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history
 
 

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Fresno Community Chorus performed its first concert in November 1956 under Arthur Berdahl, singing Berdahl’s oratorio “Judas Iscariot.” The following year the chorus appeared for the first time with the newly-formed Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra singing Bruckner’s “Te Deum” under Haig Yaghjian. The chorus performed often with the Fresno Philharmonic during Guy Taylor’s tenure as the orchestra’s conductor. Works with the orchestra included the Verdi “Requiem,” and Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” and “Ninth Symphony.” Over its history the chorus has worked with a number of noted conductors, including a 1963 performance under Roger Wagner. Sandor Salgo of the Carmel Bach Festival, Eugene Wahlstrom, and Nick Iacovetti were early directors.

In 1966 Dr. Arthur Huff began his long-term directorship during which time the independent chorus became associated with what was then Fresno State College. Other past directors include Jack Fortner, Phyllis Irwin, Randy McChesney, Leslie Guelker-Cone, Gary Unruh, and Mark Bennett, with performances of many great choral works such as Vaughan Williams’ “Sea Symphony,” Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” and the Requiems of Brahms, Verdi, Fauré, Mozart, and Rutter. Other notable performances include the moving “Holocaust Cantata” by Donald McCullough, Rossini’s “Petite Messe Solennelle,” and Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion.”

Dr. Anna Hamre, who in August 1999 assumed duties as Director of Choral Activities at Fresno State, began directing the chorus in 2002. Under her leadership and with the help of its board of directors, Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale continues its growing reputation for excellent musicianship and acts as one representative of the rich Central Valley arts community. With thanks and acknowledgement to Maestro Theodore Kuchar, Dr. Hamre and the chorus fostered significant further collaborations with the Fresno Philharmonic. The chorus has presented special children’s performances of John Rutter’s “The Reluctant Dragon” and “The Wind in the Willows.” Now an auditioned choir, FCCMC added its smaller ensemble group, Coro Piccolo. Over the past several seasons chorus membership has seen unprecedented growth, and a new classical ensemble, Coro Solare, is added in the fall of 2016.

During Dr. Hamre’s tenure the chorus has presented several premieres or early performances. The US premiere of W. A. Mozart’s “Mass in C Minor” as reconstructed by internationally renowned musicologist and composer Philip Wilby was performed in November 2004 with Mr. Wilby in attendance. The work was performed again as part of the chorus’s 60th anniversary celebration, along with “Like Streams We Gather,” commissioned for the occasion. Growth of the organization is further reflected in concerts presented by the Coro Piccolo chamber choir, which has recorded for broadcast on KNXT TV. The women’s ensemble Coro Vox Aeterna will be featured on the fall 2016 CD released by international star Isabel Bayrakdarian.

With an eye to its motto “Giving Voice to the Valley” the chorus continued in the 2014-15 season to develop outstanding collaborations with Alzheimer's support groups, the Armenian community, and the Fresno Philharmonic. In March 2015 FCCMC presented the recently composed “Alzheimer’s Stories” in a moving and well-received performance that included a pre-concert presentation featuring the composer.

 

In April 2015 the choir and Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra presented “Witness and Rebirth: An Armenian Journey” (conducted by Theodore Kuchar) including the world premiere of Serouj Kradjian’s “Cantata for the Living Martyrs,” commissioned by the Armenian Genocide Centennial Fresno Committee. Hamre conducted the choir’s performance of sacred a cappella music. Following the performance, Maddy Guekguezian’s “California Courier” review stated: “The haunting beauty of each [choral] piece was conveyed profoundly by the choir with both precision and soul.” After a reprise of the concert in San Francisco in the Palace of Fine Arts, Mark Rudio, in his review for “San Francisco Classical Voice,” commended the singers, calling the choral segment “a concert highlight.”

 

These recent concerts were included in “The Fresno Bee” listing of “Top Cultural Arts Events in 2015” by Donald Munro. In explaining his decisions, Munroe explained that with “Alzheimer’s Stories” the choir’s performance “connected on both a cerebral and emotional level.” Also, “The chorus and 18-piece orchestra ensemble, conducted by Anna Hamre with the sturdiness yet delicacy of a choice piece of Japanese porcelain, found both the seriousness and humor in the work….Through the power of music demonstrated in this deftly programmed concert, the Master Chorale made a precious contribution to the central San Joaquin Valley.”

Touring with its musical offerings is also part of the chorus’s artistic endeavors. During the 1990s, Fresno Community Chorus toured Scandinavia, singing American music in three countries, and made a trip to China. In February 2006, the chorus joined in a performance of Gabriel Fauré’s “Requiem” at New York’s famed Carnegie Hall. FCCMC completed a pre-Olympics tour in China in March 2008, and performed for a second time at Carnegie Hall in April 2009. In June 2009 the chorus toured in Salzburg, Vienna, and Prague. A concert tour to Italy in 2011 included singing the mass at the Vatican, and in June 2012 FCCMC made a pre-Olympics tour to England. In June 2015 members of the chorus performed in Greece, and in June 2017 the choir tours Spain and the French Riviera.

Appropriately named, the Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale comprises a diverse group of volunteer singers from Fresno and surrounding communities. Members travel from as far away as Coalinga, Porterville, Oakhurst, Coarsegold, Madera, and other Central Valley locations to attend weekly rehearsals. Membership includes professional musicians and music educators as well as physicians, lawyers, teachers, students, retirees, homemakers, and others. Fresno Community Chorus is incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit arts organization.

 

Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale honors its over 60 years of performing choral masterpieces, introducing audiences to new works, and providing excellent musical experiences for its members. Looking back on the richness of the past and ahead into a vibrant future, the board of directors, artistic director, and singers of Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale excitedly anticipate more performances and tours, and presentations of great choral literature to audiences who continue to grow in appreciation and support.

 

 
     

 

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