The Wiener Singakademie was founded in 1858 as Vienna’s first mixed choir and was intended to serve as a “Singübungsanstalt” (an institution to facilitate the training of singing). From the very beginning, the repertoire of the Wiener Singakademie was marked by two main considerations: fostering the works of the classical masters on the one hand, and including contemporary works on the other.
Very soon the Wiener Singakademie established itself as a notable part of Vienna’s concert life. In 1882, the young Johannes Brahms was brought to Vienna to serve as the choirmaster of the Wiener Singakademie. He would come to regard Vienna as the centre of his life.
Over the years, the circle of conductors for whom it was a matter of prime importance to work with the choir grew steadily. The list includes Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss and Bruno Walter (who himself led the choir for a number of years). In addition, many notable composers premiered their works together with the Wiener Singakademie to the Viennese public. Edvard Grieg, Anton Rubinstein, and Pietro Mascagni made their contributions to Vienna’s musical history during the first decades of the existence of the Wiener Singakademie.
After 55 years as an independent choir, the Wiener Singakademie finally acquired its long-sought-for permanent home when the Wiener Konzerthaus was opened in 1913. Incorporated into the Wiener Konzerthausgesellschaft, the choir established itself as an important partner of the Wiener Konzerthaus. The only periods when the prolific concert activities of the Wiener Singakademie had to be curtailed were during the two world wars.
Just like the city of Vienna itself, the choir, too, became active again in 1945. The rebuilding efforts led to an artistic climax in the 1950s and 1960s, when, under the guidance of Hans Gillesberger, concert tours, programme variety, great conductors and artistic quality left nothing to be desired. Jointly responsible for this development in the early days were Wilhelm Furtwängler, Paul Hindemith, Karl Böhm, Hans Svarowski, and also the young Lorin Maazel.
In 1983, Agnes Grossman became the artistic director of the choir. The first woman to lead the Wiener Singakademie, Grossmann revived the academic aspect of the choir, emphasizing the voice and musical training of the choir members. This is still a significant component today.
From the middle of the 1980s and into the 1990s, under the then Secretary General of the Konzerthaus, Alexander Pereira, and later under the choir’s artistic director, Herbert Böck, the choir further strengthened its position in the Wiener Konzerthaus. The choir can look back on its work with great artists like Georges Prêtre, Yehudi Menuhin, Claudio Abbado, Sir Roger Norrington, John Elliot Gardiner, Sir Simon Rattle, and Kent Nagano.
In 1998, Heinz Ferlesch assumed the post of artistic director of the Wiener Singakademie. As one of its longest serving directors, he has shaped the style of the choir and has helped to build up a programme to support and sponsor young artists. This includes not only the development and further training of the choir members, but also the inclusion of young, gifted soloists and ensembles in the concert programmes. As a result of innovation and increased programme variety, initiated by Konzerthaus Secretary General Christoph Lieben-Seutter and with which the Wiener Singakademie is also closely linked, the repertoire of the choir now covers a wide spectrum of musical genres stretching from 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.
Heinz Ferlesch frequently conducts the choir himself, leading “his” choir through a-cappella literature and baroque works for choir and orchestra. Two recent highlights in this connection were a performance of Handel’s “Judas Maccabaeus” in the autumn of 2006, which was released on CD in cooperation with ORF (Austrian Public Radio) and met with international acclaim, and Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, performed on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the choir’s founding. The Wiener Singakademie continues its commitment to the nurturing of contemporary works: the choir gave the world premiereperformance of Helmut Jasbar’s “The King Arthur Séance – On Henry Purcell’s Shoulders” in the Theater an der Wien (also conducted by Ferlesch) and achieved success abroad in a performance of “Daphnis and Chloé” with the Philharmonisch Orkest Rotterdam und Yannick Nezet-Seguin. The choir received accolades for its 2013 performance (also a world premiere) of Aribert Reimann’s demanding “Prologue to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony,” under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Konzerthaus.
In 2006, the Wiener Singakademie broke new ground away from the literature of large orchestra and choir works with the founding of the “Kammerchor der Wiener Singakademie” (Chamber Choir of the Wiener Singakademie). This ensemble, made up of members of the Wiener Singakademie, has set as its goal the fostering and promoting of a cappella singing, which, after all, is the musical foundation of choral singing. Beyond the fostering of a cappella works, the Chamber Choir can perform vocal works that call for a smaller ensemble.
The first successes of the Chamber Choir came in July 2007 when it was awarded second and fourth place prizes in the International Choir Competition held in Spittal an der Drau (Austria). For the anniversary year 2008, the Chamber Choir awarded a composition contract to Christian Mühlbacher. The Wiener Singakademie has won the admiration of the press, who routinely praise the enthusiasm, commitment and sound of the choir coupled with the discipline that comes from a thorough and frequent regimen of rehearsals.