The Johannesburg Bach Choir


The Johannesburg Bach Choir is greatly indebted to its past Chairman Dave Kinghorn for continuing the history of the Choir from the year 2001 onwards and for allowing it to be published on this website. The copyright of this document clearly remains with Dave.

Künkel also prepared us for two joint concerts with the SABC Choir:

In June we performed Orff’s Carmina Burana conducted by Enrique Garcia-Asensio. There were two performances in the Johannesburg City Hall and State Theatre in Pretoria.

In November we sang in performances of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in the State Theatre in Pretoria and the Johannesburg City Hall. The conductor was Wolfgang Bothe.

















Künkel only conducted one concert this year,

the rest of the time he spent preparing the

choir for two other performances.








In July some of the choir along with singers from other sources acted in Beethoven’s Fidelio conducted by Weiss Doubell. The production was in the Roodepooert Theatre.

In November we sang in a performance of Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky in the Johannesburg City Hall with Paul Capolongo conducting. This was a joint concert with the SABC Choir.

















This was the 25th anniversary of the choir and Künkel conducted the May concert with the rest of the year being given over to two major concerts with the SABC Choir. Henry Blagden recalls how Künkel forgot to bring on Gwyneth Lloyd for the performance of the Britten. Fortunately Gwyneth realised the error and arrived just in time for her entry!




In October Reinhard Schwarz conducted Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. with performances in the State Theatre, Pretoria and the City Hall, Johannesburg

Whilst In November Gabor Ötvös conducted Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony with performances in the State Theatre, Pretoria and the City Hall, Johannesburg















Martin Behr recalls an amusing episode when practising with Ötvös in the State theatre. The percussion player assigned to the tubular bells had an Afro hairstyle. The practise was interrupted when the percussion player was told that he wasn’t striking the bells hard enough. The normal mallet did not provide the right quality of sound and the player was despatched to find a metal hammer. He finally reappeared brandishing a claw hammer and assailed the bells with great vigour to finally satisfy the conductor. During a short break we filed off the stage and on our return found that some wag had found a mop which had been stuck amongst the tubular bells and which at first glance looked rather like the percussionist!




Künkel was to give his last concert in June.



Dr Eberhard Künkel has retired and is living in Centurion.



1990-1994: Colin Yorke






Colin Yorke’s first outing with the choir was in November 1990. It is worth noting that the bass in this concert, Walter Visagie, would later become the choir’s conductor in 2004 using the name Walter Butt.






Colin gave two concerts this year, in May and November.















This photograph of the choir and Colin was taken before the May concert























Colin gave two concerts this year, in May and August.

















Also there were two performances of Berlioz’s Te Deum on 29 and 30  October. The first was in the the Johannesburg City Hall with the second in the StateTheatre, Pretoria. The conductor was Gabor Ötvös, with soloists Marita Napier (Wagner only) and George Kok. For the Berlioz, the Bach Choir was joined by the SABC Choir and the Auckland Park Preparatory School Choir.








Colin gave two concerts this year, in May and October.





















Colin gave his final concert at this time, prior to handing over to Doug Reid















1994-1995: Doug Reid




This year was the choir’s 30th Anniversary. Two resignations caused some consternation but the problems were overcome by the incoming committee


The resignation of the chairman, Ken Fuller, who had been at the helm since 1974 for “business and personal reasons” had an indirect consequence. Not only had Ken been a very successful leader of the choir but also he had produced the programmes for all the Bach Choir productions, so there was an immediate need to find a substitute. The first programme was produced by Reiner Fossati, to be followed by Dave Kinghorn with some input from Reiner (1994 & 2004) and Petra Krugel (2002)


The second was the resignation of Colin Yorke. He was succeeded by Doug Reid.


Doug Reid’s first outing with the choir was in November 1994.




















The first concert was all Beethoven and was a joint venture between the Bach and Unisa Choirs. There were performances in Pretoria and Johannesburg.


The works performed were

Beethoven’s Choral Fantasia

Beethoven’s Christus am Ölberge




The next concert was September and our first venture as a “rented” choir. We accepted an approach by the Grand Master of the Johannesburg Lodge to sing at their centenary of the founding of Transvaal Lodge. It was a grand affair with a large number of distinguished overseas and local Freemasons.


The event was entitled

Centenary Celebration Meeting 1895 -1995

United Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of England (District of the Transvaal)

The Bach Choir with an Orchestra performed

Overture: Ode to St Cecelia               Handel

Zadok the Priest                                  Handel

I was Glad                                          Parry

The King shall rejoice                         Handel

The Heavens are telling                       Handel

Masonic Music                                    Mozart

                        Lasst uns mit geschlungn Händen

                        Dir, Seele des Weltals

                        Laut Verkunde Uns’re Freude (final chorus)

National Anthem

All people that on earth do dwell


In addition Doug Reid composed some fanfares especially for the occasion.

The adjacent picture appeared after the event in the Sunday Independent of 8 October, with the caption Almost 2000 members of the secret order of Freemasonry gathered at the world trade centre recently to celebrate their 100th annual meeting of the Transvaal district. Part of the  choir is just visible in the top  left of the picture






1995-2002: Return of Colin Yorke





Colin was fortunately able to step into the breach after Doug Reid’s resignation and his first concert was in November







 The idea of a corporate Logo had been discussed in committee and possible samples were obtained from Anthony Schaffler, a Johannesburg graphic designer. Two designs emerged as frontrunners. The winner is shown on all subsequent programmes and posters and the runner up is shown below









A spin off from the logo was the production of choir golf shirts and sweat shirts that did generate some funds.








  The golf shirt                                                 The sweat shirt


Colin gave two concerts this year, in May and August.













This year also marked the start of programmes and posters being produced by David Kinghorn who formed a relationship with Hilex Litho via Herwig Martinek one of the tenors in the choir. This fruitful link was to last until the closure of Hilex at the end of 2000.


When the choir first started, programmes were produced by Tony Fell, who was managing director of Hortors printers at the time. After Tony Fell’s departure this task was taken over by Ken Fuller, whose creativity set a very high standard from about 1973 to 1994.

In October we had an introduction to opera choruses under the baton of Heinz F Rossner and his Deutsches Orchester. Part of the reason for this venture was to test possibilities of a low cost orchestra. Although the audience seemed to enjoy the concert, the choir consensus was that it was not our style of music.



The first concert of the year was a joint one with involving several choirs. It was a performance of Verdi’s Requiem in the Standard Bank Arena in April conducted by Sir David Willcocks. Participating choirs were

The Bach Choir of London (who were on tour of South Africa)

Johannesburg Bach Choir

Bonisudumo Choristers

Soweto Singers

SABC Choir

 All this and the full National Symphony Orchestra!






I have in my own personal archive a much-treasured poster from this concert, with the dedication “With every good wish to one David (Kinghorn) from another David” signed “David Willcocks 13 April 1997”.





Colin conducted concerts in June and November.















This year was one when Colin Yorke prepared us for three concerts, but did not conduct any himself.

The first concert was in August with the touring New Hampshire Youth Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Wilks. The soloists were Ghislaine Morgan and Hanneli Rupert. The choir was made up from members of the Symphony Choir of Johannesburg and our own Bach Choir. The Youth Orchestra was supplemented by members of the NSO.



The next concert was in October, this time with a group called the Leipziger Vocalensemble. Their conductor was Professor Georg Biller, the Kantor of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. The singers were made up of past members of the Thomanerchor. It was only after the “Bach Tour” in 2000 that the full significance of Prof Biller and the Thomanerchor emerged. The Beeld critic wrote that Robin Findlay on trumpet was “skitterend” and the joint choirs “geïnspireerd”.


Our final concert was in November. Sir David Willcocks returned to conduct Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana in the Standard Bank Arena. Initially, the choir archives didn’t have a copy of programme. However, Reiner Fossati located one so three items exist. The first is a poster for the event and the second the programme and thirdly a handwritten letter from Sir David.














A transcript of the letter dated 16 November 1998 follows:


“From  Sir David Willcocks CBE MC


To        Dave Kinghorn        

                        Colin Yorke           

                        Shirley Woods       

and all members of the Johannesburg Bach Choir


            Dear Dave,

                               I hope that there may be an opportunity for you to convey my sincere thanks to all members of the Johannesburg Bach Choir who participated in the rehearsals and performance of Carmina Burana at the Standard Bank Arena yesterday. Together with the Symphony Choir of Johannesburg and the Durban Symphonic Choir your members made a really splendid choral force, which was a joy to conduct. It was immediately apparent that all three choirs had been very carefully prepared, and were able to respond quickly to every demand of a guest conductor,

As on the occasion of the memorable Verdi Requiem performance last year I was made to feel very welcome by both singers and instrumentalists and it was wonderful to perform to such a large and appreciative audience.

I am sure that all three choirs will have felt, as I did, that our two soloists – Janet Allen and André Howard – made a valuable contribution to the performance and that the NSO players excelled in all departments, as did the children’s choirs.

Credit is also due to the sound engineers, who without the benefit of a prior rehearsal, managed by all accounts to secure a very satisfactory balance of all the choral and instrumental forces involved, whilst enabling the choir to hear the important orchestral accompaniment more clearly through the discreet use of monitors.

Lastly I wish to thank all members of the Johannesburg Bach Choir for the beautiful wallet which will hold credit cards and bank notes. It will always remind me of the Verdi Requiem and Orff Carmina Burana in the Standard Bank Arena in 1997 and 1998. Thank you too for the delightful card accompanying the gift.

I hope that the Johannesburg Bach Choir will continue to flourish in the years ahead.

               Yours sincerely





  Colin Yorke conducted two concerts this year the first being in May and the second in November.











The May concert met with a certain amount of resistance from a minority in the choir who felt that the concert would be a total financial loss. As it happened a small profit was made much to the chairman’s relief. The critics were complimentary about Broccardo’s Mass but less so about the choir’s singing. No critics attended the Messiah in November, but the archive notes that “there was a standing ovation at the end of the concert”.


A point of interest to close this section: the May concert was the last concert to be written up by music critics. Serious music critics were becoming a dying breed in our local newspapers. Those in charge of the media felt that there was no interest in Eurocentric classical music and so the critics faded off the scene. It is only recently (2014) has the name Paul Boekkooi reappeared in The Star reviewing an “important” concert. Similarly the media is reluctant to publish news of forthcoming concerts.


The history from 2000 and later is contained in Section 4 onwards.

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