The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The famed Westminster Choir will perform with organ in Overture Hall this coming Saturday night. | January 7, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Not being a close follower of choral music, I do not know a lot of choruses or choirs around the nation or world by name.

Like most Americans my age, I of course know about the mammoth and impressive Mormon Tabernacle Choir since I grew up on recordings and TV appearances by the group based in Salt Lake City.

And like most Madisonians, I know the name of the Festival Choir, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir, the Madison Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the Madison Opera Chorus, among other local groups.

But the nationally known choir that I remember mostly fondly is the same one I heard decades ago with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Leonard Bernstein and with pianist Rudolf Serkin in Beethoven’s famous Symphony No. 9 “Choral” and his “Choral Fantasy,” which is a preliminary sketch-like work for the Ninth Symphony with a piano part thrown in.

The name of that first-rate choir is The Westminster Choir (below).

Westminster Choir 1

And it is REALLY good, as I was reminded again recently when I listened to their CD of holiday music.

No surprise, I suppose. After all, it is composed of specialists: of student from Westminster choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. Every summer it is in residence at the internationally renowned Spoleto Festival in South Carolina.

Its 40 members form the core of the 175-voice Westminster Symphonic Chorus that still performs regularly with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and other major European orchestras.

In any case, sponsored by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Westminster Choir is coming to town and will perform this Saturday night in Overture Hall at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $19.50. For tickets, call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141. For more information about the performers and a complete program, visit

The concert’s generous program includes vocal music from the 15th through the 21st centuries, including works by J.S. Bach, Debussy, Gustav Holst, Benjamin Britten and Morten Lauridsen among others, and will also feature several works for solo organ, some quite virtuosic, played on the impressive custom-built Klais concert organ (below) in Overture Hall.

overture organ

Decide for yourself. Here is a sample, the most visited one on YouTube, with such lovely quality singing, of the Westminster Choir:

1 Comment »

  1. This will be a fantastic concert! I was a faculty member and department chair at Westminster Choir College during the late 1980s and early 1990s. My office, in a old repurposed storage building, was near the even older quonset hut where the choirs held forth. The top choir was warmed up by Frauke Haasemann and rehearsed by Joe Flummerfelt for performances with the NY Phil or Philadelphia SO. Wondrous sounds floated across the campus to my windows, drawing me to walk the one hundred feet to the hut, to listen and watch. The choir always traveled to New York for final rehearsals with Bernstein. For performances with Philadelphia’s band, Ricardo Muti came to campus, wearing a cardigan sweater while working his additional magic, musical or otherwise (including a few swoons by those susceptible to his other charms). The marvelous sounds elicited by both fellow faculty members and the guest conductors should have seemed incongruous with the simplicity of the hut I suppose; rather, it placed the focus on the music-making.

    Comment by Jon Becker — January 7, 2013 @ 6:14 am

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