MasterVoices (formerly The Collegiate Chorale) announces the establishment of The Roger Rees Fund for Musical Theater, honoring the late stage, film and television actor Roger Rees and celebrating the company’s long, warm and fruitful artistic collaboration with him.
Rees served as MasterVoices’ Artistic Advisor from 2002 until his untimely death in 2015. Known for his love of language, Rees sought new ways to connect music and the human voice, and set the organization’s sights beyond conventional choral music. Brought on board by the late maestro Robert Bass, MasterVoices’ music director for from 1980-2008, Rees created new kinds of concert evenings for the group that were met with resounding critical and popular success, Thanks to his vision, dramatic text and musical theater have become a regular and much-anticipated part of the MasterVoices season.
The Rees Fund will support the group’s future musical theater projects, devised and selected by artistic director Ted Sperling, who was introduced to the organization by Rees himself. Like Rees, Sperling is committed to presenting music that is inherently dramatic, in highly theatrical productions set to the highest standards of excellence. Recent projects have featured Kelli O’Hara, Victoria Clark, Bill Irwin, Christopher Fitzgerald and Lauren Worsham.
Says Sperling, “Roger was a very special member of the MasterVoices family-not only because of his creativity, talent and wit, but also because of his warmth, kindness and gentle soul. We were fortunate to work with him as a producer, actor, narrator, and hilarious benefit auctioneer. Dedicated to the next generation, he also mentored and encouraged the many young singers that MasterVoices supports. We have created the Fund to honor Roger and his influence by ensuring that his standards of creativity and excellence can be maintained in our future productions.”
A multi-talented artist who appeared in and/or directed an extraordinary number of plays, musical theater works, films and television program, Roger Rees was a versatile actor who moved effortlessly between the classical theater and Broadway, between serious dramatic roles and the best of comedic characters. Some of his best known work includes performances in London and New York of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby, for which he won both the Olivier and Tony awards; Peter and the Starcatcher, for which he won an Obie award; Waiting for Godot; The Addams Family and his final role in The Visit. The television series in which he starred included Cheers and The West Wing and perhaps his best-known film was Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
MasterVoices is dedicated to the art of musical storytelling. Now under the artistic direction of Ted Sperling, the group was founded in 1941 as The Collegiate Chorale, by the legendary American choral conductor Robert Shaw. For 75 years the organization has maintained a 130+ member chorus, presenting varied programming with a focus on choral masterpieces, rarely performed works of opera and musical theater, and new commissions. Choral classics performed by MasterVoices have included Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and St. John Passion, Brahms’ Requiem, Britten’s War Requiem, Fauré’s Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s The Creation, Mozart’s Requiem, Orff’s Carmina Burana, and Verdi’s Requiem. The company has presented several important premieres, including the U.S. premieres of Dvorak’s Dmitri and Handel’s Jupiter in Argos, and the NY premieres of Respighi’s La Fiamma, Glass’s The Juniper Tree, and Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath. Other rarely heard operas presented in concert have included Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda, Tchaikovsky’s Maid of Orleans, Rossini’s Moïse et Pharaon, and Joplin’s Treemonisha.Throughout its history, MasterVoices has specialized in presenting rarely heard works of musical theater and standard works with a fresh approach, including Bernstein’s A White House Cantata,Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and Weill’s The Firebrand of Florence, Knickerbocker Holiday,and the world premiere of a concert version of The Road of Promise.
MasterVoices has performed in prominent NYC concert halls including Carnegie Hall, New York City Center, and Geffen Hall, under the batons of many esteemed conductors, including Serge Koussevitzky, Arturo Toscanini, Leonard Bernstein, James Levine, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, and Alan Gilbert. The company has also collaborated with many world-class soloists, including Bryn Terfel, René Pape, Stephanie Blythe, Deborah Voigt, Eric Owens, Thomas Hampson, Kelli O’Hara, Paulo Szot and Victoria Clark. Because of its reputation of excellence, MasterVoices has been hired to perform with many top orchestras over the years, including the NBC Symphony, The New York Philharmonic and The Israel Philharmonic, and has been invited to appear abroad, in Israel and at the Verbier and Salzburg festivals.
MasterVoices hosts a number of unique education and outreach programs that are integral to their mission. Its Side-by-Side program offers gifted high school students the opportunity to rehearse and perform with the Chorus in New York and abroad, mentored by singing members and professional artists. Through the Faith Geier Artist Initiative they are able to invite young soloists to perform at top venues, and their latest program, Bridges, connects communities through music by placing a composer in residence to create new work by and for local community members. Additionally, MasterVoices gives complimentary tickets to hundreds of high school students and senior citizens each season.
The organization transitioned from The Collegiate Chorale to MasterVoices in 2015. The new name better represents the company’s current mission to celebrate the art of musical storytelling through the masterful voices of its chorus and world-class soloists, and the creative voices of composers, librettists, designers and directors. For more information, visit mastervoices.org. Connect with MasterVoices on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@mastervoicesny).