Erin Freeman leaving Richmond for DC post

Erin Freeman, director of the Richmond Symphony Chorus and director of choral activities at Virginia Commonwealth University, will leave those positions in June to become artistic director of The City Choir of Washington, beginning next season.

Chosen from a field of 49 candidates, Freeman will succeed the veteran chorusmaster Robert Shafer, who has been artistic director of the 120-voice City Choir for 14 years. He led The Washington Chorus from 1971 until 2007.

An Atlanta native who sang in choruses led by Robert Shaw, Freeman came to Richmond in 2004 as music director of the Richmond Philharmonic. She joined the Richmond Symphony in 2007, succeeding the late James Erb as director of the Symphony Chorus, and also became the orchestra’s associate conductor, serving in the latter post until 2014. She subsequently joined the VCU faculty.

She briefly directed the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, and has led choral and orchestral concerts in a number of US cities and music festivals.

Since 2015, Freeman has been artistic director of Wintergreen Music, the summer festival and educational camp in Nelson County. She will retain the Wintergreen post, as well as continuing as resident conductor of Richmond Ballet.

“Erin has nurtured and developed a truly inspiring choral tradition,” Richmond Symphony Music Director Valentina Peleggi said in a statement included in a news release on Freeman’s departure, adding that “the high numbers of singers and their absolute dedication is testimony to her kindness and talent.”

Freeman, in turn, said: “My time with the Richmond Symphony Chorus and VCU have been some of the best years of my life. I have learned so much from my singers and students – lessons of leadership, grace, humor, and empathy.”

When the threat of infection from Covid-19 forced choristers to stop rehearsing and performing in conventional group settings, Freeman kept the Symphony Chorus going with online concerts and performances in outdoor spaces such as carparks.

With the resumption of choral music in indoor concerts this season, she prepared the ensemble for the Richmond Symphony’s holiday programs, staged in recent weeks. Freeman will conduct the orchestra, chorus and soloists in Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation” in April – an event belatedly marking the Symphony Chorus’s 50th anniversary – and, in her final symphony engagement, will prepare the chorus for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in May.