12 of the best LGBTQ+ classical music ensembles around the world
10 June 2021, 13:51 | Updated: 15 June 2021, 08:55
We celebrate LGBTQ+ community choirs and orchestras sharing their love of music in safe, accepting and diverse spaces around the world – this Pride Month and beyond.
Music is the universal language, and what better language is there for safe, accepting and diverse communities to come together in, and share wonderful art and memories together?
For as long as there have been LGBTQ+ communities and campaigns, there have been queer music groups, both amateur and professional.
And, with it being Pride Month – and for all year round – we’re taking a look at some of the most rainbow-coloured and inspiring LGBTQ+ classical music groups around the world.
So, with rainbow flags flying, here we share some of the best…
London Gay Symphony Orchestra
London Gay Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1996, and has grown from a group of friends to a full-sized symphony orchestra, performing at venues such as St John’s Smith Square, Cadogan Hall and the Southbank Centre on occasion.
The orchestra’s objectives include providing a safe and supportive space for all musicians of all sexualities, sharing a passion for orchestral music with audiences new and old, and making a contribution to LGBTQ+ life in London and beyond.
The Fourth Choir, London
The Fourth Choir is a chamber choir for advanced singers, formed in 2013 to represent the LGBTQ+ community in London’s world-class classical music scene. The choir focuses on performing great choral works from early music, through to contemporary choral masterpieces.
Proud Voices, UK and Ireland
Proud Voices is a choir network across the UK and Ireland, bringing together over 50 LGBTQ+ singing groups – from Bristol to Dundee, and everywhere in between.
“Whether we sing in protest, sing to raise awareness, sing to build communities or simply sing for pleasure, Proud Voices celebrates the best of our shared choral tradition,” the network says on its website. The community-focused organisation helps you find an LGBTQ+ orchestra near you, and also supports people starting or growing their own LGBTQ+ ensemble.
Birmingham Gay Symphony Orchestra
The LGBTQ+ neighbour of Classic FM’s Orchestra in the Midlands, the CBSO, is the Birmingham Gay Symphony, founded in 2008. The orchestra prides itself on being a safe, “non-scene” environment, which champions diversity and LGBTQ+ voices while welcoming all musicians, whether they identify as LGBTQ+ or not.
Outside pandemic times, the orchestra performs regularly in and around Birmingham, including at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.
Bay Area Rainbow Symphony, San Francisco
San Francisco’s Bay Area Rainbow Symphony, also known by its rather thirst-quenching abbreviation BARS, was founded in 2008 as a non-profit organisation with the aim of “promoting and supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer identified musicians and composers toward the goal of broad crossover appeal and excellence in the performing arts.”
The orchestra is currently led by conductor Dawn Harms, and has performed at Davies Symphony Hall and Herbst Theatre among other top venues, including with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.
The Stonewall Chorale, New York
In June 1969, spontaneous demonstrations by LGBTQ+ people broke out and escalated, in response to a discriminatory police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York.
What become known as the Stonewall Riots became a piece of our history, and now we observe Pride Month in June. The Stonewall Chorale, named for the historic event, was America’s first gay and lesbian chorus.
Established in 1977, it was first the Gotham Male Chorus, before women started becoming members in 1979, and now the choir aims to enrich people’s lives through learning and performing beautiful choral music, while nurturing and celebrating the LGBTQ+ community.
Youth Pride Chorus, New York
This New York choir caters for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight young’uns, aged 13-22.
The chorus “refuses homophobia, bullying, and all forms of hate by boldly asserting the joy, diversity, strength, and pride of today’s youth,” and has performed at award ceremonies, at the Lincoln Center, and with Cyndi Lauper, on her ‘True Colors’ tour and in her ‘Home For The Holidays’ concert benefitting homeless LGBTQ+ youth.
Spectrum ensemble, Texas
Spectrum in Denton, Texas is all about increasing visibility for LGBTQ+ musicians and composers. The ensemble commissions new works by queer composers, and performs them alongside works of famous LGBTQ+ composers from history locally and nationally. The music group donates its profits to LGBTQ+ charitable organisations.
Cor Flammae, Vancouver
Cor Flammae means ‘flaming heart’, and this chorus is an ensemble of classically trained, queer singers, who perform queer content.
The choir works hard to unearth LGBTQ+ identities and works in classical music, and also champion the work of contemporary LGBTQ+ composers.
Rainbow Symphony Orchestra, Paris
France’s Rainbow Symphony welcomes anyone from within or outside the LGBTQ+ community, as long as they uphold the orchestra’s values of upholding the rights and freedoms of everyone. The orchestra, which is “apolitical”, was created in 1996.
Rainbow Symphony Cologne
Germany’s fourth city is home to one of the largest LGBTQ+ communities in the world, and at the classical music heart of it is the Cologne Rainbow Symphony.
The orchestra, formed in 2007, “wants to set an example against discrimination of any kind” and promotes diversity beyond sexuality in order to address other forms of discrimination faced by humans the world over.
Concentus Alius, Berlin
Concentus Alius is Berlin’s oldest gay, lesbian and queer symphony orchestra, established in 1999. The orchestra’s purpose centres around the joy of music and its ability to make you happy, opens hearts, connect people and do good in the world.
The orchestra performs a big range of repertoire, and hosts and participates in regular public concerts, including benefit concerts.