The Mission of The Bach Choir of Bethlehem is to perform the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, to promote and encourage appreciation of the aesthetic and spiritual value of Bach’s music through education and performance, including performances of works by composers who influenced Bach or were influenced by him, and to strive for the highest standards of musical excellence.
We are the oldest American Bach Choir, performing the first American performances of The Mass in B Minor and The Christmas Oratorio. Since its founding in 1898, the now-famous Choir has been attracting thousands of national and international visitors every May to its annual Bethlehem Bach Festival.
Under Greg Funfgeld’s passionate direction, 100 volunteer members sing not only with traditional Bach Choir dedication and enthusiasm, but also with a new level of musicianship and understanding of Bach’s choral universe. Today’s performances feature the finely-honed vocal ensemble, a fully professional orchestra, and world-renowned soloists. The repertoire includes 133 cantatas, all of the motets, and 15 of Bach’s larger works.
During the past decade The Choir has received critical acclaim for performances at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, the Herkulessaal at Munich’s Royal Residence, The Kennedy Center in Washington, and Carnegie Hall in New York, as well as for its recordings on the Dorian label. The Choir toured the United Kingdom in July, 2003, including a performance for the prestigious BBC Proms in London’s Royal Albert Hall. In May 2007 The Choir celebrated its 100th Festival.
The Choir has presented its outstanding “Bach to School” program to nearly 70,000 children. Other educational programs include the annual Family Concert, a Choral Scholars program for gifted high-school seniors who sing with The Choir for one year, and a Philadelphia High School Bach Weekend.
The Choir has released seven recordings on the Dorian and Analekta labels including most recently Songs of Hope (Analekta), October 2011 and the upcoming Saint John Passion in March 2012. The Choir has been featured on National Public Radio’s Performance Today and Prairie Home Companion, Deutsche Radio, the BBC World Service, CBS Sunday Morning, and the Emmy award-winning PBS documentary on The Choir, Make a Joyful Noise. The Choir has been recognized for its outstanding educational outreach programs (Bach at Noon, Bach to School, andinterdisciplinary Family Concerts) by Chorus America (2010 finalist) and the National Endowment for the Arts (2011 grant award). Mr. Bach Comes to Call, a film based on the acclaimed Classical Kids CD, was co-produced by The Bach Choir of Bethlehem and is distributed internationally by The Children’s Group.
RECENT PRESS QUOTES
“..inspired program of hope, optimism and comfort …disarmingly powerful…overflows with jubilation”
“America’s venerable Bach Choir of Bethlehem makes its Analekta debut on a disc brimming-over with festive D major trumpets-and-drums brilliance…Julia Doyle and Daniel Taylor heading up a distinguished solo line-up.”
“Conductor Greg Funfgeld coaxed a lovely rich chamber orchestra sound from the Bach Festival Orchestra strings...The hauntingly beautiful voices of Taylor and Zsigovics—she in her festival debut—melted together like two precious metals, hers of bell-like clarity, his a more complex alchemy, with a sheen like liquid mercury.”
“As I listen to The Bach Choir of Bethlehem with Greg Funfgeld conducting…I find it hard to believe this is an all-volunteer choir but it’s true…a well polished vocal ensemble, and a true level of musicianship and understanding of the choral music of Bach.”
“…an American musical treasure… they sing with a fervor and a level of musicianship that carries one away—from bass to soprano, the supple strength and solidly integrated tone of this amateur choir reflects the most admirable qualities of the European-American tradition of choral song.”
“By all accounts the chorus remains as vital an institution as ever…The B-Minor Mass performance was rousing, committed and touching…Bach’s ‘St. Matthew Passion’ too was ardently and lovingly performed…”
The Choir is also one of many organizations worldwide dedicated to the performance of Bach's music. Here is a list of some of the ones we're in touch with.
NEW! The Archives of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem, with documents dating from 1911, are now available online. Click here to explore this fascinating resource.
1900 The Bach Choir presents the first American performance of The Mass in B Minor under Wolle's direction at the 1st Bach Festival on March 27, 1900 in the Moravian Church. The performance commemorates the 150th anniversary of Bach's death. The Moravian Trombone Choir establishes the tradition of playing Bach chorales from the belfry of the church.
1905 The Bach Choir disbands when Wolle accepts a professorship at the University of California at Berkeley.
1911 Wolle returns to Bethlehem. The Bach Choir is revived by a group of community leaders including Charles M. Schwab.
The annual Bach Festivals are reinstituted. The Bach Choir, accompanied by the Philadelphia Orchestra, performs for the first time in Packer Memorial Church on the campus of Lehigh University.
1917 The Philharmonic Society of New York invites The Bach Choir to sing in a Bach-Beethoven program at Carnegie Hall in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Philharmonic Society.
The Bach Choir joins the Philharmonic Society in New York again, for a Bach-Wagner concert, and is invited to Schwab's home on Riverside Drive.
Charles M. Schwab is named the third President of The Choir.
The Choir is chosen, as the most representative of America's musical organizations, to perform The Mass in B Minor in an Easter Concert for the International Conference of World Fellowship Through Music in the new Washington, D.C. Auditorium.
1926 Ruth M. Linderman becomes the fourth Choir President.
1933 J. Fred Wolle dies. A memorial performance of The Mass in B Minor, paying tribute to Wolle, is conducted by Bruce Carey, who becomes The Choir's second Conductor.
Carey, from Girard College in Philadelphia, conducts the Bach Festival.
1939 Ifor Jones, Welsh-born musician, organist, and former professor at Rutgers University, debuts as the third Conductor of The Bach Choir.
1942 Gretchen Wolle presents Bach editions, used by her father, to Lehigh University. A plaque honoring J. Fred Wolle is placed in Packer Memorial Church.
Saturday morning concerts are added to the festivals.
1947 An estimated 9,200 people attend a performance of The Mass in B Minor at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. Ifor Jones conducts The Choir and members of The Philadelphia Orchestra.
1948 The Choir records Cantata #78 for Victor Records.
1949 A second weekend is added to the Bach Festival.
1957 The 50th Bach Festival is held. Ifor Jones opens the Thursday evening rehearsal to the community.
1959 The Bach Festival Orchestra premieres at the May Festival, replacing the Philadelphia Orchestra.
1961 Elmer L. Mack becomes the seventh Choir President.
1962 The 55th Bach Festival is dedicated to Albert Schweitzer, with a letter from Schweitzer printed in the program.
The Choir is invited to sing at the International Choral Festival in October, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Handel and Haydn Society in Symphony Hall, Boston.
The Hon. Carleton T. Woodring becomes The Choir's ninth President.
Kenneth L. Houck is named as the tenth Choir President.
The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship invites The Bach Choir to join in a January evening of tribute to Albert Schweitzer's 100th birthday at Carnegie Hall in a performance of the first and last choruses of the Saint Matthew passion and the Kyrie from The Mass.
The Choir arrives in Germany to perform in the 51st International Bach Society Festival and travels behind the iron curtain to sing at the Thomaskirche, Bach's church in Leipzig.
1980 William Reese, Professor of Music at Haverford College, becomes the fifth Conductor of The Choir.
1981 Thomas T. Church is elected the eleventh President of The Choir.
1983 Greg Funfgeld becomes Artistic Director and sixth Conductor of The Bach Choir.
1986 The first annual Christmas Concert is held at the First Presbyterian Church in Bethlehem on December 14. Greg Funfgeld directs The Choir in Bach's Christmas Oratorio.
1988 The Bach Choir and Festival Orchestra, Greg Funfgeld conducting, records Christmas in Leipzig with Dorian Recordings.
1989 Greg Funfgeld conducts The Bach Choir and The Bach Festival Orchestra in Wachet Auf!, a second recording on the Dorian label.
1990 Greg Funfgeld institutes a Spring Concert with a performance on March 18 of The Passion According to Saint John.
1991 Janice S. Bonge is chosen as twelfth President of The Choir.
1993"Bach to School", an educational program, is begun for the development of young audiences, reaching more than 5,000 students a year in the Lehigh Valley.
1994 In advance of the upcoming trip to Germany, The Choir produces a recording of Christmas carols and Bach chorales, Christmas in Bethlehem, which becomes an immediate success.
1995 The Choir returns to the Thomaskirche, the church Bach served in Leipzig, Germany and also gives a performance of The Mass in B Minor in the Herkulessaal in Munich.
1996 John A. Jordan, Jr. is elected as The Choir's thirteenth President.
1997Christmas in Bethlehem, volume 2, a second recording of Christmas carols including a hymn by J. Fred Wolle, is recorded by The Choir and released as a preview to the Centennial.
The 100th Anniversary of the founding of The Bach Choir. The Centennial Commemoration commences at the May Festival.
The Choir performs The Mass at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., as part of the Centennial celebration.
2000 Continuing the Centennial celebration, The Choir performs The Mass in B Minor again, at Carnegie Hall, to a standing ovation and four curtain calls.
The first annual Family Concert is held at Zoellner Arts Center, Lehigh University on February 27th. The concert, based on the popular Bach to School program, fills the hall with children and their adult companions for an hour of music, followed by a cake to celebrate The Choir's birthday.
The Bach Choir in collaboration with The Bach Festival of Philadelphia presented a full day of master classes to students form four Philadelphia high schools. The program culminated in a public performance on November 12.
2001 A New Generation Inspired by Bach, a video documenting The Bach Choir’s educational programs including the 2000/2001 Family Concert, Bach To School and the Philadelphia High School Bach Weekend is produced.
For the first time, The Bach Choir performs the works of composers, Mendelssohn and Brahms, who were influenced by Bach. Pieces performed at the 2001 Spring Concert included: Mendelssohn’s opus 78 motet, Richte mich, Gott and Brahm’s motet Schaffe in mir Gott.
2002 Two new recordings are released: The Ascension Oratorio and Two Festive Cantatas – BWV 11, 51 & 34; and Christmas in Bethlehem, volume 3.
2003 In July, The Choir tours the United Kingdom presenting eight concerts that included performances at the Cambridge Summer Music Festival in King’s College Chapel, Usher Hall in Edinburgh, the St. Alban’s International Organ Festival, the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, and the prestigious BBC Proms in London’s Royal Albert Hall.
The Bach Choir premieres I It Am, a cantata by Libby Larsen that was co-commissioned by The Choir and the BBC.
2004 Make A Joyful Noise, an Emmy award-winning documentary on The Bach Choir, is produced by Lehigh Valley PBS WLVT airs nationwide.
David G. Beckwith, PhD is elected as the Choir’s fourteenth President.
2005 Bach At Noon, a free noon-time concert series presented by members of The Choir and Bach Festival Orchestra under the direction of Greg Funfgeld, debuts at Central Moravian Church. A cantata and an instrumental piece are performed. Mr. Funfgeld introduces the music with an informal talk. The performance is announced by the Bethlehem Area Moravian Trombone Choir playing from the church belfry. The series is presented on second Tuesdays, September – November and January – April. A capacity audience of 1,000 people attends the inaugural concert.
The Bach Choir is invited to sing the Mass in B Minor at Millersville University in celebration of its 150th anniversary.
Moravian College in partnership with The Bach Choir of Bethlehem receives NEH Grant to introduce teachers to Bach in a five-week institute called Bach Across the Centuries. The program was part of the NEH Summer Institute for School Teachers and focused on the cultural background and connections of the music of J.S. Bach. It was co-directed by Hilde Binford, assistant professor of music at Moravian College, and Paul Larson, professor emeritus of music, and Archivist for The Bach Choir.
2006 The public phase of The Second Century Fund Campaign, a $2.7 million comprehensive campaign to raise funds for the endowment and general operating funds, is launched in February.
The Bach Collegium of Japan performs the annual Spring Concert.
2007 The Choir performs The Mass in B Minor at Severence Hall in Cleveland, Ohio in celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Baldwin Wallace Bach Festival.
The Choir celebrates the 100th annual Bach Festival in May with performances of The Mass in B Minor and the St. Matthew Passion. In addition, the Baltimore Consort performs Chamber Music at Peter Hall; Taylor 2, the touring ensemble of the Paul Taylor Dance Company performs with the Bach Festival Orchestra at the Ifor Jones Memorial Chamber Music concert, The Choir performs during a Cantata Service at Central Moravian Church with homilist Rev. Dr. Martin Marty, and Donal Fox, Blues on Bach Project performs at the Bach Jazz Cabaret held in the Hotel Bethlehem.
Over 7,000 people attend the Festival performances.
Mr. Bach Comes To Call premieres in both Bethlehem and Allentown prior to the international release by The children’s Group and national broadcast on PBS.
The Second Century Fund Campaign is completed with $3.5 million raised includes $2.1 million for the endowment. Five of the seven Bach at Noon concerts, which continue with overwhelming success are endowed.
The Bach Choir of Bethlehem was featured on a live broadcast of Prairie Home Companion, December 22 at Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University.
2008 Mr. Bach Comes To Call film was nominated for a 2008 Mid-Atlantic Emmy Award.
2011: Remember to Love:
You can listen to an audio recording of the entire performance on NPR's site here.