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Historically, the South Dakota Symphony Chorus can trace its roots back to the 1961-1962 season of the Sioux Falls Symphony Orchestra with a concert of Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah. The performance featured internationally acclaimed artist William Warfield in the principle role, under the direction of Maestro Leo Kucinski. A decade passed before choristers again appeared with the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra. This time, April 1973, it was for a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem, with Maestro George Trautwein on the podium. (This information is taken from a book by Arthur R. Huseboe, An Illustrated History of the Arts in South Dakota. Sioux Falls: The Center for Western Studies, Augustana College, 1989, pp. 86, 88.)
The current manifestation of the South Dakota Symphony Chorus was formed by Don Levsen* with the singing of Handel’s Messiah in 1984, during the tenure of Maestro Kenneth Kline. The Symphony Chorus was conducted by Mr. Levsen from that time, throughout the tenures of Maestros Kenneth Klein, Henry Charles Smith, and Susan Haig, until his retirement at the end of the 2006-07 season. According to Don Levsen’s program biography, during his time with the chorus, “some of the works performed included the Verdi Requiem, Schubert’s Mass in G, Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise, An Evening of Opera, plus participation in the annual Holiday concerts.”
Dr. James R. Johnson actually began working with the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra during the 1992-1993 season under Maestro Henry Charles Smith, by virtue of his role as conductor of The Augustana Choir and Chamber Choir – annual contributors to the choral efforts of the SDSO. He assumed full time chorus-master duties with the 2007-2008 season, following the retirement of Don Levsen.
Current Maestro Delta David Gier has provided inspired leadership and shown keen interest in the growth and development of the South Dakota Symphony Chorus. Since 2007, under Maestro Gier’s baton and Dr. Johnson mentorship, the choristers have rehearsed and performed Gustav Mahler’s, Second Symphony and Third Symphony; Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s, Magnificat; Giacomo Puccini’s operas Tosca, Turandot, and La bohème; Johannes Brahms’ Requiem; “An Evening of Opera” with Samuel Ramey; a Space Odyssey; Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana; Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem; Ludvig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Mass in C; Franz Joseph Haydn’s Creation; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem; Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. John Passion; Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s Elijah and Midsummer Night’s Dream; Richard Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer; annual Holiday Collage concert; and numerous performances of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah.
The musical excellence and unequaled volunteer spirit of the Symphony Chorus continue to be an inspiration to the audiences who hear them and to every member of the chorus. The South Dakota Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Chorus continue their mission “to celebrate the tradition of live orchestral music and enrich the lives of people throughout our region.”