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William Ferris

Composer & Conductor

Composer and conductor William Ferris (1937–2000) was prized for his gift for modal melody. He was also a lifelong champion of contemporary composers and founded the William Ferris Chorale with tenor John Vorrasi to present concerts of music by his contemporaries (as well as his own).

William Ferris (1937–2000) was a lifelong champion of contemporary composers. He and the William Ferris Chorale, which he founded in 1971 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, many others, often with the composers as honored guests. Under his direction, the Chorale has performed at the Aldeburgh Festival and the Spoleto Festival: USA and given over 160 world, American, and Chicago premieres of important new literature.

A distinguished composer in his own right, Ferris’s music was commissioned and premiered by the Chicago and 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, 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, NY, 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.

Ferris’s sudden death in May 2000, while conducting a rehearsal of the Verdi Requiem, shocked the music community. His was a unique and distinctive voice on the American music scene.