Forte at Forty
Forte at Forty
It may not be quite the same group it was back in 1968, but the Bach Choir of Wellington celebrates its 40th birthday next month in as good voice as the day it was formed.
The choir, one of the capital's true community groups, performed its first concert in July 1968 in St Peter's Church on Willis Street. Its 40th anniversary celebration takes place in September, just along the road at St John's Church on Dixon Street.
Back in 1968, Evening Post critic Owen Jensen wrote of the newly-formed choir: “This, the Bach Choir's first concert, was an occasion to be remembered. A new choir, a young choir, a good choir: it was exciting singing and intelligent.”
The review was a positive beginning for the group, formed by students and staff from Victoria University and led by Anthony Jennings.
These days the 40 or so members are drawn from all corners of Wellington society. Simply enjoying singing is the uniting factor, bringing together Kiwis and immigrants, young and old.
The Bach Choir's repertoire is not limited to the works of the great Johann Sebastian – though pieces by Bach are regularly performed. The choir also collaborates with other local groups.
The anniversary concert will showcase the choir's range, including extracts from Gabriel Fauré's magnificent Requiem, Bach's St Matthew Passion, traditional folksongs and modern works.
Soprano Robyn Henley, a choir member since 1974, says: “The mix of works performed from traditional Bach to more modern commissioned works makes us an attractive option for new comers. I think we have always managed to balance the concept of being part of a fun group with making good quality music.”
Henley is one of the choir's most loyal members, and has seen it through several different directors. She joined at the same time as the choir's third director Roy Tankersley, who led the group from 1973 until 1984.
Tankersley describes his time with the Bach Choir as “highlights all the way”, but remembers particularly a complete performance of Handel's Messiah in 1977 and participation in the New Zealand Broadcasting Company's first live stereo broadcast in 1985.
He was followed as director by David Wood, Elizabeth Salmon and Vincent James before Nigel Williams took over in 2001. Williams left the choir to work overseas at Christmas last year, but like Tankersley says he has many special memories.
“The old lady in the audience who came up to me after the 'St Nicolas' concert to tell me she was a chorister in the première performance directed by Benjamin Britten himself was a very special moment!” says Williams.
He praises the choir's volunteer committee and the way that more experienced members pass on knowledge to newer singers. Williams also says the input of the choir's long-time accompanist, Wellington City Organist Douglas Mews, was invaluable.
Mews first got involved with the choir in the 1990s and has acted as a musical sounding-board and backup for the director ever since. He is an integral part of the choir, both in rehearsal and lending his considerable keyboard skills to concerts.
The anniversary concert on September 7 will be the first for new director Stephen Rowley, who began work with the choir in June. Tickets are on sale now from Ticketek.
The Kelburn Normal Choir conducted by Nicola Edgecombe, the Teal Voices from Wellington Girls' College directed by Nicola Sutherland, and Bach Choir ex-members will all join in the 40th anniversary celebration. It promises to be just as memorable an afternoon as that winter's night forty years ago when the Bach Choir began its career – and there are many more years to go.