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Jon Washburn: Biography

Jon Washburn
1942 -
Region: British Columbia

Jon Washburn

Jon Washburn is the Conductor and Artistic Director of Canada's outstanding professional vocal ensemble, the  Vancouver Chamber Choir.   Well known internationally for his mastery of choral technique and interpretation, Washburn travels widely as guest conductor, lecturer, clinician and master teacher.  In addition to Canada and the United States, he has performed in China, Russia, Finland, Estonia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan. 

Washburn's early musical experience was wide-ranging and eclectic. As a teenager, he was a jazz bass player and band leader. At university he became heavily involved in musical theatre: acting, singing, conducting and stage directing. After earning a choral conducting degree at the University of Illinois and pursuing musicological studies at Northwestern and the University of British Columbia, he became involved in Baroque and Renaissance music as a busy professional viola da gamba and violone player with ensembles such as Hortulani Musicae, the Cecilian Ensemble, L'Age d'Or Baroque Orchestra and the Spokane Bach Festival Orchestra. He was one of the founders of the Vancouver Society for Early Music (now Early Music Vancouver) and a long-time member of its Management committee. As a conductor of the Baroque repertory, he has led over 300 performances of more than 80 large works by composers such as Bach, Buxtehude, Carissimi, Charpentier, Handel, Monteverdi, Pachelbel, Pergolesi, Purcell, Scarlatti, Schütz, Telemann and Vivaldi, as well as numerous smaller works.

He has taught at the secondary, college and university levels, including a stay as Artist-in-Residence at Simon Fraser University. Even his part-time jobs have been musical, such as radio host for "Choral Concert" on the CBC Stereo network, and stints as music engraver and music librarian. For half a decade he shared the artistic direction of Masterpiece Chamber Music with his wife, pianist Linda Lee Thomas.

Most of Jon Washburn's achievements, however, have been in the field of choral music. Foremost is the founding of the Vancouver Chamber Choir in 1971, and the providing of its conducting and artistic direction ever since. He was also artistic director of an American professional ensemble for six years in the 1990's (the Phoenix Bach Choir), and associated with several amateur ensembles, including Vancouver's Bach Choir and Willan Choir, Victoria's Amity Singers and the early Jon Washburn Singers.

With his many choirs, Jon Washburn has always been a champion of new choral repertoire, having commissioned and premiered over 125 new works by Canadian, American and European composers.  An active composer, arranger and editor himself, he has had many compositions published, performed and recorded around the world, including Rise! Shine!, a Grouse Records CD of his choral works sung by the Vancouver Chamber Choir. 

He has recorded with the Vancouver Chamber Choir, Phoenix Bach Choir and various other ensembles for several labels, including EMI/Virgin Classics, Grouse Records,  CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), Naxos and Centrediscs (Canadian Music Centre).

Each year Jon Washburn conducts approximately 50 concert, broadcast and CD performances of twenty separate repertoires along with many workshops for choral conductors, composers, students and singers. He has appeared as guest conductor with groups such as the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir in Tallinn, and prepared choruses for the Royal Swedish Chamber Orchestra, the Seoul Philharmonic and the Boston Pops Orchestra.

He has worked with the CBC Vancouver Orchestra in over 50 concerts, broadcasts and recordings, as well as with other ensembles such as the Baroque Strings of Vancouver, the Phoenix Chamber Orchestra, the Calgary, Edmonton, Nova Scotia, Phoenix and Vancouver Symphony Orchestras.

The Order of Canada was presented to Washburn in 2001 in recognition of his lifetime contribution to Canadian choral art.  Mr. Washburn received a Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Canadian Choral Conductors in the spring of 1996 and the Louis Botto Award from Chorus America in June 2000.  This award was presented in recognition of Washburn’s innovative and entrepreneurial spirit in the development of a professional choral ensemble of exceptional quality.  In June 1998, he and the VCC were awarded the Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence.  Mr. Washburn was awarded with the Friends of Canadian Music Award 2000 by the Canadian Music Centre and the Canadian League of Composers in recognition of his outstanding contribution to Canadian composers' music.

July 2002


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