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The founding group of the "Orfeón Donostiarra" was constituted in 1897, in Donostia - San Sebastián. since its origins the choir has been amateur and its members are united by their common love for art and harmony.

One day in June 1896 twenty singers of the "Orfeón" lead by Luzuriaga took the train, and later the diligence, to arrive at Mondragón that at the time was holding their Euskaras Festivities. It was the precursory group of the "Orfeón Donostiarra", which would be legally constituted on 21st January 1897.

Orfeón Donostiarra's group founder

The chronicle states that an idea was formed from the twenty enterprising singers that has lasted to our time: "To conserve and spread Basque singing".

Their first conductors were Luzuriaga and Oñate. During the first five years of the "Orfeón" life its repertoire was very short: "Jota Navarra" by Brull, "The beautiful Blue Danube" by Strauss, "Oh, Pepita" by Muller, and the popular "Boga, Boga" among other works.

Even though the artistic balance was concise, the founders were recognised as performing great organisational work. In this five year period, in which they only gave about twenty concerts, a mere ninety six board meetings and twenty-nine assemblies were held.

The first few years served to organise the group and situate it in the choral field, but criteria were soon added and objectives were marked.

There have been four well-defined periods in the "Orfeón" over its long history, which are marked by the character and personality of their respective conductors: Secundino Esnaola, Juan Gorostidi, Antxon Ayestarán and José Antonio Sáinz Alfaro.

Secundino Esnaola (1902-1929)

Secundino Esnaola - Director of the Choir of 1902 to 1929

At the beginning of the century choral competitions in which the "Orfeón Donostiarra" inevitably participated were frequent. Numerous awards correspond to this time that would culminate in 1906 with the Paris Grand Prix d'Honneur.

In 1909 Choirmaster Esnaola made a transcendental decision for the future of the "Orfeón Donostiarra": to allow women to enter and transform the choir of bass voices into a mixed choir. This brought the possibility of broadening the horizon of its repertoire and its entry into the symphonic-choral world. With great expectation, the people of Donostia listened to the version of "Bello Navío" for the first time by a "Orfeón Donostiarra" with "young ladies" instead of the children that sang the treble part. The victory was certain.

In this period of the Choirmaster Esnaola we must mention the performances at the Casino San Sebastián with the Symphonic Orchestra, lead by Choirmaster Arbós, and the concerts at the Teatro Lírico and the Teatro Real in Madrid. One of the most significant was the performance in Portugal in 1925 of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony conducted by Choirmaster Blanch, one of the works that the "Orfeón Donostiarra" has performed most over its hundred years, since its premiere in 1912.

Juan Gorostidi (1929-1968)

Juan Gorostidi - Director of the Choir of 1929 to 1968

Thanks to Choirmaster Juan Gorostidi, the successor of Esnaola, the choir DISCvered the influence of great national and international conductors, and it performed at the main international festivals of Europe. We must highlight the amplification of the repertoire, which in this period extended to the field of operetta and opera.

Among the numerous performances over the thirty nine uninterrupted years, both cappella concerts conducted by Gorostidi and symphonic-choral concerts, we can highlight the following:

  • Grand Messe des Morts, by Hector Berliozat the Bordeaux cathedral, conducted by Charles Munch (1951).
  • Polyphonic concert conducted by Leopold Stokowsky at the San Ignacio de Loyola Sanctuary (1951).
  • Ein Deustches Requiem , by Johannes Brahms, at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, conducted by Ataulfo Argenta (1957).
  • La Atlántida, by Manuel de Falla, at the Edinburgh International Festival, conducted by Igor Markevitch with the London Symphony Orchestra (1962).

Antxon Ayestarán (1968-1986)

Antxon Ayestarán - Director of the Choir of 1968 to 1986

After Juan Gorostidi's death, Antxón Ayestarán followed him as the conductor of the choir, who was deputy conductor and tenor of the choir and continued the great work of his predecessors and pursued the permanent improvement of the artistic level with resolved zeal. The international tours were multiplied, which lead to public recognition and criticism from other countries.

Antxón Ayestarán is remembered as a man with charisma, an enthusiast able to transmit his passion for music and his desire to improve. During his time as conductor, he was concerned by the change of the members of the "Orfeón" and their preparation, he started a music workshop that is named after him today, and a singing school.

He stated "I would like the "Orfeón Donostiarra" to hold on to the fire of its amateurism combined with a professional mood in the search for artistic perfection, the water that quenches the thirst of spirit. I'm searching for the synthesis of the vital passion for beauty, with an incorruptible perfectionist demand; the fusion of technique and art, matter and spirit"..

After his tragic disappearance in December 1986, we can confirm that his desires for the future of the "Orfeón Donostiarra" have been met.

From the enormous task carried out by the "Orfeón Donostiarra" at this time we can highlight the following:

  • Carmina Burana, by C. Orff, at the Berlin Philharmonic Hall, conducted by Rafael Frühbeck of Burgos, with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (1973).
  • Requiem, by G.Verdi, at the Royal Festival Hall, London, conducted by Rafael Frühbeck of Burgos, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (1980).
  • Tour of the United States, with performances in Philadelphia and Washington, performingCarmina Burana eta Verdi´s Requiem (1980).
  • Parsifal by Richard Wagner, in Barcelona, conducted by Franz Paul Decker (1981).
  • Tour of Israel, with performances in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv, la Creación de J. Haydn, conducted by Uri Segal (1982).
  • Tour of the URSS, with performances in Yerevan, Odessa, Riga, St. Petersburg and Moscow, conducted by Vladimir Spivakov, playing Gloria de A. Vivaldi, Misa en Fa de J.S. Bach, Misa de la Coronación de W.A. Mozart. (1986).

Consolidation of the presence of the "Orfeón Donostiarra" at the international festivals of San Sebastián, Santander, Granada, as well as on the stages of the Teatro Real in Madrid or the Palau de la Musica in Barcelona.

The amount of records released by the "Orfeón Donostiarra" increased considerable as they made recordings, mainly by French authors, with the company EMI - Pathé Marconi.

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Ministry of Culture of Spain Diputación Foral de Gipuzkoa Department of Culture of the Basque Government Donostia kultura Basque Parliament Juntas Generales de Gipuzkoa