Dessoff Choirs

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New York's Dessoff Choirs, comprising groups of various sizes that perform separately and together, share an orientation toward new music.
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New York's Dessoff Choirs comprise several smaller groups -- the Dessoff Symphonic Choir and the Dessoff Chamber Choir -- that perform separately and together. The groups collectively share an orientation toward new and unusual music.

The choirs trace their origin to 1924 when choral conductor Margarete Dessoff founded the Adesdi Chorus and the A Cappella Singers in New York. She brought those two groups together in 1930 under the Dessoff Choirs rubric, forming smaller groups, the Dessoff Symphonic Choir and the Dessoff Chamber Choir, as performance circumstances demanded. Dessoff conducted the New York premiere of Bach's Cantata No. 4, BWV 4 ("Christ lag in Todes Banden"), the U.S. premiere of Italian Renaissance composer Orazio Vecchi's L'amfiparnaso (1594), and the American premiere of Schoenberg's motet Friede auf Erden. An important figure in the choirs' early years was their second conductor, Paul Boepple, who spent 32 years on the podium and emphasized the performance of Renaissance music, which was rarely heard in New York in the middle 20th century. More recent conductors have included James Bagwell (2005-2010), who programmed sacred harp songs and other American forms, Christopher Shepard, and Malcolm J. Merriweather. The Dessoff Choirs collectively performed with the New York Wind Ensemble in 1951, at a concert marking the 2,000th anniversary of the city of Paris. Since then, they have performed in various configurations with New York's top instrumental ensembles, including the New York Philharmonic in Mahler's Symphony No. 8 ("Symphony of a Thousand") at one of Lorin Maazel's final concerts as music director. The choirs also present regular season of a cappella performances. The Dessoff Choirs are self-governing: members pay dues, sell tickets, serve as board members, and support the choirs through financial and in-kind donations. The Choirs have operated a Singing Scholar Program in New York's public high schools since the late 2000s decade.

The Dessoff Choirs were especially prolific as recording artists under Bagwell, releasing 13 albums. In 2019, they returned to the recording market, releasing an album devoted to the Margaret Bonds cantata The Ballad of the Brown King on the Avie label.