How do you sum up The Bach Choir in a nutshell? Answer: you can’t. Don’t let the title fool you – this 140-year-old ensemble reaches far beyond the works of Johann Sebastian Bach.
In June, The Bach Choir joins forces with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for one of the stalwart pillars of the repertory: Mendelssohn’s Elijah. In November, the ensembles celebrate John Rutter’s 70th birthday with the London premiere of his The Gift of Life: Six Canticles of Creation – conducted by the composer. Contemporary composers, from James MacMillan to Jonathan Dove, are regularly, and enthusiastically profiled. ‘The Bach Choir isn’t just about doing standard repertoire. It’s about doing new pieces that will extend the choral tradition,’ says Nick Cutts, the Choir’s General Manager.
Its members are similarly hard to categorise. ‘We have 260 people from all walks of life. From students to barristers and someone who’s in the House of Lords.’ But whatever their background or profession, ‘members come to rehearsals week in, week out, practise at home and reaudition every three years, so there’s a certain amount of dedication to being part of the Choir,’ says Cutts.
If that sounds gruelling, the perks are worth it. ‘For a lot of the singers, being part of the Choir means gaining something that they once lost. There are people who were singers in their early years, then had families and only found time to pick it up again later. One of our members has recently won a place on the Sixteen’s Genesis scheme, so The Bach Choir can lead to all sorts of things.’
Among them, rubbing noses with the Great and Good. ‘One of the most amazing concerts for me took place during Queen’s coronation anniversary celebrations at Buckingham Palace. We were there with Kiri Te Kanawa, Katherine Jenkins, Eric Whitacre and the entire household cavalry,’ reminisces Cutts, ‘and I’ve got some pictures of myself, Eric Whitacre and his wife all pulling silly faces at each other backstage. It just goes to show that you have that moment of absolute relaxation – then you hit the stage, and everything changes.’
Does Cutts ever perform with the Choir himself? ‘No no,’ he says. ‘I’m just a simple brass player. But organising a concert brings its own excitement: that feeling when something goes amazingly and the audience are loving it. For me, that’s what it’s all about.’
Written by Hannah Nepil.
The Bach Choir performs in the London premiere of John Rutter’s ‘The Gift of Life: Six Canticles of Creation’ at St Paul’s Cathedral on Thursday 5 November.