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California Bach Society (Choir & Orchestra)

Founded: 1971 Palo Alto, California, USA


The California Bach Society was founded by Edwin Flath in 1971. Under his leadership, the Society produced many performances of J.S. Bach's Passions, motets, cantatas, Mass in B minor (BWV 232), and works by other composers. The Society was the first chorus not associated with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra to perform in Davies Symphony Hall, presenting J.S. Bach's Mass in B minor (BWV 232) in 1981. The Society performed there seven more times through 1984, including a commissioned piece dedicated to the memory of Calvin Simmons.

After Edwin Flath's death in 1987, the California Bach Society reorganized under the direction of Edward Bolkovac. Beginning with twelve dedicated singers in a living room, Dr. Bolkovac rebuilt the choir as a smaller chamber ensemble, more in keeping with the forces Bach used. Under Dr. Bolkovac's direction, CBS continued its tradition of fine Baroque performances. In 1994 it produced a commercial recording entitled “Musica Barocca”, which showcased works by the Roman masters, Antonio Caldara, Carissimi, and Girolamo Frescobaldi, and featured soprano Judith Nelson and organist Ron McKean.

When the Society found itself in need of a new director in 1998, they turned to Warren Stewart. Already noted for his innovative programming with the ensemble Magnificat, Stewart brought his commitment to recreations of original performance context. He also introduced professional section leaders who served as soloists for the performances. His first concert in December 1998, was a reconstruction of the 1st Sunday in Advent as it would have been celebrated during Bach's tenure in Leipzig. Under Stewart's direction, the Society performed J.S. Bach's Mass in B minor (BWV 232) at Grace Cathedral, the Ascension Oratorio (BWV 11) to a sold-out audience at the 2000 Berkeley Early Music Festival, as well as J.S. Bach's St. John Passion (BWV 245), and Mozart's Requiem. In an interesting departure from the Baroque era, the Society performed Terry Riley's Sun Rings at the 2004 San Francisco Jazz Festival.

Since Stewart's departure in 2005, the California Bach Society has taken a new direction once again, with two singer/conductors. Dr. Suzanne Elder Wallace, former alto section leader under Stewart, directed the Society for one season. In August 2006, the Society was pleased to introduce their new Artistic Director, Dr. Paul Flight, a noted counter-tenor, choral conductor, and educator.

The first season with Dr. Flight saw a resurgence of attendance and critical acclaim for the California Bach Society. A fine voice coach, Paul Flight has attracted talented new singers, and his sensitive direction has brought new definition to the choir. The Society was noted for "a fine sense of dynamic shading and sensitivity to varied homophonic and contrapuntal textures."


The California Bach Society, a 30-voice chamber chorus, has established a reputation for its interpretations of Renaissance and Baroque choral music. Specializing in historically informed performances since 1998, the choir has shared the stage with such early music luminaries as Magnificat and members of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and was a featured concert presenter at the 2000 Berkeley Early Music Festival.

The appointment of Artistic Director Dr. Paul Flight in 2006 resulted in highly successful concert seasons. Flight has enthralled audiences and critics with his thoughtful and refreshing programming. A fine voice coach, Flight has attracted talented singers, and his sensitive direction has brought new definition to the choir. A recent reviewer from San Francisco Classical Voice wrote, "Flight has made of the choral group a professional ensemble capable of every expressive nuance and glorious ensemble sound."

Source: California Bach Society Website (Authors: Helen Barrios & Carol Loden)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (October 2010)

Edwin Flath: Short Biography | California Bach Society | Recordings of Vocal Works

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




Cyril Deaconoff


Video: BWV 245

Links to other Sites

California Bach Society (Official Website|)


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