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As the first mixed choir in Vienna, the Wiener Singakademie was founded in 1858 with the idea to establish a "Singübungsanstalt" (an institution for the training of voices). From the beginning, its repertory has been shaped by two major interests: the fostering of the works of the traditional masters, and the inclusion of contemporary works. The Wiener Singakademie soon established itself as a fixed part of Vienna's concert scene. In 1862, the young Johannes Brahms was invited to come to Vienna as the choir’s director. Vienna was the city that he would come to regard as the center of his life.
With the passing years, the circle of conductors with whom the choir primarily worked grew steadily, and included, most notably, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss and Bruno Walter (the latter becoming the choir’s director for a number of years). Furthermore, many noted composers mounted the conductor's podium to give the premiere performances of their works together with the Wiener Singakademie to the Viennese public. In this way, Edvard Grieg, Anton Rubinstein and Pietro Mascagni contributed to Vienna's musical history during the first decades of the Wiener Singakademie’s existence.
After 55 years as an independent choir, the Wiener Singakademie finally found its long-sought-for home in 1913 with the opening of the Wiener Konzerthaus. As part of the Wiener Konzerthausgesellschaft, the choir established itself as an important partner of the Konzerthaus, whose busy schedule had to be curtailed only during the two world wars. Just like the city of Vienna itself, the choir, too, returned to life in 1945. This rose in the 1950s and 1960s, under the leadership of Hans Gillesberger, to an artistic highpoint that left nothing more to be desired with respect to concert tours, the variety and quality of performances, and to working with great conductors. Wilhelm Furtwängler and Paul Hindemith, as well as Karl Böhm and Hans Svarowsky, along with the young Lorin Maazel were jointly responsible for this development in these early days.
When, in 1983, Agnes Grossmann assumed the post of artistic director, it was the first time that a woman headed the Wiener Singakademie. Through Grossmann the academic orientation of the institution was revived. Her concept, which placed special emphasis on voice and general musical training for the choir members, is still alive today.
During the tenure of Alexander Pereira as Secretary General of the Wiener Konzerthausgesellschaft, from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, and later under the artistic direction of his successor, Herbert Böck, the choir’s standing within the Wiener Konzerthausgesellschaft was further enhanced. Consequently, the choir can look back with pride on its work together with great artists like Georges Prêtre, Yehudi Menuhin, Claudio Abbado, Sir Roger Norrington, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Sir Simon Rattle and Kent Nagano.
Since the beginning of the 1998/1999 season, Heinz Ferlesch has had the leadership of the choir, He has initiated a program to support and advance young artists that not only features the routine training of singers, but that also integrates aspiring young soloists and ensembles in concert performances. Through innovation and a greater diversity in the choice of program material, the repertory of the choir has been extended to encompass a broad spectrum of musical history from performances of Bach's "Johannespassion" under Ton Koopman to Britten's "War Requiem" under Simone Young, and from Verdi's "Messa da Requiem" under Franz Welser-Möst to Scelsi's "Konx-Om-Pax" under Ingo Metzmacher. Increasingly often, Heinz Ferlesch himself stands on the conductor’s podium to lead "his" choir through a cappella literature and baroque works for choir and orchestra. A recent highlight in this context was the fall 2006 performance of Händel's" Judas Maccabaeus”, the recording of which, produced in cooperation with the ORF (the Austrian Broadcasting Company) resulted in an internationally acclaimed CD. Currently, the Wiener Singakademie includes about 100 male and female singers.
Going beyond the repertory for large choir and orchestra, the Wiener Singakademie opened a new chapter with its founding in 2006 of the Wiener Singakademie Kammerchor (chamber choir). The ensemble, made up of members of the Wiener Singakademie, devotes itself primarily to a cappella music. In addition to this, its scope extends to vocal works that require a smaller ensemble. The Wiener Singakademie Kammerchor scored its first successes in July 2007, when it was awarded a second and a fourth place prize at the international choir competition at Spittal/Drau. For the jubilee season of 2008 Christian Mühlbacher has been commissioned to compose a piece for the Ensemble.
In 2008, the Wiener Singakademie celebrates its 150th anniversary. In honor of this occasion, the Wiener Konzerthaus is issuing a special jubilee subscription that will extend beyond the current season. Johann Sebastian Bach's "Matthäuspassion" will be performed at the jubilee concert to be held on 8 March 2008 in the Großer Saal of the Konzerthaus. On the same day, a multimedia publication recounting the past and the present of the choir is to be presented. Another special project for 2008 is a soccer match against the Wiener Singverein, which is also celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2008.
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