CSO choral director Duain Wolfe to retire

Fri May 21, 2021 at 7:57 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Duain Wolfe, director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, will retire in the spring of 2022. Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Duain Wolfe, director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus for 27 years, will retire at the end of the 2021-22 season.

Wolfe had the unenviable task of succeeding the celebrated Margaret Hillis, who founded the CSO Chorus in 1957 at the request of music director Fritz Reiner. Yet Wolfe maintained the sterling, first-class standards of his predecessor, as anyone who attended a CSO choral program over the past two decades can testify.

“After more than a quarter century, I remain impressed and deeply moved by the astonishing merits of the Chicago Symphony Chorus and the standards it continues to set for our noble profession,” said Wolfe in a statement released by the orchestra. “My time with this incredible ensemble has been a gift, but it is now time for a new director who can carry the legacy of the Chicago Symphony Chorus to even greater heights of artistic achievement and awareness. 

“I am incredibly grateful for the vision and dedication of founding director Margaret Hillis, and for the opportunity to work with the world-renowned community of music makers led so beautifully by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It has been a privilege and honor to be a part of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra family.” 

Wolfe took on the role of choral director in 1994. He prepared the chorus for programs led by Riccardo Muti, Daniel Barenboim, Sir Georg Solti, Pierre Boulez, and Bernard Haitink among many others. His numerous CSO recordings including three Grammy winners: Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg conducted by Solti, and Verdi’s Requiem and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 (“Babi Yar”) conducted by Riccardo Muti. Wolfe also prepared the chorus for the soundtrack recording to the Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln, composed and conducted by John Williams. 

Other artistic highlights with the Chicago Symphony Chorus include concert performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; Cherubini’s Requiem; Orff’s Carmina Burana; Verdi’s Otello, Macbeth, Falstaff and Aida; Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible; Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana; Mahler’s Second, Third, and Eighth symphonies; 

“The entire Chicago Symphony Orchestra family is grateful to Duain Wolfe for his steadfast commitment to the quality of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, the exhilarating performances to which we have been treated, and the role he has played over the past 27 years throughout the organization,” said CSO president Jeff Alexander in a statement. “We look forward to celebrating these accomplishments with him in the upcoming season and wish him the very best in his retirement.”

“The years in Chicago that include the collaboration with distinguished Chorus Director Duain Wolfe and the excellent Chicago Symphony Chorus have marked a significant artistic period,” said Riccardo Muti. “The many performances with the Chorus and Orchestra have been truly memorable for me and for our audiences.” 

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