San Gabriel Chorale History

History by Bob Horick updated January 28, 2009

Kenneth Sheppard founded the San Gabriel Chorale in fall of 1988 in response to repeated requests that he resume the tradition of the Central Texas Chorale, which he had conducted during the 1970's and early 1980's. Since then, the group has rehearsed and normally performs at Southwestern University, to which the Chorale is deeply indebted for its support.

The first program consisted of the music of J. S. Bach, including portions of the motet Jesu Meine Freude. Since then, the music of Bach has appeared on more SGC programs that that of any other composer. The long list of notable works which the SGC has performed over the years includes Ernest Bloch's Sacred Service, Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, Benjamin Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb, Gabriel Fauré's Requiem, and choruses from the newly-reconstructed St. Mark Passion by J. S. Bach.

That first season also saw the beginning of a collaboration that has extended for many seasons: a joint concert of the San Gabriel Chorale with the Southwestern University Chorale and Orchestra. Dr. Anthony Adessa inaugurated this tradition with a performance of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. Later, when Dr. Sheppard became the conductor of the Southwestern University Chamber Orchestra, he regularly combined the two choruses for major works with orchestra every spring, including Bach's Mass in b minor (twice) and St. John Passion, Mendelssohn's Elijah, Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass, Mozart's Mass in c minor and Requiem, Handel's Messiah, Arthur Honegger's King David, and Beethoven's Mass in C, Op. 86 (also performed at the American Choral Directors Association meeting in Denver in March, 1994).

In 1994 Dr. Sheppard became Artistic Director Emeritus, and has been succeeded by a series of gifted conductors: Patty Highland (1994-1995), Pamela Rossman (1995-1998), and Dr. Bruce Cain (1998-present). Mark Erck, then a Southwestern student and now Assistant Conductor of the Austin Lyric Opera, served as guest conductor for one concert. All these conductors have served with great distinction, without accepting any financial compensation. Accompanists David Utterback, Patty Highland, Pamela Rossman, and Dr. David Polley have likewise contributed immeasurably to the success of the San Gabriel Chorale.

In 2003 San Gabriel Chorale joined the Southwestern University Chorale and the Austin Civic Chorus to perform Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with the Austin Symphony Orchestra, Peter Bay conducting.

In the fall of 2004 Kenneth Sheppard conducted the same ensemble, augmented by singers from Temple, in Haydn's Mass in Time of War for three performances—in Austin, Georgetown and finally at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Once again, on May 16 and 17, 2008. members of the San Gabriel Chorale joined in with ACC in a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony , this time as the Austin Symphony made its debut in its new performance hall, the Long Center for the Performing Arts, in Austin.

The spring of 2005 featured two SGC concerts with Austin Civic Chorus -- two performances of Handel's oratorio Israel in Egypt, one in Austin and one in Georgetown as part of Georgetown's first Festival of the Arts, in June 2005. Since 2005, the San Gabriel Chorale has participated in similar annual undertakings for the Georgetown Festival of the Arts, together with Chorus Austin, under the direction of Kenneth Sheppard. These include, in 2006, Haydn's Creation; in 2007, Schubert's Mass in A-flat, and, in 2008, Mendelssohn's oratorio St. Paul. The latter was the world-premiere performance of Michael Cooper's reconstruction of the original English-language edition created by Mendelssohn.

Members of the San Gabriel Chorale also participated in Chorus Austin's tour of Europe in the summer of 2008, led by Kenneth Sheppard, to Budapest, Prague and Leipzig. The latter tour featured excerpts from St. Paul and works by American composers and American spirituals.

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