Directed by Derek Tam, the Berkeley Bach Cantata Group (BBCG) is open to all singers who want to explore the cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach in a supportive environment. We usually read through two cantatas or major Bach works each session.
Any singer who is able to prepare a vocal solo is welcome to sing one of the arias or recitatives. Orchestral accompaniment is provided by a small group of skilled amateur players.
The group meets approximately every two months on a Sunday, 2:00–5:00 pm, at St John's Episcopal Church, 1707 Gouldin Road, in the Montclair district of Oakland.
Singers usually print piano/vocal scores from https://www.bach-cantatas.com/.
We ask for a donation at each session of $10 per person to cover a stipend for the music director and other expenses. But any amount is welcome, and no one is turned away.
We are a reading group that up to now has performed rarely. (Our recent performance rhythm has been about once every five years.)
Sopranos: Deborah Kropp
Altos: Susan Swerdlow
Tenors and Basses: Rick Diamond
Strings and Woodwinds: Liz Varnhagen
Brass: Ron Cohen
The Berkeley Bach Cantata Group had a modest beginning in 1988 in a Berkeley living room.
Its founders’ intent was to develop an informal group of singers and instrumentalists to read the choral chamber music of the great Johann Sebastian Bach, to afford a gratifying ensemble experience and to provide solo opportunities for string, woodwind, and brass players as well as singers.
Since then, about 35 musicians have gathered every other month to work through all the Bach cantatas—purely for the joy of making this music.
Ernest Frederic Knell (pictured right) was the music director for 30 years, until his death in March 2020.
“Under his wonderful artistic direction, Ernest has encouraged us to plough through very difficult music. Often sharing special nuances of Bach’s Baroque style, Ernest gave verbal descriptions of the music the way a painter might describe the details of a landscape he recently painted…. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to be involved with this lovely group.”
– Deborah Kropp, soprano
Although the group has retained "Berkeley" in its name, BBCG has met for many years at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Montclair. Knell, the Minister of Music there during most of that time, also served for 35 years on the music staff of the San Francisco Opera.
The group has gone through almost the entire corpus of Bach cantatas, as well as sampling some of Bach's larger choral works (Mass in B minor, St Matthew Passion, Lutheran Masses).
Many of the cantatas have been obscure to most of the participants, who then discover a realm of music too little heard and largely ignored by the majority of choral groups. Attendees include professional classical musicians, serious amateurs, and singers and players just getting to know Bach.
Said our founder Jean Klems:
“We have found that the intimacy of the chamber movements of some of Bach’s cantatas contrasts wonderfully with the glorious full orchestra/choral sound of others. All in all, we’ve had a thrilling time with this exploration.”
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