In August 1954, Heles Contreras, encouraged by his visit to the University Art Week in Santiago, founded with other fellow students the Choir of English Education at the University of Concepción. The choir gave its first performance at the old Concepción Theater, with a program including a spiritual, a canon and a choral arrangement of the tango “Clavel del Aire”.
The constitutive session of the choir was held on August 23, 1954, electing the first board and its president, Mr. Sergio Nelson.
The prompt organization of this choral ensemble had a quick impact throughout the Faculty of Education, and by October 1954 the Choir of English had become the Choir of the whole Faculty. In 1955, it had spread throughout the University, with students from all faculties joining the Choir; so, that same year it was finally renamed the “University Choir”.
In September 1955, the Choir undertook its first national tour, which included the cities of Temuco, Valdivia, Osorno and Puerto Montt.
1957 signaled the beginning of its activities as a Symphony Choir. That year, they sang the Chilean premiere of Franz Joseph Haydn’s oratorio, “The Creation”, in a version with organ accompaniment only, Spanish text and soloists selected from the Choir. In 1958, they performed Charles Gounod’s oratorio, “The Redemption”, also as a Chilean premiere, with organ accompaniment only, and a text translated to Spanish by the Choir conductor.
In November 1958, the Choir appeared with the University Chamber Orchestra conducted by Maestro Wilfried Junge in a performance of short works by Purcell and Mozart. In 1959, the Choir was featured in the Concepción Theater season of great performances, and premiered Haydn’s “Missa In Tempore Belli” with the University Chamber Orchestra conducted by Junge.
Since 1959, the Choir is featured every year in the official concert seasons of the Concepción Symphony Orchestra.
Members of the Choir
A great part of the members are students in the University of Concepción, or former students who after graduating remain bound to their alma mater through the Choir. Others are citizens not directly related to the University – lovers of singing who participate with enthusiasm and dedication in the preparation of their performances.
Throughout its long years of musical activity, the Choir has performed the Chilean premieres of numerous symphonic-choral works. Highlights among them are:
The Creation, oratorio by F.J. Haydn (1957) (with Spanish text)
The Redemption , oratorio by Charles Gounod (1958) (with Spanish text)
Misa in tempore Belli by F.J.Haydn (1958)
Missa Brevis by Zoltan Kodaly (1967)
Requiem in C minor by Luigi Cherubini (1988)
Stabat Mater by Antonin Dvorak (1992)
Messa di Gloria by Giacomo Puccini (1994)
Stabat Mater by Karol Szymanowski (2002)
The Choir on tour
Highlights include the 1980 performance at the Municipal Theater in Santiago de Chile, when The Choir and the Municipal Theater’s Philharmonic Orchestra were conducted by German Maestro Peter Richter in Carl Orff’s profane oratorio, “Carmina Burana”.
In 1985, the Choir was invited for the first time to the Musical Weeks that take place annually in the Southern lake resort of Frutillar. On that occasion, they performed Mozart’s “Requiem” with the Chile Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maestro Francisco Rettig.
The favorable reception from audience and organizers of the event led to a new invitation. So, the Choir returned to Frutillar in January 1988 for a performance of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana”, once again with the Chile Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maestro Rettig.
January 1989 became a time to remember, when the Choir was again invited to the Musical Weeks in Frutillar. They sang famous opera choruses with the same orchestra and conductor as in previous occasions, but the extraordinary event took place the day after the official concert. Invited by the Andean Club of Osorno city and as a part of the Musical Weeks program, the Choir sang inside the crater of the extinct Casablanca volcano (at three hours from the town and about 2,000 meters over the sea level) with outstanding acoustics. The Choir offered the same program of famous opera choruses but a capella, receiving warm applause from the audience.
In 1990, the Choir was invited to the Musical Weeks in Santo Domingo, on the coast of Central Chile, performing choruses from operas and Handel’s “Messiah”.
In 1995, the Choir went to Frutillar again, and since then has permanently toured in Southern and Northern Chile with the Concepción Symphony Orchestra, always earning applause and positive commentaries from the audience.
In parallel with the Symphony Choir, a Chamber Choir of 26 members was created in 1964. The ensemble covers a wide repertoire of a capella works encompassing from Renaissance polyphony to modern compositions as well as the Latin American and European folklore, allowing to develop a permanent outreach work.
The Choir at the Opera
It is also noteworthy that the Choir is featured every year in the opera seasons organized by the University of Concepción Cultural Corporation. The operas the Choir has sung include:
- Madama Butterfly, by Giacomo Puccini
- Carmen, by George Bizet
- La Traviata, by Giuseppe Verdi
- Rigoletto, by Giuseppe Verdi
- The Barber of Sevilla, by Gioacchino Rossini
- Luisa Fernanda, zarzuela by Federico Moreno Torroba.
- Lucia di Lammermoor, by Gaetano Donizetti
- Don Giovanni, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- The Magic Flute, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Over its long musical career, the Choir has been led by the following maestros:
- Heles Contreras (1954-1958 / 1961-1964)
- Wilfred Junge (1958-1961)
- Eduardo E. Gajardo (1964-1976)
- Hermann Kock (1976-1980)
- Mario Cánovas (1976-1999)
- Lilian Quezada (1999-2001)
- Mateo Palma (2002-2004)
- Eduardo Gajardo Sch. (2005-2008)
- Carlos Traverso Águila (2008 to the present day)