The Orpheus Choir of Wellington is one of New Zealand’s leading symphonic choirs, comprising around 160 voices.
Our concerts cover the major classic choral works, through to contemporary and challenging works, including new and original music by New Zealand composers. We have also covered musical styles from Opera through Jazz to Broadway show music. Our singing has been described as “powerful”, “polished” and possessing “razor-sharp ensemble and diction” and "verve".
Our Music Director, Brent Stewart, took up his position in February 2015.
Orpheus had its genesis in the founding of The Hutt Valley Music Society in 1947. Malcolm Rickard took over the choral group in 1949, and when the Music Society was wound up in 1951, the fifty singers decided to carry on, meeting on 26 February 1952 in St Stephen's Hall, Lower Hutt, to found the Hutt Valley Orpheus Society.
The first concerts were given in the Hutt Valley High School Hall, with a mainly English repertoire. Messiah had been performed since 1950, and became an annual event for the Orpheus Society. Concerts were accompanied by the Alex Lindsay Strings, in a relationship which lasted until the early 70s. When John Hopkins became conductor of the National Orchestra (now NZSO), in 1958, engagements with the orchestra became a regular part of the choir's schedule. In 1959 Orpheus recorded the Berlioz Childhood of Christ, and performed Mahler's Resurrection Symphony. Beethoven's 9th Symphony was first performed in 1967 and Verdi's Requiem in 1965.
As time went on more concerts were given in Wellington and the choir's identification with Lower Hutt faded. The words "Lower Hutt" were dropped from the choir's title in 1961 and in 1985 the choir became the Orpheus Choir of Wellington.
Malcolm Rickard retired in 1983 after 35 years in charge. Under the new conductor, Peter Godfrey, repertoire continued to broaden Major works introduced during Peter Godfrey's tenure included Elgar's The Music Makers, Hymnus Paradisi by Howells, Handel's Israel in Egypt, and the Berlioz Requiem.
Philip Walsh took over in 1992 and expanded our musical horizons with works such as Rachmaninov's Vespers and Schönberg's Gurrelieder. The choir sang Stravinsky's Les Noces in conjunction with ballet, and presented a whole programme of Lullabies of Broadway with orchestra and jazz trio.
Andrew Cantrill became musical director in 1999. Under his direction the choir gave notable performances of the Duruflé Requiem, the Monteverdi Vespers, and Finzi's Intimations of Immortality. To mark the 50th anniversary of the choir in 2002, we commissioned a special work, Orpheus in Rarohenga composed by John Psathas to a libretto by Robert Sullivan.
In 2004 Michael Fulcher was appointed Music Director. Orpheus continued to perform great classics as well as stunning modern works such as Gareth Farr's Terra Incognita, Panufnik's Westminster Mass, Karl Jenkins' Armed Man and Tavener's Lament for Jerusalem.
Mark Dorrell took over in 2012. His wide experience in music theatre contrasted with the church music background of previous conductors, and one of his first performances was an exciting semi-staged version of Bernstein’s Candide. Dreams Lie Deeper, the Choir's major concert in 2014, commemorated miners everywhere: the tragic loss of miners in the Pike River Disaster expressed in a commission by Dave Dobbyn entitled This Love, Ross Harris' If Blood Be the Price, evoking the miner's'strike in Waihi in 1912, and James McCarthy's 17 Days, recalling the Chilean mine disaster. Thiese three works were all ;premieres, and the concert received enormous acclaim. Several enagements by New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Orchestra Wellington filled the choir's calendar for 2013 and 2014.
In February 2015 Brent Stewart took up the role of Music Director. His first major apperance with the choir is a semi-staged performance of Mendelssohn's Elijah.
The Orpheus Choir has been a member of the New Zealand Choral Federation for most of the years since its inception in 1985. To learn the benefits the choir gains from membership, visit NZCF’s website www.nzcf.org.nz