The Bach Choir Of Bethlehem to Celebrate 125th Anniversary With a World Premiere, European Tour & More

Season highlights will include the World Premiere of Mendelssohn's Rendition of Bach's Saint Matthew Passion in a New Scholarly Edition and more.

By: Sep. 26, 2023
The Bach Choir Of Bethlehem to Celebrate 125th Anniversary With a World Premiere, European Tour & More

In 2023/2024, The Bach Choir of Bethlehem, founded in 1898, celebrates its 125th anniversary. This important season will unveil two major projects that continue The Bach Choir's rich legacy-a world premiere concert and a European tour which includes an invitation to the prestigious Leipzig Bachfest in Germany. Artistic Director and Conductor Christopher Jackson reflects on his role as steward of this great 125-year-old tradition: "It is astonishing to contemplate the many magnificent performances the Choir has given over the years; with this new season we hope to continue expanding the heritage with our new edition of The Passion and to offer performances of two major choral works by Johann Sebastian Bach, the Magnificat and Christen, ätzet diesen Tag, BWV 63. We are especially proud to perform three cantatas at Bach's own church, the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, as part of a June 2024 European tour."

Maestro Jackson will lead the Choir in a gala performance of Mendelssohn's version of Bach's Saint Matthew Passion on Sunday, November 4, 2023, 3 p.m. at Packer Memorial Church. This concert will feature the world premiere of Bruno Malcolm's scholarly edition of the Passion and will be recorded live for release on Analekta in spring 2024.

The popular Zimmermann's Coffee House concert has been re-envisioned as an "Oktoberfest" celebration at Peter Hall, Moravian University, on September 30, at 7 p.m. As a gift to the community, this season The Bach Choir of Bethlehem will continue its beloved Bach at Noon series with ten free live performances which take place every second Tuesday of the month at the Central Moravian Church in Bethlehem and at St. John's Lutheran Church in Allentown as part of its summer series. Begun in 2005, Bach at Noon, now attracts more than 6800 listeners annually.

The year 2023 marks the 30th anniversary of The Bel Canto Youth Chorus of The Bach Choir of Bethlehem. On Sunday, December 3, 2023, at 4 p.m. Bel Canto performs Mendelssohn's He Watching Over Israel, selections from Martin Luther's Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, a Zimbabwean song of welcome, as well as a selection of carols.

One of the most festive annual offerings of the season is the Bach Choir's Christmas Concert. For this occasion, in addition to the more familiar Magnificat, Maestro Jackson has selected J.S. Bach's church cantata Christen, ätzet diesen Tag, BWV, written for expanded forces in an unprecedented scoring in Bach's cantatas. Four renowned vocal soloists perform with a four-part choir, four trumpets, timpani, three oboes, and bassoon in addition to strings and organ. Bach unveiled this splendid cantata at Christmastime 300 years ago, in 1723, at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. The Bach Choir Christmas concerts will be held at the First Presbyterian Church of Allentown on December 9, 4 p.m., and at the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem on December 10, at 4 p.m. Beloved seasonal carols round out the program.

Artistic Director and Conductor Emeritus Greg Funfgeld returns this season along with Steinway Artist Eugene Albulescu to perform on piano four-hands as part of The Greg Funfgeld Family Concert - "Dancing with Bach" on Sunday afternoon, February 18, 2024, 3 p.m. at Zoellner Arts Center, Lehigh University. This event, conducted by Mr. Jackson, will feature Brahms's Liebeslieder Waltzes and Bach's First Orchestral Suite, and is presented in collaboration with the dance departments of The Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts and Muhlenberg College.

On Sunday afternoon, March 17, 2024, 4 p.m. Bach's historically resonant cantata, Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott, BWV 80, will be juxtaposed with Pulitzer Prize-winning Caroline Shaw's To the Hands. Additionally, as part of the Spring Concert, The Choir will preview select repertoire to be included in the June 2024 European tour.

The Bel Canto Youth Chorale Spring Concert, featuring new collaborative projects, will take place on Sunday, April 21, 2024, 4 p.m., at the Cathedral Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

May is a remarkable time of year to visit Bethlehem. The town's historic stone houses and churches are bathed in vernal light, trees burst into bloom, and the rolling hills are covered in brightly-hued green grasses. May 2024 marks the 116th Bethlehem Bach Festival, with concerts taking place in downtown and southside Bethlehem. In time-honored tradition the Choir will perform Bach's monumental Mass in B Minor on two consecutive Saturdays - May 11, at 2:30 p.m. and May 18, at 11 a.m. at Lehigh University's Packer Memorial Church. Maestro Jackson has invited a roster of exquisite soloists, including the internationally renowned recorder player Vincent Lauzer, who will serve as Festival Artist-in-Residence. This year's Ifor Jones Chamber Concert features Mr. Lauzer in both soloist and supporting roles with repertoire including the Telemann Suite for Recorder and Strings, TWV 55:a2, and Bach's Brandenberg Concerto No. 2, a jovial masterpiece featuring natural trumpet, violin, oboe, and recorder as soloists with the virtuosi of the Bach Festival Orchestra. Lectures, chorale sings, chamber music, and a preview of repertoire to be performed in the upcoming European tour round out the program. For details, please visit: Click Here.

On June 6, 2023 The Bach Choir and Orchestra embark on a tour of four German cities, including Potsdam/Berlin; Herrnhut, seat of the Moravian church; Bethlehem's sister city Schwäbish-Gmünd, and Leipzig, to participate in the world renowned Bachfest Leipzig, where J.S. Bach worked as the Thomaskantor from 1723 until his death in 1750. The Choir is particularly honored to have been invited to perform Bach Cantatas at the Thomaskirche. The tour concludes in Salzburg, Austria.

The oldest American Bach Choir, The Bach Choir of Bethlehem gave the first complete American performances of Bach's Mass in B Minor in 1900 and Christmas Oratorio in 1901. Since its founding in 1898, the internationally renowned Choir has been attracting thousands of visitors from across the United States and beyond to the annual Bethlehem Bach Festival in Pennsylvania. The 95 dedicated volunteer singers of The Bach Choir of Bethlehem, Bach Festival Orchestra, and well-known soloists perform 40 concerts and educational programs annually for an audience of more than 22,000. Important international concert venues The Bach Choir has visited include Herkulessaal at Munich's Royal Residence and Bach's church in Leipzig, the Thomaskirche; The Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall as part of The Choir's Centennial Celebration in 1998-2000; the BBC Proms in London's Royal Albert Hall for an eight-concert tour of the United Kingdom in 2003; and Severance Hall, Cleveland, for the 75th anniversary of the Baldwin-Wallace Bach Festival in 2007. In September 2011, The Bach Choir represented the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in a 10th anniversary musical observance of 9/11 in New York City, giving concerts in Saint Paul's Chapel and Trinity Church, Wall Street. In 2013, The Choir performed Mendelssohn's Elijah at Strathmore in the Washington D.C. area, and in 2014, the new opera Young Meister Bach for the 250th anniversary of the German Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

The Choir has released 11 recordings to date on the Dorian and Analekta labels including, most recently, Bach's Cantata 21 (2018), Handel's Ode for Saint Cecilia's Day (2018), A Child's Christmas in Bethlehem (2013), and Saint John Passion (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 "Make a Joyful Noise." It has been recognized for its outstanding educational outreach programs (Bach at Noon, Bach to School, and interdisciplinary Family Concerts) by annual awards from the National Endowment for the Arts (2011-2019). The J.S. Bach Foundation in Switzerland named The Bach Choir of Bethlehem as the first American recipient of its annual award to a single Bach organization, recognizing The Bach Choir's outstanding work in Bach performance and education for young people (2012). "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.

The Bel Canto Youth Chorus is The Bach Choir's youth choir educational program under the direction of Director Kelly Rocchi. Through Bel Canto and other educational programs, The Bach Choir is training the next generation of choral singers and cultivating a life-long passion for the choral arts.

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