The William Ferris Chorale was co-founded by two artists and taken to new heights by a third. The first, a composer/conductor whose prolific works exemplify the excellence he brought to everything he did. The second, a forward-thinking musician and leader who artistically propelled the Chorale to where it is today. The third, a conductor with a vision of the highest-quality performance standards in sight and the will to realize it.
William Ferris (1937–2000) was a lifelong champion of contemporary composers. He and the William Ferris Chorale, which he founded with tenor John Vorrasi, have been acclaimed for their concerts of music by Dominick Argento, Samuel Barber, John Corigliano, William Mathias, John McCabe, Gian Carlo Menotti, Steven Paulus, Vincent Persichetti, Ned Rorem, William Schuman, Leo Sowerby, William Walton, and many others, often with the composers as honored guests. Under his direction, the Chorale performed at the Aldeburgh Festival and the Spoleto Festival: USA and has given more than 160 world, American, and Chicago premieres of important new literature.
A renowned composer in his own right, Mr. Ferris’s music was commissioned and premiered by the Chicago and the Boston Symphony Orchestras. Among his compositions are two operas, numerous concerti, symphonic and chamber works, hundreds of choral works, and dozens of songs. Northwestern University houses his complete musical archive.
A man of devout faith, Mr. Ferris worked for the Church from his early youth, holding positions as organist/music director and composer-in-residence at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Rochester, New York, and, most notably, at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Chicago. It was his profound belief that music for the liturgy should be of the highest quality, and his work is a shining example of that principle.
Mr. Ferris’s sudden death, while conducting a rehearsal of the Verdi Requiem, shocked the music community. His was a unique and distinctive voice on the American music scene.
John Vorrasi (1948-2015) was known for his performances on the concert stage and in the church sanctuary. He was also treasured for his work as a librettist with William Ferris, translator for William Mathias, essayist for numerous recordings and journals, and program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Chamber Music Series.
In partnership with composer William Ferris, Mr. Vorrasi helped create the William Ferris Chorale, designing its public image, organizing its business affairs, lending his artistry as the Chorale’s tenor soloist, and serving as the ensemble’s long time Artistic Director. He continued to guide the chorus with inspired vision and impassioned conviction after Ferris’s death in 2000. Mr. Vorrasi succumbed to a lengthy battle with cancer in February of 2015.
Paul French, became the ensemble's second Music Director of the WFC in 2001, following the sudden death of William Ferris. A devoted friend and student, French established the group on the professional choral scene, taking it to new heights of performance excellence.
A distinguished leader in the Chicago choral scene, for nearly three decades he has worked in parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Chicago, and in 2001 he was named Music Director at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church where he leads a thriving choral program. He served as Music Director of the William Ferris Chorale from 2005-2016, in that time establishing it on the professional choral scene as the premier ensemble for breathing life into works of lesser-known and living composers.
Mr. French studied composition, conducting, chant and organ at St. John’s University, Northwestern University, the Pontificio Istituto di Musica Sacra in Rome, and privately with William Ferris.
A composer of more than 200 instrumental and choral works, he is the Director of Choral Recordings for World Library Publications, for whom he is also the editor of a series of choral works for children’s choirs, under the distinguished banner of the American Federation Pueri Cantores.
For over ten years he served as a faculty member of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians Choir Director Institutes. Stepping in at the last moment for an indisposed Christopher Bell, Mr. French conducted a concert of the Grant Park Apprentice Chorale, a program which was webcast world-wide by radio station WFMT on their Dame Myra Hess Concert Series.
Mr. French was commissioned to create Fanfares and Alleluias for the recent papal visit of Pope Francis to the U. S. in 2015. Another of his works, Concertato on Grosser Gott, was performed for the papal visits of both Pope Francis (2015) and Pope Benedict XVI in 2008.
Mr. French’s published music is available through MorningStar Music, Paraclete Press, Santa Barbara Music Publishing, World Library Publications, GIA Publications, and Oregon Catholic Press.