History of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus

History of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus

The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus is an independent non-profit organization, originally established by Jessamine E. Long in 1937 as the Buffalo Schola Cantorum. Ms. Long was succeeded in 1945 by Cameron Baird, who guided the group to prominence during its formative years. Under Mr. Baird’s baton, the Chorus became established as the premier choral ensemble in Western New York. The Chorus prospered through the years under a number of distinguished music directors including Willis Page, Joseph Wincenc, Robert Beckwith, Melvin Strauss, Frederick Burgomaster, and Peter Perret. Thomas Swan led the Chorus through a period of extraordinary growth from 1979 until his death in 2001, including the group’s name change to Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus (BPC) in 1992 to reflect its close association with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 1986, Mr. Swan became the first recipient of the Cameron Baird Conductor’s Chair, established through an endowment named to honor and remember Mr. Baird. Dr. Dale Adelmann succeeded Mr. Swan and led the group until 2003, followed by Dr. L. Brett Scott until 2007. Dr. Doreen Rao was named as music director and recipient of the Cameron Baird Conductor’s Chair in the 2008-09 season, and in 2015, Dr. Adam Luebke was appointed to the position.

The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus appears in concert at various venues throughout Western New York including Artpark, Our Lady of Victory Basilica, and the Chautauqua Institution. The Chorus performs frequently with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in the Classics and Pops concert series at Kleinhans Music Hall and in special events at various locations. Additionally, the Chorus produces self-sponsored concerts including their annual performance of Handel’s Messiah.

The BPC participates in numerous community service events each year including the Martin Luther King Celebration and the Daemen College graduation, both held at Kleinhans Music Hall. In the past, the BPC has participated in Curtain Up! and the Elmwood Arts Festival, and has performed with various area choruses including the Buffalo Niagara Youth Chorus, the Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus, Finger Lakes Choral Festival and the Rochester Oratorio Society. On average, the BPC participates in 15 concerts each year – many of which have multiple performances.

Historical milestones for the Chorus include their commissioning of Te Deum by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Dominick Argento, premiered by the Chorus and Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in 1988; the world premiere of Peace Requiem by Persis Vehar in 1999; and a performance of Handel’s Messiah with the BPO featured on National Public Radio in December of 2000.

In 2007, to commemorate the BPC’s 70th anniversary, the Chorus commissioned composer Randol Alan Bass to write Passage Into Spirit for Chorus, Soloists and Orchestra, a work inspired by the poetry of Walt Whitman. The piece was premiered at Kleinhans Music Hall on March 25, 2007. A compact disc recording of Passage Into Spirit, including other Bass compositions, was released in the spring of 2009.
Also in 2009, the Chorus introduced the inaugural season of Buffalo Sings! Community Concert Series, a series of concerts designed to demonstrate “community service through singing,” connecting to the Western New York community through song.

In 2007, members of the Chorus joined with the Virginia Symphony Chorus on a European singing tour of Prague, Leipzig, and Berlin. And in 2009, as an encore, the BPC again traveled to the Czech Republic for a performance of Verdi’s Requiem, in the former Terezin Concentration Camp, symbolically titled Defiant Requiem.

In recent years, the BPC has performed various repertoire with the BPO: Brahms’ German Requiem, Johan de Meij’s Symphony No. 5: Return to Middle Earth, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 “Ode to Joy”, Bizet’s Carmen, and Richard Danielpour’s The Passion of Yeshua. In 2021, the Chorus won the GRAMMY award for Best Choral Performance for their premiere recording of The Passion of Yeshua under the direction of Adam Luebke, alongside the BPO, conductor Joann Falletta, and the UCLA Chamber Singers.