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"Doreen Rao is a dynamo--a vivacious, energetic, dedicated choral director."
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Doreen Rao


Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus sings praises of its new director


It’s not often that the singers of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus find themselves breathless. But right now, they are — from excitement.

The chorus, which has been without an official music director for over a year now, has just filled the position. And they have netted a superstar of the choral music world: Doreen Rao.

A native of Chicago, Rao currently lives in Toronto, where she is director of choral programs at the University of Toronto and also holds the university’s prestigious Elmer Iseler Chair in Conducting. But her work transcends the ivory tower. The author of numerous books, Rao mixes music and philosophy. She has researched ways in which Eastern meditation-al practices and martial arts can influence the art of singing.

And she is known for her perpetual motion. One photo of her posted on the Internet even shows her as a blur. “It’s hard to bring Dr. Rao into focus,” the photographer apologizes. “She has such energy.”

“She is amazing,” said Andrea Copley, a member of the search committee and a former president of the BPC. “We are so excited.”

Steven Bench, the chorus’ immediate past president, was charmed by how Rao embraced the job.

“She’s also thrilled to be here,” he said.

“We didn’t have to give her the sun, the moon and the stars,” he joked. “We only had to give her the sun and the moon.”

Rao’s contract is for three years and begins Aug. 15. Reached on her cell phone, she sounded joyous about working with the BPC.

“They are so absolutely devoted to what it is that they’re doing, so excited about the future,” she said.

“It seems to me that this chorus, with its significant history, has a really great future potential as well. What made me accept the position was their absolute devotion to the music and choral experience. I also have to confess that I am completely impressed with JoAnn [Falletta] and her work with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.”

Rao was selected from a pool of 35 serious candidates from around the world. Bench and Copley said that her appointment was unanimous, even though all the finalists were impressive. She earned the thumbs up from the chorus members when she came down to Buffalo to audition. Falletta, music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, also supported Rao wholeheartedly.

Rao, for her part, appreciated the singers arrayed before her.

“I can see the enthusiasm. I can see you love singing,” Bench recalled Rao telling the chorus. But Rao’s approach, he made clear, was no-nonsense. “She just had this presence,” he said. “She supported the chorus, she was enthusiastic, but she also corrected it.”

For Rao’s audition, the singers sang part of Johannes Brahms’ “German Requiem,” a piece with which they are very familiar. “And she brought out aspects of it we had never noticed,” Bench said. “You catch things you never saw before.”

Rao will retain her academic post in Toronto but plans on renting a second place here. “A beach house, or a cottage,” she said.

As her tenure unfolds, Buffalo will learn more about the goals she and the chorus will pursue, such as more educational outreach, a higher profile in the community and a striving toward greater virtuosity.

“I want to get to know them,” Rao said. “I need to get to know the community a little better. Any conductor has a lot of ideas and many resources. I need to work from the inside out.”•