Cantata Singers of Ottawa choir

Choir History

CSO History 1968

The Cantata Singers of Ottawa is dedicated to excellence in the performance of choral music from Canada and around the world and fostering Canadian talent. The Choir was founded in 1964 by Gerald Wheeler, organist and choirmaster of St Matthew’s Church in Ottawa. The choir then consisted of 20 singers. They performed their first concert in December 1964 at the National Gallery.

After one season, Gerald Wheeler moved to Montreal and Brian Law took over as director of the Cantata Singers of Ottawa. In 1969, the choir was invited to sing Purcell’s Dido and Aneas at the new National Arts Centre (NAC). The CSO later became the choir in residence of the NAC and has performed in many NAC productions over the years, singing under many world renowned conductors such as Eduardo Mata, Helmuth Rilling, Franz Paul Decker, Trevor Pinnock, Richard Hickox, Paul Goodwin, Martin Pearlman, Gerald Wirth, Earl Stafford, Eric Kunzel, and Pinchas Zukerman. To balance the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO), the choir increased in size to 44 members. Under Brian Law, the choir had also traveled frequently around Canada and toured the Maritime provinces and South-western Ontario. In 1980, the NAC invited the choir to sing with the NACO in Carnegie Hall.

When Brian Law left for New Zealand in 1987, the choir welcomed Laurence Ewashko as the new director after a national search. “Laurence had spent the previous few years conducting the famed Vienna Boys’ Choir. Under Laurence’s leadership, the choir embarked on a successful tours of The Netherlands in 1988, Hong Kong and Taiwan in 1994, Austria and Hungary in 1998, and a tour of Italy in 2001, and made several well received CD’s.

The choir has made numerous recordings with CBC Radio and TV, and appears on the NACO CD recording of music by Alexina Louie. The Cantata Singers also produces its own concert series every year and makes numerous guest appearances with other organizations. As part of its series, the choir supports local and national composers by commissioning and performing their works.

Between 2005 and 2014, Michael Zaugg took over the baton as Music Director and led the choir in new and exciting directions. The choir continued to perform at the NAC, performed at the Lanaudiere Festival under Kent Nagano, and often joined Montreal’s St Lawrence Choir at joint concerts. Michael directed many new works, including the Canadian premiere of Chilcott’s Salisbury Vespers for the choir’s 50th anniversary concert. During this period, the choir fostered joint projects with local youth choirs and collaborated and performed with professional choirs such as the Vancouver Chamber Choir and Edmonton’s Pro Coro Canada.

In 2015, the choir appointed its current director, Andrew McAnerney, a former Tallis Scholar.  CSO has benefited tremendously from Andrew’s enthusiasm and artistic vision and audiences have grown.  In line with our vision statement “Choral singing re-imagined”, the past three years have included innovative programming as well as classical choral works, with performances of vespers by Rachmaninoff and Monteverdi, Fauré’s Requiem, plus commissioned, less-known, or rarely-performed works such as Zoltán Kodály’s Missa Brevis, Poulenc’s Soir de Neige, Murray Schafer’s Snowforms, and the recently re-discovered version of the mysterious Allegri Miserere originally performed in the Sistine Chapel.

Interested in what we’ve done? Have a look at our past seasons and their concert programs.