About the Choir

Photo credit: Arts Laureate

Photo credit: Arts Laureate


“In just a few seasons, artistic director Robert Shafer has shaped the City Choir of Washington into another of the area’s first-class choruses.” – The Washington Post

The City Choir of Washington, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary under the artistic leadership of Robert Shafer, is known for its beautiful choral sound, attention to musical detail, and moving performances.  Maestro Shafer, an accomplished life-long educator and conductor, is a master at preparing his singers, giving careful attention to vocal technique and musical style to communicate each composer’s vision.  Shafer challenges his singers and audiences by creative programming, breathing new life into old masterworks—most recently, Handel’s oratorio Solomon—and pairing them with stunning renditions of new or under-performed works, such as Arvo Part’s Te Deum, Benjamin Britten’s Cantata Misericordium, and Tarik O’Regan’s Triptych.

The City Choir of Washington, now poised to celebrate Robert Shafer’s 50th anniversary as an active choral conductor in the Washington, D.C. area, begins its 2017-2018 season with a concert of two masterworks. One of these, Anton Bruckner’s Mass in F minor, is deeply moving but seldom heard, while the other, Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, is beloved worldwide for its mournful beauty.  The performance of the Bruckner mass is timely, as 2017 marks the 150th anniversary of its composition. It will also be a unique event, since Maestro Shafer reorchestrated the entire work so that it could be performed in the National Presbyterian Church, which cannot house a large orchestra.

Each City Choir season guarantees a highly regarded Music for Christmas performance that showcases a talented high school choral ensemble.  The 2017 “Partner in Song” will be the Blake High School A CAPPELLA! choir from Silver Spring, conducted by Sandra L. Zinkievich. The season concludes in April with performances of the Charpentier Te Deum, the Bartoldus Magnificat (a world premiere), and Handel’s glorious Laudate Pueri Dominum. All concerts of the 2017-2018 season will be given in the intimate setting of the National Presbyterian Church.

Besides performing to capacity audiences in its own yearly subscription series, City Choir has sung with The National Symphony Orchestra and The Washington National Opera Orchestra at The Kennedy Center and at Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts. The chorus has sung under the batons of such noted conductors as Stephen Lord, Randall Craig Fleischer, Ludwig Wicki, and Marvin Hamlisch.  City Choir has also been honored to join with The Defiant Requiem Foundation and Maestro Murry Sidlin to present performances of The Defiant Requiem at the Kennedy Center, Strathmore Hall, and Avery Fisher Hall at New York’s Lincoln Center.

Additional memorable orchestral performances by City Choir during its first ten seasons under Maestro Shafer’s baton include Bach’s Mass in B minor and Magnificat, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms,  Fauré’s Requiem,  Monteverdi’s Marian Vespers of 1610,  Mozart’s Requiem, Vivaldi’s Gloria, and the world premiere of Lux Aeterna by Robert Shafer. The City Choir of Washington commemorated the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II with a concert of British choral music that featured the world premiere of John Tavener’s Three Hymns of George Herbert, written specifically for the Diamond Jubilee festivities.  The composer was present for the program, which was given at the Washington National Cathedral.

In the spring of  2014, the Choralis Foundation nominated The City Choir of Washington for an Ovation Award for Most Creative Programming. Maestro Shafer feels that “our great affinity for and dedication to the music of our time is what really sets us apart.  We have given many premiere performances, including several of the final compositions by one of England’s greatest composers, Sir John Taverner.”

The City Choir roster is composed of 120 experienced, professional-caliber volunteer singers who hail from throughout the greater Washington metropolitan area, even extending out to Annapolis and Frederick, Maryland, south to Springfield, Virginia, and sometimes into Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  The singers state enthusiastically that it is worth the drive to have the privilege to sing with Maestro Shafer.

The City Choir of Washington seeks to inspire singers, audience members, and the community at large to discover the rich musical and cultural heritage of choral music and, in the words of Maestro Shafer, “to create beauty and give our audiences an escape from our deeply troubled world and a vision of a new world truly at peace and filled with love.” Also, through performances and educational and community outreach programs such as The City Singers, the high school Partners in Song, and commitment to spotlighting emerging American soloists, The City Choir of Washington aims to nurture the next generation of performers and audience members.