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Choral Arts Society of Washington

The Choral Arts Society of Washington
Also known as CASW, Choral Arts
Origin Washington, D.C., United States
Genres Classical, Choral, A cappella, Contemporary
Occupation(s) Choir
Years active 1965-present
Website Official website
Members Artistic Director
Scott Tucker

The Choral Arts Society of Washington is a major choral organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1965 by Norman Scribner, it is regarded as one of the premier symphonic choruses in Washington and the United States.



The Choral Arts Society features a symphonic chorus of approximately 180 volunteer singers. It produces an annual series of subscription concerts, typically presented at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the National Presbyterian Church.

The chorus also regularly performs with the National Symphony Orchestra, both at the Kennedy Center and at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. Of the NSO’s guest artists, the CASW Chorus leads the list, having performed with the NSO more frequently than any other guest.[citation needed] The chorus has also performed with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony, London Symphony Orchestra, Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Paris Opera Orchestra, and Prague Symphony Orchestra, among others.

The chorus has performed with many notable conductors, including Leonard Bernstein, Christoph Eschenbach, Leon Fleisher, Valery Gergiev, Lorin Maazel, Helmuth Rilling, Mstislav Rostropovich, Robert Shaw, and Leonard Slatkin.[1]

In recent years, the chorus has made regular annual television appearances, including A Capitol Fourth (Washington's annual Independence Day celebration), and the Kennedy Center Honors. The chorus has also occasionally appeared in the televised gala at Ford's Theatre. In 2000, the chorus appeared in an episode of The West Wing involving a major character's recovery from music-induced post-traumatic stress disorder.

Community Outreach and Education

The Society maintains an active community outreach program, including an annual Christmas concert designed for families with young children, and an annual choral tribute concert dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr. Since 2004, the Society has presented an annual Humanitarian Award honoring individuals who have furthered Dr. King's legacy. Honorees have included Dorothy Height, Congressman John Lewis, and Marian Wright Edelman.[2]

The Society's educational programs reach K-12 teachers and students, including students in the District of Columbia Public Schools, through in-school programming, a partner high school program, and specially designed curricular materials. The educational programs also reach prospective arts professionals at the university level through the Society's arts administration internships.[3] In 2008, the programs won the District of Columbia Mayor's Arts Award for Outstanding Contribution to Arts Education.[4]


The Choral Arts Society has toured both domestically and internationally, including international tours every 3–4 years since 1993 as follows:

The chorus participated in the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, giving performances of the Berlioz Requiem and the Rachmaninoff Vespers. The chorus also performed in Rome at the Basilica of Santi Apostoli, for High Mass at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, and in San Ginesio.[5]
The chorus joined with Mstislav Rostropovich and the National Symphony Orchestra for a performance of the finale from Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky in Moscow's Red Square. The concert was attended by 100,000 people,[6] including Russian President Boris Yeltsin.[citation needed] The chorus also performed in Bolshoi Hall at the Moscow Conservatory, and in Saint Petersburg at the Glinka Capella and the Bolshoi Zal of the Saint Petersburg Philharmonia.[5] Due to Yeltsin's attendance in Red Square during the midst of the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis, and because the tour represented a homecoming for Rostropovich after the fall of the Soviet Union, the tour (and the Red Square performance in particular) received significant attention in the world press.[citation needed]
The chorus performed at the Evian Festival in Évian-les-Bains, in Arles, and at the Auvers-sur-Oise Festival. The chorus also performed in Paris at the Sorbonne Grand Amphitheatre and for High Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral.[5]
The chorus performed in the final concert of the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto's Piazza del Duomo, joining the Spoleto Festival Orchestra and Choir for Mendelssohn's Die erste Walpurgisnacht and Borodin's Polovetsian Dances.[5][7][8] The chorus also performed the Mozart Requiem with the Sinfonica della Provincia di Bari as part of the festival, and performed a program of a cappella works in the Basilica Superiore (Upper Basilica) of the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi in Assisi.[5]
Under the direction of Leonard Slatkin, the chorus joined the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Festival Chorus for a performance of Belshazzar's Feast at Royal Albert Hall. The performance was the first night of The Proms.[9][10] The chorus also appeared with the City of London Sinfonia at the Cambridge Festival, and with the Manchester Camerata at the Chester Summer Music Festival[11] and the Harrogate International Festival.[5][12]
The chorus joined the Youth Orchestra of the Americas for two performances of Carmina Burana at Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires.[13] The chorus also joined the Orquestra Petrobras Pró Música (now the Petrobras Symphony Orchestra) under the direction of Isaac Karabtchevsky for a performance of the Verdi Requiem at Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro.
Under the direction of Valery Gergiev, the chorus joined the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Symphony Chorus and the Choir of Eltham College for two performances of Mahler's Symphony No. 8 at St Paul's Cathedral. The performances marked the conclusion of the annual City of London Festival.[14][15][16] A recording of the performances was commercially released.[17][18][19]
In May and June of 2015, Choral Arts will partner with the Qingdao Symphony Orchestra for a five-city tour of China, performing at internationally renowned venues such as the China National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing, the Oriental Art Center in Shanghai and the Guangzhou Opera House.[20]


The Society's chorus (or subgroups of the chorus) has appeared on at least sixteen commercially released recordings since 1971. The Chorus has recorded under the batons of notable conductors including Antal Doráti, Valery Gergiev, Mstislav Rostropovich, Norman Scribner, and Leonard Slatkin.[21]

On January 19, 1973, the chorus appeared (as the "Norman Scribner Singers") in A Concert for Peace at the Washington National Cathedral. The program featured the Mass in Time of War by Joseph Haydn. A recording of the performance received a 1973 Grammy Award Nomination for Best Choral Recording, with Scribner and Leonard Bernstein as co-nominees. (The concert was intended as a protest of the Vietnam War, and of the official Kennedy Center concert that same evening celebrating the second inauguration of Richard Nixon.)[22][23]

A 1996 recording of John Corigliano's Of Rage And Remembrance received the 1996 Grammy Award for Best Classical Recording, with a certificate awarded to the men of the Choral Arts Society.[23]


Norman Scribner arrived on the Washington music scene in 1960, accepting a position as musical staff assistant for the Washington National Cathedral, choirmaster of St. Alban's Episcopal Church, and chapel organist for the St. Albans School for Boys.[24] In 1963, he was appointed as staff keyboard artist for the National Symphony Orchestra,[25] and that fall he conducted - and recruited a choir for - the Symphony's annual production of Handel's Messiah after conductor Howard Mitchell "was impressed by his ability and intensity."[26] The choir was reassembled for subsequent Messiah performances (appearing as the "National Symphony Orchestra Chorus"),[citation needed] but in 1965 it was decided to form an independent organization under Scribner's direction. The first concert on February 9, 1966 was a performance of Zoltán Kodály's Missa Brevis on an evening that also featured the Limón Dance Company.[27]

The Choral Arts Society of Washington was formally incorporated on November 23, 1966.[28] In 1968, the still-new group participated in the funeral procession of Robert F. Kennedy.[24] By 1970, the chorus was composed of 100 voices and the organization had "both broadened and deepened its contacts with the community of greater Washington." That September, it received a $5,000 matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts - the first ever given directly to a performing chorus, and given with the "personal imprimatur" of NEA chairman Nancy Hanks. Aided by this and other funding, the Society was able to extend its concert season, expand its public service programming, and "retain Scribner on an annual salary for the first time," allowing him "to devote his full time to the post." The funding also allowed the group to "try more diversified programs, ranging from symphonic assignments to small chamber appearances using only a fraction of the entire 100-voice ensemble."[29]

On September 8, 1971, members of the chorus participated (as the professional "Norman Scribner Choir") in the world premiere of Bernstein's MASS. The performance was part of the opening festivities for the Kennedy Center.[citation needed] Following its opening, Scribner was credited with "mov[ing] effectively to take advantage of the resources of the Kennedy Center, making it the central performing platform for his chorus."[30] On October 29, 1974, the chorus performed underground for a ceremony during the construction of the Washington Metro, in the Metro Center station.[31]

In 1981, the New York Times characterized the Choral Arts Society as "an excellent chorus of the type found today in many large American cities, with solid musicianship, smooth tone and competence in a wide range of choral repertory."[32] The choir often collaborated with the NSO under Mstislav Rostropovich during his tenure as NSO music director (1977–94), and he independently led the chorus in performances of Rachmaninoff's Vespers on several occasions during the 1980s.[27] A landmark 1987 recording of the Vespers - the first by an American chorus - significantly increased interest in recording the work among other choirs in the United States and elsewhere.

In 1990, Rostropovich would state that "[t]he existence of this wonderful group ... has completely changed the life of Washington, D.C." By then, the organization - "long a mom-and-pop operation" - had "metamorphosed into a highly professional enterprise" that included a full-time administrative staff, a "new and very active board," an endowment campaign, and a program devoted to minority participation in choral music in Washington.[24] In 1993, the chorus would embark on its first two international tours - a summer tour to Italy, and a fall tour with the NSO to Russia that received world media attention (see Tours, above).

In August 2010, Scribner announced that he would retire as artistic director on August 31, 2012.[33][34] On March 28, 2012, the Society announced the appointment of Scott Tucker as its next artistic director.[35] Tucker began his tenure with Choral Arts in its 2012-13 season, preparing the chorus for a performance of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis for the National Symphony under the direction of Christoph Eschenbach. The 2013-14 season was Tucker's first to fully plan as artistic director.[36]


The Society operates with an annual budget of approximately $2 million,[37] with income derived from ticket revenues, individual and corporate donations, and government grants.[38] During its 25th anniversary season in 1989-1990, the Society held a $2.5 million campaign to raise $2 million for an endowment fund and $500,000 for current expenses.[39]

In recent years, the Society has reduced its operating budget by 20 percent in response to the late-2000s recession.[40] The Society received over $300,000 from the National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs program in 2010, but a reduction in funding for that program in the enacted 2011 United States federal budget was expected to impact the Society's operations.[41] However, the Society remains one of about 32 choruses in the United States (and three in Washington) with annual budgets exceeding $1 million.[42]

The Society holds an annual black-tie holiday benefit concert and gala, an event described as "a highlight of the holiday social season" in Washington.[43] The funds raised by the gala account for 30 percent of the Society's annual budget.[44]


  1. ^ Choral Arts Society, Collaborative History, visited Aug. 20, 2010
  2. ^ Choral Arts Society, MLK Tribute Community Initiative - Humanitarian Award, last visited Aug. 18, 2010
  3. ^ Choral Arts Society, Education and Community Outreach Programs Fact Sheet, visited Aug. 20, 2010
  4. ^ Press Release, Winners of the 23rd Annual Mayor's Arts Are Announced, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, Apr. 11, 2008
  5. ^ a b c d e f Choral Arts Society, Touring History, visited Aug. 21, 2010
  6. ^ Choral Arts Organizational Biography, last visited Aug. 18, 2010
  7. ^ Tutti i concerti di Radio3 al Festival dei festival 2001 - agosto, RAI, visited Aug. 20, 2010 (radio broadcast schedule, in Italian)
  8. ^ Aliena Santiago, Il festival dei due mondi di Spoleto,, June 6, 2001 (in Italian)
  9. ^ Andrew Clements, First Night of the Proms, The Guardian, Jul. 22, 2002
  10. ^ Alex Webb, Cultural collision at the Proms, BBC News Online, Jul. 19, 2002
  11. ^ Glyn Mn Hughes, Arts diary: Festival coup with big chorus; Choral Arts Society of Washington, Chester Cathedral, Jul. 24, 2002 (cite based on online archival version)
  12. ^ Festival with a global theme has jazz great as highlight, Yorkshire Post, May 24, 2002
  13. ^ Néstor Echevarría, Dos agrupaciones con disciplina y estilo, La Prensa (Buenos Aires), Aug. 3, 2005 (in Spanish) (also available online here, visited Aug. 19, 2010)
  14. ^ Barry Millington, Resounding triumph for Mahler's greatest work, London Evening Standard, July 10, 2008
  15. ^ Tim Ashley, LSO/Gergiev (review), The Guardian, July 12, 2008
  16. ^ Richard Morrison, LSO/Gergiev at St. Paul's Cathedral, The Times, July 11, 2008
  17. ^ David Gutman, Mahler - Symphony No. 8 (review), Gramophone magazine, p.83 (June 2009)
  18. ^ Album reviews, The Scotsman, Mar. 30, 2009
  19. ^ International Record Review, March 2009
  20. ^ Choral Arts Society, [1] visited April 6, 2015
  21. ^ Choral Arts Society, Discography, visited Aug. 18, 2010
  22. ^ Peter Gutmann, Music in Time of War (Mar. 2003), last visited Aug. 18, 2010
  23. ^ a b Choral Arts Society, Awards & Honors, last visited Aug. 18, 2010
  24. ^ a b c Pamela Sommers, Choral Arts, Still in Perfect Harmony at 25, Washington Post, June 2, 1990, p. C03
  25. ^ Choral Arts Society, Norman Scribner, Artistic Director & Founder, visited Aug. 20, 2010
  26. ^ Meryle Secrest, A Fresh Approach, The Washington Post, Nov. 29, 1964, p. G1.
  27. ^ a b Choral Arts Society, Repertoire Performed by Date (1965-present), visited Aug. 21, 2010
  28. ^ Registered Organization Search, District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (verified Aug. 23, 2010)
  29. ^ Alan Kriegsman, Choral Singing Master, The Washington Post, Nov. 7, 1970, p. C1
  30. ^ Paul Hume, An Upbeat Period for Youthful Resident Musicians, Washington Post, Jan. 11, 1976, p. G1
  31. ^ Choral Arts Society, Organizational Information, visited March 5, 2011
  32. ^ John Rockwell, Concert: Rostropovich Leads Vespers, New York TImes, Feb. 10, 1981
  33. ^ Press Release, Norman Scribner Announces Plan to Retire as Choral Arts Society of Washington's Artistic Director, Aug. 6, 2010
  34. ^ Charles T. Downey, Norman Scribner Sets A Date, Ionarts Blog, Aug. 3, 2010
  35. ^ Anne Midgette, Choral Arts Society names director, Washington Post, March 29, 2012, p. C02 (different title for online version of story; visited March 31, 2012)
  36. ^ Choral Arts Society, Scott Tucker Biography; visited April 6, 2015
  37. ^ William Wan and Brigid Schulte, For Charities, A Season of Need, Washington Post, Dec. 23, 2008
  38. ^ Press Release, Mayor Recognizes DC Arts Grant Recipients, District of Columbia Government (FY 2006)
  39. ^ Joseph McLellan, Choral Arts' Big Plans For Its 25th, Washington Post, Nov. 4, 1989, p. G02. The campaign chairman was former IRS Commissioner Roscoe L. Egger, Jr. Id.
  40. ^ Anne Midgette, New groups like National Master Chorale signal key change in D.C. choral scene, Washington Post, Dec. 19, 2009
  41. ^ Jacqueline Trescott, "Washington arts groups anxious about federal funding cuts", Washington Post (blog), Apr. 19, 2011
  42. ^ Anne Midgette, Master Chorale Exits the Scene On a Graceful - And Wistful - Note, Washington Post, May 19, 2009
  43. ^ RANDOM ACTS: Holiday cheer for charity, Washington Times, December 9, 2009
  44. ^ William Wan and Brigid Schulte, For Charities, A Season of Need, Washington Post, Dec. 23, 2008 (photo caption)