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Orfeón Donostiarra

Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts 1984

Founded in 1897, the Orfeón Donostiarra is considered to be the most important choral group in Spain. Its repertory includes over fifty operas and zarzuelas, a hundred symphonic-choral works and a large number of folk and polyphonic works. Since the original group of twenty enthusiasts met to sing for the first time in the town of Modragón, Guipuzcoa, more than a century ago now, the spirit of the amateur choir has been maintained, though with the dedication of professionals.

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This choral group has experienced four phases, each defined by the character and personality of the choir’s respective conductors: Secundino Esnaola, Juan Gorostidi, Antxon Ayestarán and José Antonio Sáinz Alfaro, who took up the baton in 1987.

The following stand out among the long list of soloists and conductors that the Orfeón has worked with: Victoria de los Angeles, Armstrong, Baker, Bastianini, Berganza, Bumbry, Burrows, Caballé, Carreras, Van Dam, Donath, Domingo, Gigli, Janowitch, Lorengar, Marshall, del Mónaco, Norman, Pavarotti, Procter, Schwarkopf, Tear and Vickers, among others; and among the maestros: Abbado, Albrecht, Argenta, Barenboim, Frühbeck, López Cobos, Maag, Makerras, Maazel, Markewich, Masur, Mehta, Ozawa, Plasson, Salonen, Muti, Spivakov, Stokovsky and Víctor Pablo Pérez.

Among the more than one hundred recordings it has made, the following stand out: Padmavati (Rousel), Requiem (Fauré), III Symphony (Ropartz), L’Arlesienne (Bizet), Oedipus (Enesco), Guercoeur (Magnard), Evocations (Roussel), Cornation Mass  (Mozart), Mors et Vita (Gounod), Redemption (Franck), Requiem (Verdi) and Carmina Burana (Orff) together with the Orchestre national du Capitole de Toulouse and Michel Plasson and those made for Auvidis-Ibérica: Goyescas (Granados) and La tabernera del puerto (Sorozábal). In 1997 alone, the year of choir’s centenary, it published seven CDs, one of which obtained a Platinum Disc. In 2003, the CD of Verdi’s Requiem Mass was nominated for the Grammy Award for “Best Choral Performance”.  The same work was published as a DVD. Also worth highlighting in this format are: Homage to Carmen, recorded during the Silvesterkonzert held in Berlin in 1997, with Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic and The Damnation of Faust by Berlioz, recorded in Salzburg in 1999.

The choir has participated assiduously in Spain’s most important music festivals: Santander, Peralada, Granada, Cuenca and San Sebastian’s Musical Fortnight. The Orfeón was also commissioned to organise this last competition by San Sebastian City Council in 1940. It gives an average of 35 to 40 concerts each year.

In 1997, it participated in the Silvesterkonzert along with Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic in the New Year’s Eve concert that is traditionally held in the German capital’s Philharmonie Hall. In 1999, it performed at the Salzburg Festival with The Damnation of Faust by Berlioz and the world première of Choral Symphony No. 5, Requiem, Bardo and Nirmanakaya composed by Philip Glass. Another international performance of major relevance took place that same year at the Montreux Festival, where the Orfeón interpreted Rossini’s Stabat Mater under the baton of Maestro Mark Minkowski alongside the Orchestra of Lyon. In 2001, it gave two concerts together with the Berlin Philharmonic under the baton of Claudio Abbado around the centenary of Verdi’s death. Subsequently, the Orfeón was invited to share the stage in three concerts conducted by Daniel Barenboim in which the two music formations interpreted Anton Bruckner’s Mass in F minor. In 2002, it also participated in two festivals in Germany: the Rhine Festival, held near the city of  Wiesbaden, and the 1st Ruhrtriennale, that took place in Hamm. In 2003, it took part in the Lucerne Festival along with Claudio Abbado, interpreting Mahler’s Symphony No. 2. In Mexico, it gave a concert in the capital city and another two at the Festival held in the city of Morelia. In 2004, the choir participated in the Ruhr Festival (Germany) alongside the Baden-Baden and Frieburg Orchestra and toured Holland with Verdi’s Requiem.In 2005, the choir sang Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 alongside the National Orchestra of the Capitol of Toulouse and Joseph Swensen and, in 2006, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony together with Claudio Abbado, the Simón Bolívar Orchestra and the Schola Cantorum of Caracas in Venezuela. It also performed the latter symphony together with Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in the Teatro de la Maestranza in Seville, the Plaza Mayor in Madrid and the Palace Gardens at the Peralada Festival. It has also performed Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 alongside the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle at the Canary Music Festival (2007).

Since 1903, when it received the “Premier Prix d’Honneur” of Royan, the Orfeón Donostiarra has been distinguished on many occasions. Among many others, its accolades include the Gold Medal of the City of San Sebastián (1932), Spain’s National Music Prize (1941), the Cross of Alfonso X the Wise (1942), the Gold Medal of Brussels (1958), the Gold Medal of Fine Arts of the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science (1975), the Gold Medal of Gipuzkoa (1985), the Ondas Award (1996), the Universal Basque Award (1997), Honorary Membership of the University Senate of Arts of the University of Alcalá de Henares (2000) and the Gold Medal of Unicef Spain (2005).

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