The MISSION of the Berkshire Bach Society is to explore the vast body of music by Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries – the composers who influenced his work and those he inspired – and perform this music for a wide and diverse audience in the Berkshires and beyond by engaging the most talented musicians available.
The Berkshire Bach Society is unique in two ways: it is the oldest continuing member-based non-profit music organization in Berkshire County, and it focuses primarily on the music of a single composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, and his contemporaries.
The annual Bach at New Year’s series Music Director is violinist Eugene Drucker, co-founder of the Emerson String Quartet. The Society produces seven concerts on an annual basis and complements the performance season with a birthday party for Johann Sebastian Bach, home concerts and fundraisers.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BERKSHIRE BACH SOCIETY
The Berkshire Bach Society was founded in 1990 by Simon Wainrib, who had a life-long devotion to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, as an outgrowth of a series of Wainrib’s lectures on Bach cantatas at the former Albert Schweitzer Institute in Great Barrington. Wainrib gathered like-minded local people – professors, publishers, playwrights and musicians – to create an organization dedicated to the performance of Bach’s cantatas. A key to Wainrib’s success was to bring famous musicians to the Berkshires to play for a fraction of their normal wage in exchange for a bed, a roof and a good time in the Berkshires.
In the seasons that followed, Berkshire Bach concerts expanded to include organ works, concerti, and a wide variety of chamber music by other baroque composers as well as performances of large works such as St. John Passion, Christmas Oratorio, Magnificat, B Minor Mass, Israel in Egypt, Orefeo ed Euridice, and Judas Maccabaeus.
The Berkshire Bach Singers, formed in the very early years, was originally comprised of only twelve voices and eventually reached 65. Over the years, they sang under choral conductors including James Bagwell, David Griggs Janower, Frank Nemhauser, Penna Rose, Jed Watson and Richard Westenburg.
The Society’s instrumental group, the Berkshire Bach Ensemble, was founded by harpsichordist Kenneth Cooper, Berkshire Bach’s music director for 24 seasons. An impressive array of soloists such as Chris Brubeck, Bill Crofut, Simone Dinnerstein, Eugene Drucker, Walter Hilse, Ani and Ida Kavafian, Bernard Krainis, Ben Luxon, Charles Neidich, Anthony Newman, Ronald Roseman, Joseph Silverstein, Peter Sykes, Carol Wincenc and Eugenia Zukerman have performed with the Society.
In 1993, Berkshire Bach began what has become an ongoing Berkshire County holiday tradition: the Bach at New Year’s performances of the Brandenburg Concerti with a faithful core of extraordinary musicians who have made this performance their annual ritual in the Berkshires. Sell-out audiences at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center fill the hall year after year for this joyous event on New Year’s Eve. The popular concert is repeated on New Year’s Day at the acoustically rich Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in Troy, New York, and on the day before or after those, at the historic Academy of Music in Northampton, MA
Berkshire Bach also has established another favorite tradition with the annual Messiah Sing on Thanksgiving weekend. Led by the popular choral director, Frank Nemhauser, and accompanied by a seasoned instrumental ensemble, the program is the Society’s gift to the community at the beginning of each holiday season.
Every winter, Berkshire Bach produces organ concerts with Bach specialists at the keyboard and pedals. We have brought luminaries such as Anthony Newman, Peter Sykes, Walter Hilse and others to perform solo or with members of the brass section of the Berkshire Bach Ensemble.
Also in recent years, we have returned to our earlier tradition of celebrating Bach’s birthday in March with period-specific tavern food and music in the style of Bach’s collegium musicum at Herr Zimmermann’s coffeehouse in Leipzig, featuring exceptional rising stars from the Pre-College division of Juilliard.
The Society continues its dedication to producing the choral works of Bach and his contemporaries. James Bagwell conducts annual cantata concerts with stellar soloists, and in 2013, TENET, the highly acclaimed choral group from New York City under the direction of Jolle Greenleaf, made their Berkshire debut with us.
With these annual concerts as our anchor, we deliver programming from the full array of Bach’s works, including lesser known yet important and gorgeous pieces as well as your time-honored favorites.