stories by Holocaust survivors, hosted the Vancouver Chamber Choir and its conductor Jon Washburn and presented such multi media events as silent movie classics Peter Pan (1924) and Joan of Arc (1928) accompanied by the choir's long-standing accompanist Edward Moroney piano/organ. It commissioned Anton Gartshore's Sing Thee Noel, premiered 16 Dec 1974, and Eric Robertson's Four Songs of Remembrance, first sung in concert 8 Nov 1985. The latter work is included on the choir's 1984 recording Everyone Sang (Duke Street DSR-31031). Other major performances have included the 1989 North American premiere of Dismas Zelenka's Missa Dei Patris, Menotti's The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore in 1992; the world premiere of the commissioned work Sonnets to Orpheus by Imant Raminsh in 1999; and the Canadian premieres of John Rutter's Mass of the Children and Feel the Spirit in 2004, Derek Holman's Sweet William in 2005, and Sir Paul McCartney's Ecce Cor Meum in 2007. Other Canadian premieres of note have included Raminsh's Quaternity (2010), and Allan Bevan's No Mortal Business (2011).

Soloists and Guests

The Orpheus Choir has performed under the batons of guest conductors Sir Philip Ledger and John Rutter, and has collaborated with notable soloists Kevin McMillan, Jean Stilwell, Daniel Taylor, Gary Relyea, and Monica Whicher.

In honour of its founders, Mary and John Sidgwick, and to mark its 25th anniversary, in 1989 the Orpheus Choir of Toronto established the Sidgwick Scholarship Program to provide performance opportunities for emerging professional artists. The program has continued to flourish in 2012 and many scholarships recipients have gone on to pursue vocal careers: James Westman (baritone), Victor Micallef (tenor), Wallis Giunta (mezzo-soprano) and Karen Wierzba (soprano) among them.