A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BERKSHIRE BACH SOCIETY
The Berkshire Bach Society was founded in 1990 by Simon Wainrib, who has 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 people 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. And so the Berkshire Bach Society was born.
In the seasons that followed, Berkshire Bach concerts have expanded to include organ works, concerti, and chamber music as well as performances of large works such as the St. John Passion, the Christmas Oratorio, the Magnificat, the B Minor Mass, and Handel’s Israel in Egypt. The Society has also sponsored smaller chamber performances of music by Bach, Vivaldi, and other baroque composers.
Its instrumental group, the Berkshire Bach Ensemble, was founded by Kenneth Cooper. Maestro Cooper has remained throughout as Berkshire Bach’s music director. An impressive array of soloists such as Eugene Drucker, Ani and Ida Kavafian, Joseph Silverstein, Carol Wincenc, Ronald Roseman, Walter Hilse, Bernard Krainis, and Ben Luxon, have performed with the Berkshire Bach Ensemble in churches and stages throughout the Berkshires and beyond. Other outstanding performers include Simone Dinnerstein, Bill Crofut, Chris Brubeck, and Peter Sykes.
The Berkshire Bach Singers, originally comprised of only twelve voices, was formed in the very early years of the Society, and sang with a host of choral conductors beginning with Jed Watson and including Penna Rose, James Bagwell, Richard Westenburg, David Griggs Janower, and most recently, Frank Nemhauser. In 1994, the Berkshire Bach Singers were invited to assist with the acoustic tests for the nearly completed Seiji Ozawa Hall, becoming the first human voices to resound in music within the Hall, and they continued to perform mighty choral works there through 2003.
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 led by Maestro Cooper. Sell-out audiences at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center fill the hall year after year for this joyous event, and a faithful core of extraordinary musicians has made this performance their annual ritual in the Berkshires. The popular concert is repeated the following day at the acoustically rich Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in Troy, New York.
Berkshire Bach also has established another memorable tradition with the annual Messiah Sing on Thanksgiving weekend. Led by a professional choral director and accompanied by a seasoned instrumental ensemble, the program is the Society’s gift to the community at the beginning of each holiday season.
In 2012 Berkshire Bach returns to its early roots by presenting a concert that includes both lecture and performance. The April 28th concert features a lecture by Boston University Professor of Music Jeremy Yudkin, accompanied by Cambridge Concentus, an early-music group that specializes in performing Bach on period instruments.
The Berkshire Bach Society is the oldest continuing member-based non-profit music organization in Berkshire County, and its mission remains the same today as when Simon Wainrib gave birth to the Society back in 1990 – to explore with the widest audience possible the vast music of Bach and his contemporaries, those who influenced him and those whom he influenced – and to engage the most talented and dedicated musicians available in that journey.