Onion River Chorus History
Onion River Chorus was founded in 1978 by Larry Gordon and Brian Webb. Larry was the organizer and came up with most of the programming ideas and Brian served as conductor for the first ten years.
It has always been a non-auditioned community chorus, open to anyone interested in singing rather eclectic programs of classical and contemporary choral music.
Larry become the regular conductor beginning in about 1988, although Brian returned regularly as a guest conductor. Larry led the chorus until his untimely death from a bicycle accident in November 2021.
Guest conductors over the years have included Steven Light, Roger Grow, Catherine Orr, and most recently Dick Riley. For several decades Lynnette Combs has been the able accompanist.
For the first several years rehearsals were held at Vermont College and most of the performances at beautiful College Hall. This was before the college remodeled the space and installed acoustical panels and carpeting which considerably dampened the formerly super live acoustics. Once that space became unavailable the chorus moved its rehearsals to the Bethany Church Chapel. Since fall 2013 we have been rehearsing upstairs at Christ Church.
From the start Brian and Larry were unafraid to tackle very challenging programs of less frequently performed repertoire. The very first program was Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610. The next several years included programs devoted to a single 20th century composer: Stravinsky (including Les Noces with four pianos and percussion); Bartok (including the magnificent Cantata Profana with orchestra); Dallapiccola (including Canti di Prigionia).
Some other highlights of the early years included Mozart’s C Minor Mass (with soprano soloists Celina Moore and Sandra Sliker); a collaboration with Ann Hamilton and her Northsong chorus performing works by Lukas Foss; a collaboration with Cy Bryant and the Lamoille Chorus performing Handel’s Israel in Egypt.
Since then the group has continued its reputation for unusual programming. It has regularly featured programs of major works by lesser known baroque and early baroque composers: complete masses by Zelenka, and Biber, Charpentier’s Te Deum , Litanies for the Virgin and Midnight Mass for Christmas Eve, a Christmas vespers by Praetorius, motets by Tunder, Buxtehude and others. When possible these programs have been accompanied by bands of baroque period instruments.
The chorus has also not shied away from contemporary repertoire, most recently premiering the major new cantata, Raine Songs, by Burlington composer Don Jamison.
ORC is always welcoming to new singers. The regular tea break in the middle of the Monday night rehearsals is always a time for convivial socializing (note: due to Covid19 precautions this tea break has been suspended indefinitely)
Fo over four decades Onion River Chorus has provided a rewarding opportunity for singers to broaden their horizons and participate in a group dedicated to presenting high level performances. It has also continued to delight and educate its audiences through its stimulating programs.