The Berkshire Bach Society is the oldest continuing member-based music organization in the Berkshires. In their 31st year, Berkshire Bach focuses their live music performances on J.S. Bach and Baroque music composers. Their popular “Brandenburg” Concerti, led by music director Eugene Drucker, is here at Saint James Place in Great Barrington on Friday, May 27th at 6:00pm.
We asked Terrill McDade, Berkshire Bach’s Director of Programming & Interim Executive Director, a few questions about Berkshire Bach, “Brandenburg,” and baroque.
Q. Can you tell us us about your founding, passion, and mission?
A. We were founded in 1990 by Simon Wainrib, a lover of Bach’s music, who collected other like-minded people to create a non-profit organization to fund performances of Bach Cantatas. At the time there weren’t a lot of groups doing this music outside the academic community, and we found there was a real demand. Our mission has stayed the same since our founding—we are dedicated to preserving the legacy of Baroque music for our audiences. We present the music of J.S. Bach, his Baroque mentors, contemporaries, and followers played by world-class musicians for audiences in the Berkshires, the Capital region, and the Pioneer Valley. We’re a membership organization, with membership categories starting at $36 for individuals. You can see our membership categories at berkshirebach.org.
“Bach is the beginning and end of all Music.”– Max Reger
Q. Why did Berkshire Bach choose the “Brandenburg” Concerti for your upcoming performances on Memorial Weekend here at Saint James Place in Great Barrington, in Troy, NY, and in Northampton? Is there significance?
A. Yes—a lot of significance! In 1993 our Music Director, harpsichordist Kenneth Cooper, thought it would be fun to perform all six “Brandenburg” Concerti as a kind of marathon in a New Year’s concert in Great Barrington. It was a huge hit, and that’s how “Bach at New Year’s” was born. We expanded the series to include venues in Troy (NY) and Northampton, where we co-present with WMHT (Troy) and NEPM (Northampton).
The concerts have been a tradition now for 29 years with only two breaks—because of Covid in December 2021 and December 2022. We were so disappointed that we had to cancel in the midst of the Omicron surge last December that we canvassed all our musicians, most of whom were available for Memorial Day weekend. So we re-scheduled. The concerts this time are dedicated in memoriam to Kenneth Cooper, who died in March 2021. We’ll be back to our normal schedule on December 31st, and will change up the program with some other Baroque orchestral pieces.
Q. What do you see as the future of chamber music, including Baroque music? And what is Berkshire Bach looking forward to in the near future?
A. The future of chamber music, and Baroque music in particular, is bright. There are lots of new groups forming all the time, lots of research turning up more original repertoire, and a lot of talent looking for places to perform. I think there’s an audience for all sorts of venues.
One thing I’d like to see is more support for performances of larger works like the “Brandenburg.” We recently presented a concert of Baroque music for soloists, chorus, and orchestra that involved 20 performers. That’s larger than chamber music, and not an inexpensive undertaking.
The choral concert presented some of the most beloved works in the repertoire and music that must be heard: Bach’s Cantata, “Wachet auf,” BWV 140, Vivaldi’s Gloria in D Major, RV 589, the exquisite aria by Stölzl, Bist du bei mir, attributed to Bach as BWV 508, and some other pieces. Stunningly beautiful, but increasingly rare in performance because of the expense.
So Berkshire Bach, like many other groups, continues to search for support to present the important civilizing repertoire that has inspired audiences—whether in church or in the concert hall—for three centuries.
In our immediate future, we present the Memorial Day Weekend concerts, and on June 18 we present our final concert of the 2021-2022 season with “The Universal Harpsichord with Mariken Palmboom,” a program of Italian, French, English, and German keyboard music that compares national character from a time before Baroque music became homogenized into one “international” style. We hope you’ll join us. Tickets available at berkshirebach.org.