The Orpheus Choir is New Zealand’s premier symphonic choir of around 100 voices.
We perform regularly at major Wellington music venues with highly regarded musicians and soloists, both international and local. 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".
Orpheus also provides small groups for corporate or private functions and for television or film work.
Our Music Director, Mark Dorrell
took up his position in February 2012.
A brief history of the Orpheus Choir
Orpheus had its genesis in the founding of The Hutt Valley Music Society in 1947. The society was to promote and stimulate an interest and appreciation of music in the Hutt Valley, and immediately set up a piano group, song group, recorded music group, and a choral group. In 1949, Malcolm Rickard took over the choral group, 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 was first performed in 1967 and Verdi's Requiem in 1965.
The 60s and 70s saw a rapid expansion of the repertoire, both in the choir's own concerts (Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, St Matthew and St John Passions, Chichester Psalms, Mozart Requiem, Dream of Gerontius, Mass in B Minor), and in their NZBC Symphony Orchestra (as the NZSO were then known) engagements (Symphony of Psalms, Carmina Burana, Missa Solemnis, Psalmus Hungaricus, Mahler 8th, War Requiem, Belshazzar's Feast, and many more). At the same time the choir built a firm financial base for its activities, with strong reserves.
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 and there was a greater emphasis on auditions and choral discipline and technique. 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. A smaller chamber choir was set up within the main choir, and flourished between 1985 and 1992.
From 1989 to 1992 much of the choir's direction was in the capable hands of Stuart Douglas, first as chorusmaster while Peter Godfrey spent time out of New Zealand, and then as acting musical director until Philip Walsh took over in 1992. Philip Walsh maintained the choir's now high standards of musicianship, and expanded their musical horizons with works such as Rachmaninov's Vespers, Schönberg's Gurrelieder, Anthony Ritchie's commissioned Then I Understood, and Gorecki's Totus Tuus. 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. Regular engagements with the NZSO continued.
In 1999 Andrew Cantrill became musical director, bringing to the choir an emphasis on correctly supported tone, and the use of vocal technique to produce a varied sound in keeping with the style of the music. As well as their engagements with the NZSO, the choir under Andrew Cantrill gave notable performances of the Duruflé Requiem, the Monteverdi Vespers, and Finzi's Intimations of Immortality. The 50th anniversary of the choir came up in 2002, when the choir performed another commissioned work by the Olympic composer, John Psathas. After Andrew's move to the United States at the end of 2003, there was a short time without a permanent musical director.
In October 2004 The Orpheus Choir of Wellington appointed Michael Fulcher, who conducted his first concert on the 20th of November. Michael's work with the choir has brought out great vocal resonance and clarity while maintaining vocal flexibility. Orpheus continued to perform great classics as well as stunning modern works such as Gareth Farr's Terra Incognita, Panufnick's Westminster Mass, Karl Jenkins' Armed Man and Tavener's Lament for Jerusalem. In 2010 we performed two monumental works – Mahler’s 8th Symphony and J.S. Bach’s Mass in B minor. In the preceding year our programme included music by American composers Whitacre and Lauridsen and “An evening with Cole Porter”.