|The Bach Choir of Bethlehem|
The choir at the Bethlehem Bach Festival, Pennsylvania, 1917
|Origin||First organized to study Bach's Mass in B Minor|
|Founder||John Frederick Wolle, an organist at Central Moravian Church, Bethlehem, PA|
|Genre||Baroque and classical music|
|President||Harold G. Black|
|Music director||Greg Funfgeld (retiring in June 2021)|
|Choir admission||By audition|
|Headquarters||440 Heckewelder Place|
Bethlehem, PA 18018
|Influences||Johann Sebastian Bach and the composers who influenced him and were influenced by him|
The Bach Choir of Bethlehem is the oldest Bach choir in the United States. Dating back "to Colonial times and to the Moravians who settled Bethlehem in 1712," according to the choir's archives, it was officially founded in 1898 by Central Moravian Church organist John Frederick Wolle, and was established at roughly the same time as Bethlehem Steel, which first began operations in 1899.
Based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the choir has toured internationally, performing at the Royal Albert Hall, the Thomaskirche in Leipzig (where Johann Sebastian Bach was a cantor), and the Herkulessaal in the Munich Residenz (Munich's Royal Residence). It has also performed at such American venues as Carnegie Hall and The Kennedy Center, has recorded with the BBC Proms and on the Dorian and Analekta labels, and hosts the world's longest-running Bach festival.
Founded in 1898 by Central Moravian Church organist John Frederick Wolle, the Bach Choir of Bethlehem brought musicians together from the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania area to study the Mass in B Minor written by Johann Sebastian Bach. This choir is credited with having given the American premiere of Bach's complete Mass on March 27, 1900 (although there is evidence that parts of the Mass had been performed in the United States as early as 1870). Following that premiere performance, the choir then also delivered the first complete performance in America of Bach's Christmas Oratorio in 1901.
In 1914, the Bach Choir's conductor, J. Frederick Wolle, was described by the Harrisburg Telegraph as "the foremost present-day student of Bach" in its coverage of the ensemble's performance at Bethlehem's ninth Bach festival. In 1921, Philadelphia's Evening Public Ledger described the ensemble as a "famous organization," and noted that its members would perform at that city's Academy of Music on November 6.
Bruce Carey and William Ifor Jones conducted the ensemble from 1933-1938 and 1939-1969, respectively. Greg Funfgeld, a 1976 graduate of Westminster Choir College, is the choir's current artistic director and conductor, a position he has held since 1983. Under his leadership, the choir has expanded its concertizing from annual performances at the Bethlehem Bach Festival to a year-round series of 31 concerts, has released 12 recordings, and has been involved with the production of two films (the PBS documentary, Make a Joyful Noise, and the internationally distributed Classical Kids’ DVD, Mr. Bach Comes to Call. Funfgeld also initiated and expanded the choir's educational outreach initiatives, including Bach to School and Bach at Noon, which were awarded National Endowment for the Arts Grants from 2011 to 2017 and a 2012 international award from the J.S. Bach Foundation in Switzerland.
In 2007, The Bethlehem and Baldwin Wallace University (BW Bach Festival), the oldest collegiate Bach festival in the nation as well as the second-oldest Bach festival in the nation), performed together for BW's 75th anniversary of the festival. These two groups have worked together to celebrate the milestones of their festivals. Riemenschneider, founder of the BW festival, was inspired by a 1931 trip to the Bethlehem Bach Festival.
In May of 2019, the choir announced that both its artistic and executive directors would retire within a period of two years. After executive director Bridget George departs in December 2020, artistic director Greg Fungfeld will then leave his post in June 2021.
- "Choir History and Archives," in "About the Choir." Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: The Bach Choir of Bethlehem (website), retrieved online February 15, 2019.
- James, Renee A. "Ars longa, vita brevis in Bethlehem." Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: PennLive, April 29, 2019.
- "Choir Leadership", in "About the Choir." Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: The Bach Choir of Bethlehem, retrieved online February 15, 2019.
- James, "Ars longa, vita brevis in Bethlehem," PennLive.
- Butt, John (1991). Bach: Mass in B Minor. Cambridge Music Handbooks. Cambridge University Press. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-521-38716-3.
- "Ninth Bach Festival in May at Bethlehem." Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Harrisburg Telegraph, February 21, 1914.
- "Bach Choir Here for Concert Today: 400 of Famous Organization From Bethlehem to Sing at Academy This Afternoon." Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Evening Public Ledger, November 5, 1921.
- "Greg Funfgeld, Artistic Director & Conductor," in "Choir Leadership," in "About the Choir." Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: The Bach Choir of Bethlehem (website), retrieved online February 15, 2019.
- OESTREICH (May 7, 2007). "Bach's Captains and Foot Soldiers of Musical Industry". NY times. Retrieved 20 February 2012.
- "Oldest Bach Festivals Combine for Anniversary Celebration". PR newswire. July 2007. Retrieved 20 February 2012.
- "The Bach Choir of Bethlehem". The Bach Choir of Bethlehem history. Archived from the original on 1 March 2012. Retrieved 20 February 2012.
- Gehman (Jul 9, 2006). "America's oldest Bach choirs joining to make history [SECOND Edition]". Morning Call - Allentown, Pa. Retrieved 20 February 2012.
- Larimer, Craig. "Bach Choir of Bethlehem announces retirements of conductor and executive director." Allentown, Pennsylvania: Morning Call, May 22, 2019.
- The Bach Choir of Bethlehem's website
- Walters, Raymond The Bethlehem Bach choir; an historical and interpretative sketch Houghton Mifflin, 1918
- William Frederic Badè "Bach Redevivus" The Independent 52, pp1788–1780, July 26, 1900.
- "Make A Joyful Noise: The Bach Choir of Bethlehem", in "PBS39 Documentaries." Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, WLVT-TV, retrieved online February 15, 2019.