The Johannesburg Bach Choir

History


The Johannesburg Bach Choir is greatly indebted to its first Chairman and founding member, Ken Fuller, for allowing this history of the Choir to be published on this website. The copyright of this document clearly remains with Ken.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Johannesburg Bach Choir

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Thirty-Six Years

1964 – 2000

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ken Fuller

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

The story of the

Johannesburg Bach Choir

An account of the first thirty-six years

1964 – 2000

by Ken Fuller

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Foreword

About July 2000, when I was trying to make room for some files, I was forced to consider what to do with the choir's archives, housed in three large cardboard boxes in my garage. Clearly what was needed was to go through the papers and throw out duplications and other non-essential bits, but, before doing so, there was a strong need to summarise and put the information into a usable form. This meant writing a history. Many of the current members are unaware of the choir's early days, and memories of the older members were fading fast. One of my own personal regrets has been not jotting down my own family history before older relatives died, so losing irretrievable information.

Thus I resolved to take up the matter with Ken Fuller for several reasons. Firstly, he was responsible for a most interesting history of the company for which he worked and so would have some experience. More important, though, was that for twenty years, the choir was Ken Fuller. Without his tenacity it probably would never have flourished to become the longest continuously running, large choir in Johannesburg. All the others since the 1960s have disbanded, often to re-form later under another name.

Surprisingly, before I could discuss my ideas, I was pre-empted by Ken phoning me, offering to write a history of the choir. The boxes were duly delivered to Ken, who set to work. One other source of information needs to be mentioned and this is the scrapbook, started by Jill Ackerley and now kept by Bernard Hefftner, which contains all the programmes and newspaper articles of Bach Choir concerts since the start. It is a most enlightening and valuable source of information.

 

 

 

 

 

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Now that the history is written, the choir is once again deeply indebted to Ken Fuller for all his hard work. Ken has researched well, and the book provides not only a wonderful overview of the activities of the choir and its concerts, but also some thought-provoking insights into the changing musical and social scene in Johannesburg _ not to mention the problems of running a choir!

Ken assures me that he has made every endeavour to present the facts correctly, but asks forgiveness for errors and omissions. I am sure there are very few and I proffer my heartfelt thanks to him for producing this valuable work, which will provide background not only to the choir's current and future members but also perhaps to historians and other researchers.

At the time of writing, the Johannesburg Bach Choir is thirty-six years old and, fortunately, strong both financially and in resolve. With continuing good fortune and guidance, I am sure that we can anticipate the next instalment thirty-six years hence.

David Kinghorn

Chairman

Johannesburg August 2001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tony Fell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Introduction

The Johannesburg Bach Choir was formed in 1964 by Tony Fell with the object of performing the lesser-known and smaller-scale works of J.S. Bach, in particular the cantatas.

Tony Fell, who graduated from King's College, Cambridge, used to sing in the College choirs and play cello in the orchestra. Once in Johannesburg, he joined the Nicolson Choir and often assisted the conductor, Mr Guy Nicolson, who was headmaster of the Ridge Preparatory School in Parktown. Tony Fell also directed the music of The Beggar's Opera when this was staged in Johannesburg by the Trinity Players in 1962.

When the Nicolson Choir disbanded due to the ill-health of Guy Nicolson, Mr Colin Anderson, a well-known Johannesburg mining man, suggested that Fell should "do Bach's Cantatas which have never been performed live in Johannesburg". This idea was not new to Fell, but, encouraged, he discussed the proposal with musically talented Barbara Bailey of Rosebank, and soon a small choir of about ten voices started rehearsing at the home of her parents, Dr and Mrs H. Epstein in Oxford Road, Illovo.

The Johannesburg Bach Choir's first public concert, conducted by Tony Fell, was given on 1 September 1964 at St Catherine's Church in Bramley, one of Johannesburg's northern suburbs.

Since then, and under other conductors, the choir has developed and continues to perform in public, usually twice a year.

 

 

 

 

 

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Part 1

The first ten years

1964

Under the headline "Bach Choir makes a promising start", D.S. (probably Dora Sowden) wrote in the Rand Daily Mail:

"To hail the advent of a choir is a pleasure. To be able to welcome a Bach Choir is a notable event. So it was worth going to the beyonds of Bramley to hear what 30 voices could do to a cantata, a chorale and a motet under the direction of Tony Fell.

As a first performance, the programme was a most promising achievement. Of the Purcell Chaconne for strings I cannot speak as I was still in search of Bach in Bramley at the time."

The Programme:

Chaconne for Strings in G minor                      Henry Purcell

Chorale, `Gracious Lord for all our                 J.S. Bach

     being' from Cantata No. 147

Motet, `Jesu Priceless Treasure', sung           J.S. Bach

     unaccompanied

Cantata No. 4, `Christ lay in Death's              J.S. Bach

     grim prison'

A string orchestra was led by Melvyn Penn and the organ played by Jill Kirkland. The performance was recorded by the SABC and excerpts were subsequently broadcast.

 

 

 

 

 

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Those taking part were:

Sopranos: Elizabeth Connell (who later became a world-famous opera singer), Helen de la Harpe, Katinka Fell, Margaret Goodbrand, Anne Heywood, Margo Monteith, Gwen Nicolson, Pat O'Donovan, Peggy Richardson, Diana Simpson, Bridget Steed and Elna Webb.

Altos: Barbara Bailey, Pam Blundell, Inge Fuller, Rita Hefftner, Jenepher James, Peg Jones, Margaret Joubert and Jean Thompson.

Tenors: Keith Blundell, Alfred Herchenroder, John Nicolson and John Oliver.

Basses: Henry Blagden, Ken Fuller, Bernard Hefftner, David James, John Jones, Tony Marsh, Neville Richardson and Ted Tatham.

(Those whose names are in italics were still singing with the choir at time of writing.)

1965

Encouraged by the reception given to its first concert, the Johannesburg Bach Choir performed three times in 1965:

- at St Catherine's Church, Bramley on 26 October

- in the chapel at St Stithian's College on 27 October

- in St Mary's Cathedral, Johannesburg on 1 November.

A small string orchestra, led by Cicely Harper, played the Suite No. 3 in D by J.S. Bach. The vocal works were:

Cantata No. 150, `Nach Dir Herr verlanget mich'   J.S. Bach

`Heilige Messe' (the Mass in B flat major)           J. Haydn

All the vocal soloists were choir members, and new names amongst the singers included Jill Bennett, Tony Olds and David Kinghorn, the present chairman of the choir.

 

 

 

 

 

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1966

The size of the choir had now increased to 48 singers, 17 Sopranos, 12 Altos, 6 Tenors and 13 Basses. The choir's repertoire also grew to include Bach's Cantata No. 118, `O Jesu Christ mein's Lebens Licht', Motet No. 6, `Lobet den Herrn', Mozart's `Coronation' Mass in C, Missa Brevis in F major, some choruses from Bach's Christmas Oratorio and the 84th Psalm by Heinrich Schütz. These works were performed in June and December in St Mary's Cathedral, Johannesburg and St Alban's Cathedral, Pretoria.

Admission to the June performances was by programme, costing 50 cents. In December seats were 75 cents each, with booking through Show Service, the forerunner of Computicket.

1967

In 1967 the choir continued to perform in the Cathedrals of Johannesburg and Pretoria and gave one concert in each in May. The choral works were sung unaccompanied:

84th Psalm                                                            Schütz

Missa Brevis                                                        Palestrina

Motet, `Jesu Priceless Treasure'                        J.S. Bach

The Pretoria concert included an organ recital by Hennie Joubert, while Alan Solomon performed Bach's Sonata in G minor for unaccompanied violin in St Mary's Cathedral, Johannesburg.

The Rand Daily Mail's music critic wrote:

"the Bach Choir has set its own standards as a choral group with exceptional control of colour and dynamics to say nothing of an almost unerring sense of pitch."

 

 

 

 

 

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1968

This was a significant year for the choir. Membership had grown to 56 and in addition to performing in churches, the choir presented a public concert in the Great Hall of the University of the Witwatersrand. The repertoire now included works by the early English composer Orlando Gibbons and the more recent Ralph Vaughan Williams.

An Easter Concert was given in Johannesburg and Pretoria, and also at the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Springs. The programme consisted of Gibbons's `Hosanna to the son of David', Vaughan Williams's Mass in G minor for double choir and Schütz's St Luke Passion _ all the choral singing being unaccompanied.

Mr John Davies, the music critic of the Johannesburg Star newspaper, found the St Luke Passion "of great impact and most moving". Two narrators present the story of the Last Supper, the betrayal of Christ and the final crucifixion, with the choir making appropriate choral responses. The well-known actor/producer Arnold Quin directed the two narrators, Michael Lane and James MacDonald.

The choir presented an all-Bach programme in September in the Wits Great Hall, its first concert at a major public venue. Ticket prices were R1-25, R1-00 and 75 cents and the programme cost 10 cents.

Regrettably, one of the soloists was unable to sing. We quote Joe Sack writing in the Rand Daily Mail of 26/9/1968.

"The sudden illness from a throat infection, yesterday, robbed the Welsh operatic and concert singer, Gwilym Evans, of his South African debut as a solo bass with the Johannesburg Bach Choir. Evans, who is principal bass with the Lubeck Opera House in

 

 

 

 

 

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Germany, left a gap which only the resourcefulness of conductor Tony Fell was able to fill at an hour's notice. He requested the cellist Ishbel Sholto-Douglas to leave the fifteen piece orchestra and play Evans's bass part which she read from a vocal score. A bassoon replaced the cello in the orchestra and the show went on as if no drama had occurred behind the scenes. The capacity audience showed its appreciation with enthusiastic applause."

The lady singers of the Johannesburg Bach Choir wore a newly designed and fashionable black concert dress.

1969

Choir rehearsals were now held every Monday evening in the hall of Pridwin School, Melrose. The accompanist was Sheila Harland, who was the senior music teacher of Roedean School in Houghton. Jill Ackerley (formerly Bennett) was the choir secretary.

Two concerts were given in 1969. The programmes included first performances by the choir of Haydn's `Nelson' Mass, Bach's Cantatas Nos 67 and 82 and the Motet No. 1 `Singet den Herrn ein neues Lied'. Gabrielle Duve was soloist in Bach's Harpsichord Concerto No. 2 in E major.

The first concert was in St Mary's Cathedral in May, while the second, in November, was performed in the newly built hall at the German School in Parktown. There is no record why the choir did not perform in the Wits Great Hall again, but it may be assumed that, despite a good attendance, the cost of putting on a concert there must have placed a strain on the choir's limited cash resources.

 

 

 

 

 

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1970

The Johannesburg Bach Choir's growing reputation attracted vocal soloists such as Elizabeth Connell and leading orchestral players like oboist Gerrit Bon. In the May concert, held in the German School hall, a newly discovered oboe concerto by Gottlieb Graun was to be performed with two choral works. Unfortunately the orchestral parts were mislaid and arrived too late, so Gerrit Bon played works by Pergolesi and Corelli instead. This concert was also performed in Sasolburg for the Sasolburg Music Society in June.

In November, the choir sang the first three parts of Bach's Christmas Oratorio in St Mary's Cathedral. Dieter Morschel, the SABC orchestra's leading bassoon player, performed works by Marcello and Telemann.

1971

The March concert was performed in the German School hall. The choir sang Pergolesi's Magnificat for the first time, repeated Haydn's `Nelson' Mass; and Gerrit Bon performed the Graun Oboe Concerto _ a first performance in South Africa.

On the 15 November, the choir achieved a long-desired ambition and performed a concert in the Johannesburg City Hall _ always regarded as the appropriate venue for classical music concerts. This concert consisted of a complete performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, with soloists Ann Hamblin, Inka Polic, James Gordon and John Thorpe. Gabrielle Duve played the harpsichord continuo and the orchestra of SABC musicians was led by Salvatore Pompa.

 

 

 

 

 

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1972

During this year, two concerts were given in the Johannesburg City Hall. The performances included Haydn's Te Deum, Bach's Magnificat and a new work in the repertoire _ Beethoven's Mass in C major, Opus 86. The results were not always good. John Davis, music critic of the Johannesburg Star, wrote of the Magnificat concert:

"Conductor Anthony Fell, in the unfamiliar wastes of the City Hall, had difficulty in balancing his choir, which occasionally was subdued, and a strident brass, in which the trumpet was often overpowering, should have been restrained more."

1973

In 1973 the choir appeared four times in the City Hall. The choir presented two concerts itself. The second one in November included the Kyrie and Gloria from the Mass in B minor by J.S. Bach and a double cello concerto by Vivaldi, with Peter Orton and Alfredo Stengel as soloists.

On 27 and 28 November, as part of the SABC Orchestra's third symphony season, Anton Hartman conducted Mahler's Symphony No. 2 _ The `Resurrection'. The Bach Choir joined the SABC Choir to sing in the fifth movement. The Bach Choir had, by now, grown to 81 singers, 31 sopranos, 22 altos, 12 tenors and 16 basses.

 

 

 

 

 

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1974

Ten years after the choir was formed, Tony Fell moved to London and introduced John Mitchell as his successor.

Fell found the opportunity to join the well-known music firm of Boosey and Hawkes too much to resist, despite his feelings for South Africa and the choir he had founded. He left after the Easter concert in the City Hall when the choir sang Mozart's Requiem for the first time and Bach's Cantata No. 4, `Christ lay in Death's grim prison', a work performed at their first concert in 1964.

The choir members parted with their founder with some regret and made him Patron of the choir, but were reassured when John Mitchell showed himself to be a very friendly and competent professional musician.

John Mitchell was then working with the opera and ballet departments of PACT, the Performing Arts Council for the Transvaal. He was a graduate from Birmingham University, England where he had specialised in Baroque choral music and choir training.

To welcome him, a Tenth Anniversary concert was held in the Johannesburg City Hall on 4 November 1974 and Bach's Magnificat and Haydn's `Nelson' Mass were sung.

Included in the programme, and new to the choir and no doubt to the audience, were the Kyrie and Gloria from the Mass for Four Voices by the English composer William Byrd _ a choice of the new conductor.

 

 

 

 

 

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John Davis of the Star, praised the singers with the headline:

"Bach Choir in rousing performance."

He was very complimentary about the Byrd Mass and wrote:

"John Mitchell has shown himself to be a painstaking musical conductor and he should mould this choir into a significant body."

For some time, the choir's administration had been growing more formal. Although there is no record of an Annual General Meeting, a Constitution had been prepared. A small committee ran the choir's affairs, with Jill Ackerley as Treasurer, Ken Fuller involved in administration and ticket sales, and Tony Olds as deputy to the musical director.

 

 

 

 

 

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Part 2

The next 20 years _ a recognised

choral society in Johannesburg

By 1974, after ten years of public performances, the Johannesburg Bach Choir was firmly established as a leading independent amateur choir, capable of high musical standards. It attracted new singers and regularly captivated a faithful and growing audience in the Johannesburg City Hall.

The original reason for the formation of the choir _ to perform the lesser known works of J.S. Bach, especially the cantatas _ was still relevant, but choir performances now included a much wider range of choral music.

Television, although transmitted for a only few hours a day, began to divert audiences from other forms of entertainment, but did not then offer a serious alternative to live musical performances or theatre.

In Johannesburg there were two other large choirs giving public concerts: the SABC Choir, closely linked to the SABC Orchestra, and the St Stithian's Singers. The choirs of the universities of the Witwatersrand and Pretoria were mainly concerned with varsity functions, but Pretoria had many active choral groups.

Keeping the Johannesburg Bach Choir functioning, rehearsing regularly, performing publicly twice a year and solvent, required an active management team whose duties became more arduous when Tony Fell handed over to John Mitchell. Fell made most decisions for the choir himself and carried them out as well, whilst employed as manager of a large firm of printers. Mitchell was a professional musician working full-time for PACT in Pretoria.

 

 

 

 

 

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He had a wide range of musical responsibilities at PACT, including training singers and soloists for the opera, acting as repetiteur for the ballet, rehearsing the PACT orchestra and organising and participating in musical tours to schools. John Mitchell was content to leave the running of the choir to a management committee, while he applied his skills to selecting the works to be performed, rehearsing the choir and conducting its concerts.

This separation of responsibilities of musical direction and choir management may not have been unique to the Johannesburg Bach Choir, but it has worked well and proved very beneficial. A strong and independent management team has been a characteristic of the choir and has been important in its growth and development.

The 1974 management committee consisted of:

Chairman:                         Ken Fuller

Conductor:                        John Mitchell

Assistant Conductor

and Choirmaster:          Tony Olds

Secretary:                         Elizabeth McDonald

Treasurer:                         Jill Ackerley

Section Leaders:              Representing each vocal

                      section of the choir

A successful choir must satisfy the musical needs of its singing members, as well as the ambitions of its conductor. To do this, it must give regular concerts, sing well and perform music which appeals to a large audience. One might say that the purpose of a choir is only fully justified when a successful concert is given. The financial ability to present public concerts therefore becomes of paramount importance to the existence of a choir. Lack of money is a constant headache to the management.

 

 

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The Johannesburg Bach Choir was started without any financial support other than the subscriptions of members. Fortunately, costs of the early concerts were minimal:

– Music scores were borrowed very economically from the Johannesburg Public Library; in some instances the Library bought scores specifically for the choir.

– The first concerts were given in churches which usually required only a small donation to church funds.

– Money was required mainly to hire the few orchestral players and professional vocal soloists necessary, so the cost of a concert was often covered by the price of admission.

After ten years of regular public performances, it is estimated that the choir had accumulated about R5000. By now the choir had increased in size and had developed the desire and ability to perform major choral works requiring large musical forces. The Johannesburg City Hall was the most suitable venue for this type of concert. However, performance costs increased significantly when the choir started to give regular concerts there, since:

– Commercial rates applied to the hire of the City Hall for rehearsals and performances.

– Many more professional orchestral players and vocal soloists were engaged, as these professional musicians guaranteed the best results at a performance.

– Orchestral scores were sometimes unavailable and had to be hired or bought from overseas.

– Costs were incurred for concert advertising, publicity, posters and programmes.

 

 

 

 

 

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It became vital to attract large audiences to concerts in order to cover costs and, it was hoped, to make a profit. A fairly successful method was devised for this:

– A mailing list of Bach Choir supporters was produced and a discount was offered to those buying tickets by mail.

– Each choir member was exhorted to sell a quota of tickets at discounted prices.

– Extensive advertising and publicity was undertaken and tickets were sold through Computicket.

A great deal of hard work went into concert promotion, and the choir was fortunate not to become financially embarrassed. Small losses were occasionally incurred, but, generally, efforts to sell tickets were rewarded by an appreciative audience, large enough to cover costs. The music critics also played an important part in the success of the choir. Whilst not always complimentary for a variety of reasons, their comments were eagerly anticipated and often welcomed.

The Johannesburg Bach Choir owes a debt of gratitude to its former treasurer, Jill Ackerley, who devised a straightforward accounting system which allowed easy cost control and who also preserved the choir's archive from which this history is mainly derived.

 

 

 

 

 

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John Mitchell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1975

The influence of the new conductor, John Mitchell, can be seen in the choral works of the Easter concerts, given at St Mary's Cathedral, Johannesburg and St Alban's Cathedral, Pretoria.

The programme, entitled "English Church Music through the ages", included works by early English composers:

Mass – The Western Wind                Taverner

Mass for Four Voices                        Byrd

The `Bell' Anthem                              Purcell

For contrast, Mitchell included two twentieth-century pieces:

Mass in G minor                                 Vaughan Williams

Cantata – `Rejoice in the Lamb'        Britten

Peter Bebington, organist, played Herbert Howells' two Psalm Preludes. Mitchell and the choir received very favourable press comment.

For the October 1975 concert, the choir returned to the Johannesburg City Hall to give its first performance of the Requiem by Gabriel Fauré, with soloists Ann Hamblin, soprano, and Lawrence Folley, baritone. Other works in the concert were the Kyrie and Gloria from the Mass for six voices, `Tu es Petrus', by Palestrina and Bach's Cantata No. 92, `Nun danket alle Gott'. Antoine de Ley was the soloist in the Trumpet Concerto by J.N. Hummel.

 

 

 

 

 

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1976

On 24 May, the choir gave its first complete performance of the Mass in B minor by J.S. Bach in the Johannesburg City Hall. The Star's John Davis wrote under the headline

"Bach full house as the Box is left in the shade

Bach can draw crowds, as a house full to overflowing showed. The counter-attraction of the Box and the deterrent of a cold evening did not keep the crowds away from an attractive production. Conductor John Mitchell, ensconced behind a small harpsichord, was not always in full control of the large choir, orchestra, organ and soloists, especially when seated at the keyboard."

The soloists were Ann Hamblin, Dilys Lloyd, Stella Beder, Sjoerd Beute, and Bruce Martin. The orchestra was led by Leif Hansen. Principal oboe player, Gerrit Bon, used an oboe d'amore, specially imported for the concert at a cost of R1200.

During September and October, the Choir gave three performances of Handel's Messiah _ twice in the Johannesburg City Hall and once in the Old Mutual Hall at UNISA in Pretoria. John Mitchell used the Watkins-Shaw edition which is a reconstruction of the original, in an attempt to perform the work as Handel would have heard it. The critics were not enthusiastic, writing that the choir was lethargic and the concert, which was recorded for TV by the SABC, was too long. The complete score is very long and most performances have cuts, but John Mitchell gave an almost complete presentation.

 

 

 

 

 

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1977

The June concert performed in the Johannesburg City Hall consisted of Brahms's German Requiem, his Academic Festival Overture and the modern American composer Aaron Copland's `In the beginning', written in 1947 for mezzo-soprano and chorus. John Davis, the music critic of the Star, commented under the headline

"Bach Choir ready to tackle anything

The name Bach Choir is rather misleading because this choir seems to be willing and often able to tackle anything in the choral repertoire in addition to Bach."

In November, the choir performed twice with the OFS Brass Ensemble, led by Roger Penning. A concert was given first in the Johannesburg City Hall and then repeated, on St Cecilia's day, in St Alban's Cathedral, Pretoria. The varied programme consisted of:

Motet, `Lobet den Herrn'                        J.S. Bach

`Music for His Majesty's Sackbuts        Locke

   and Cornetts' (OFS Brass)

`Hymn to St Cecilia' sung                        Britten

   unaccompanied by the choir with         (written in 1942)

Ann Hamblin as soprano solo

`Battle Suite' (OFS Brass)                      Scheidt

Mass for Four Voices                              Byrd

`Christmas Cantata' with organ              Pinkham

   accompaniment by Errol Girdle-          (composed in 1957)

   stone and the trumpets of the OFS

   Brass

Margaret Nabarro, writing in the Star, said:

"This was a stimulating concert and a very suitable tribute to both the patron saint of music, St Cecilia, and Benjamin Britten who died

 

 

 

 

 

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just about a year ago. Mitchell displayed to superb advantage Pinkham's contrapuntal scoring. The scintillating rhythms, the timbre of voice and brass instrumentation and the forceful `allelujahs' gave the work poise and integrity."

A recording of this concert indicates that the audience particularly enjoyed the Pinkham and gave the performers a vociferous ovation.

1978

A performance of the Mozart Requiem, the Gloria by Vivaldi and a concerto for oboe d'amore by Telemann was given in the Johannesburg City Hall on 12 June. Vocal soloists were Ann Hamblin, Stella Beder, Sjoerd Beute and Rouel Beukes, with Gerrit Bon playing the oboe d'amore. The conductor was John Mitchell and the critics were impressed. John Davis of the Star wrote:

"Choir shows its quality.

The choir has progressed considerably since its modest beginning in 1964, not only in repertoire and size but also in its standing musically."

Harold Steafel of the Rand Daily Mail had a headline "100 of the best", referring to the number of singers on stage and continued:

"This concert had some of the best choral singing that has been heard here in a long time, even admitting a slight loss of pitch of some of the soprano topmost notes."

The choir's second concert in 1978 was conducted by Robin Walton who had accepted the position of choirmaster in place of Tony Olds, who had been transferred to Nelspruit. The main work was Benjamin Britten's `Saint Nicholas' Cantata, with the well-known Manuel Escorcio as tenor soloist and boy trebles and a girls' choir from St Andrew's School. The `Saint Nicholas' Cantata was acclaimed, but the other two works in the concert, Handel's Coronation

 

 

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Anthem `My heart is indicting' and Brahms's Liebesliederwaltzer, were not well performed. This was Walton's first outing with the Choir. At the time he was a lecturer in music at the University of the Witwatersrand and the church organist and choirmaster at St Michael's Church in Bryanston, as well as being involved with the Wits Choir. His friendly disposition, musical knowledge and easy authority made him quickly acceptable to the singers. It is assumed that John Mitchell's commitments to PACT prevented him from taking part.

1979

Mitchell was back with the Choir conducting Bach's Mass in B minor at the Johannesburg City Hall, repeating the performance of 1976 to great acclaim. John Davis wrote:

"Such an enormous work with its majestic power took some handling and John Mitchell experienced some occasional problems in handling a largish choir, orchestra, soloists and organ. But there were some excellent moments starting in the chorus `Cum Sancto Spiritu' when there was a definite feeling that all performers had immersed themselves emotionally in the work."

At this time the SABC orchestra invited a number of international conductors to give concerts in Johannesburg, one of which was the British conductor Maurice Handford. He was associate conductor of the Hallé Orchestra, principal conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and had been chief conductor of the SABC Orchestra in 1977. Handford was a renowned choral director and conducted The Dream of Gerontius by Edward Elgar in the Johannesburg City Hall on 5 September. Manuel Escorcio, tenor, who was to have sung the role of Gerontius, was taken ill and Sjoerd Beute replaced him at short notice with distinction. The other soloists were Jean Allister (soprano), and Gwilym Evans (bass). The SABC Choir

 

 

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no longer existed; so the Johannesburg Bach Choir combined with the St Stithian's Singers under their choirmaster, Roger Davies, to sing the choruses. According to John Davis, the perform-

ance was "Masterly and unforgettable."

1980

Maurice Handford must have enjoyed the choral resources available in Johannesburg, for in April he conducted the Bach Choir and St Stithian's Singers in a performance of Verdi's Requiem, with local soloists and the SABC Orchestra.

In June the choir joined a festival of music in Pretoria at St Alban's Cathedral and sang some of Anton Bruckner's `Geistliche Chöre' motets with John Mitchell conducting.

This was the last time for some years that Mitchell conducted the choir as he left the PACT organisation and continued his musical career with the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg.

The choir's last concert of 1980 was a programme entitled `Four Centuries of Choral Music and Music for Wind Instruments' given in the Johannesburg City Hall on 3 November under the baton of Robin Walton. The works performed were Bach's Motet No. 4 for double choir, `Fürchte dich nicht' (Be not afraid), with Peter Bebington as organ continuo. This was followed by a brass ensemble playing music by the early baroque composers, Gabrieli, Banchieri and Pezel. The choir and the brass combined for Stravinsky's Mass for mixed choir and double wind quintet. Then came Bruckner's six motets from the `Geistliche Chöre' and a trio for two oboes and cor anglais, Opus 87, by Beethoven. The concert ended with the Deutsches Magnificat by Heinrich Schütz for eight voice parts, instruments and continuo.

 

 

 

 

 

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The choir and conductor were congratulated for their versatility by John Davis, who wrote in the Star:

"Although the Stravinsky Mass was well worth the airing, the most impressive interpretation for me was the six motets by Bruckner. The `Ave Maria' was the most beautifully sung while the `Offertorium' with its three trombone backing was well placed for contrast before a delightful `Locus Iste'. Finally the Deutsches Magnificat with organ and wind instruments provided a noble ending to a concert that contained many surprises and a good range of vocal expression."

Interestingly, the concert programme, which cost 40 cents, contained the following details of the Johannesburg Bach Choir:

Patron: Tony Fell

Conductor: Robin Walton

Guest Conductor: John Mitchell

Accompanist: Shirley Woods.

Choir rehearsals were now held at St Katharine's School, Parktown.

 

 

 

 

 

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Robin Walton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1981

For an Easter concert in the City Hall in March, Robin Walton conducted an all-Bach programme. The choir sang the Easter Cantata, `Christ lag in Todesbanden' and the Motet No. 3, `Jesu meine Freude', both works from the repertoire. Other items were the Suite No. 2 for flute and strings, soloist Leslie Shiells, and an organ solo, Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, played by Peter Bebington.

In August, Maurice Handford returned to conduct Carmina Burana by Carl Orff with the SABC Orchestra, the Bach Choir and the St Stithian's Singers and a junior choir from Roodepoort High School. Handford had just the right personality and enthusiasm to inspire the performers and a packed audience voiced its approval in the Johannesburg City Hall.

The programme included the names of the Bach Choir members singing in the concert and showed two choirmasters _ John James and Weiss Doubell.

Earlier in the year, Robin Walton had agreed to relinquish the musical direction of the choir and a new conductor was sought. There being no obvious choice, the management team requested suitable candidates to take choir rehearsals for the forthcoming Carmina Burana concert and after a suitable trial period, the choir members would choose their future conductor. The two final contestants were John James, a principal horn player with the SABC Orchestra, and Weiss Doubell, musical director of the Roodepoort Civic Theatre. Weiss Doubell emerged as the clear favourite and became the new conductor.

 

 

 

 

 

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Doubell's first task was to rehearse the choir for two performances of Handel's Messiah which were given at the inaugural season of the Pretoria State Theatre with the PACT Symphony Orchestra and Choir. John Mitchell conducted the concerts for PACT using the Watkins-Shaw version. While the critics were impressed with the acoustics of the new opera auditorium and the clarity of the music and words, they rejected Mitchell's efforts to `improve' the Messiah with over-elaboration and decoration of the vocal lines. One headline read "It's the Messiah according to St Mitchell".

 

 

 

 

 

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Names of members of the Johannesburg Bach Choir printed

in the Carmina Burana concert programme of August 1981

Sopranos                           Altos                           Tenors

Diane Attwood                  Vicky Benjamin          Antony Bastiman

Jill Ackerley                     Pam Blundell              Martin Blades

Rixa Beutel                       Joan Coppin               Neville Boyce

Geraldine Blecher            Fiona Crowe               Chris Everett

Almut Britz                        Pat Fantl                     John Hewitt

Glenys Earle                     Inge Fuller                  Johannes Leichter

Valerie Edminson             Fiona Garvey             Brian Loveday

Caroline Garvey               Elizabeth Gill              Donald Macey

Jean Greig                        Milja Harper              Mike MacMurray

Marie Howard                  Jean Hart                   Leonie Nel

Shiela Hunt                       Rita Hefftner             Colin Roberts

Muriel Irish                      Fiona Henderson        Lawrence Rochford

Avril Kerrod                     Rosemary Henley      Lawrence Russell

Kay Lindsay                     Laïla Hugow               David Thorpe

Elizabeth Macey               Barbara Hurst            Don Williams

Angela Maskew               Jenepher James

Jeanne McKie-Thomson Angela Lloyd              Basses

Laurian Michalson           Kathy Mabin              Bill Adams

Gwen Nicholson                Sue Matterson           Phillip Atkins

Gail Putnam                      Pat O'Toole                Henry Blagden

Anna Ramsay                   Sue Roberts               Robert Charlton

Marguerite Rich               Marie Rochford         Paddy Donnelly

Barbara Russell               Barbara Rosenberg   Ken Fuller

Annette Schmid                Sybil Simon                 Peter Hart

Pam Sutherland                Christine Sinclair       Bernhard Hefftner

Ann Taylor                        Linda Toms                Theodore Homdrom

Barbara Thorpe                Jill Traill                     Bill Ingram

Pat Thorpe                        Janet Voight               David Kinghorn

Noreen Wallace                Roberta Welch           Phillip Lloyd

Pat Wark                           Celia Young                Paul Loveday

Elizabeth White                                                    Mike Martinson

Diane Whitman                                                     Jo Nietz

Christine Woessner                                              Theo Oettle

Shirley Woods                                                      Edwin Ralph

                                                                               Athol Robertson

                                                                               Richard Sudweeks

                                                                               Barry Sweet

                                                                               Ted Tatham

                                                                               Keith Wridgeway

 

 

 

 

 

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Weiss Doubell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1982

Weiss Doubell was a seasoned musician when he came to the Johannesburg Bach Choir. He was Director of the Roodepoort Civic Theatre and Musical Director of the Randburg Chamber Orchestra. He had studied in Hilversum, Hamburg and Berlin where he specialised in the practice and performance of Baroque music.

His first concert was at Easter when he conducted a complete version of Bach's St John Passion in the Johannesburg City Hall. This was the first time the Choir had performed the work, and Doubell insisted on an uncut version which was appreciated by a full house and the music critics. Vocal soloists included the redoubtable Sjoerd Beute as the Evangelist, Werner Nel, André Howard, Deon van der Walt and Charl van Heyninghan.

In a later concert in November, in honour of Haydn's 250th anniversary, Doubell conducted the choir in a performance of Haydn's `Nelson' Mass, Bach's Cantata No. 140, `Wachet Auf', and Eberhard Künkel was the soloist playing an organ concerto by Haydn.

Michael Traub, writing in the Citizen newspaper, complained of "an unwieldy Bach Choir" in the Bach Cantata, but concerning the Haydn Mass, wrote as follows:

"Conductor Weiss Doubell had complete control of the orchestra and choral forces and all revelled in the splendid melodiousness of the music. The Haydn is a masterpiece and came across as such."

The choir repeated the Haydn Mass in the Johannesburg Catholic Cathedral of Christ the King as part of the regular service on the following Sunday to organ accompaniment.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Bach Choir's final concert in 1982, conducted by Weiss Doubell, was as part of the opening festival of the Linder Auditorium at the Johannesburg College of Education in Parktown. The choir's contribution came from its repertoire _ the Schütz Deutsches Magnificat, Bach's Cantata No. 140, `Wachet Auf', and some of Anton Bruckner's `Geistliche Chöre'. Eberhard Künkel played Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, performing on the newly installed Allen digital computer organ.

1983

When Weiss Doubell took over the musical direction of the Johannesburg Bach Choir, he brought a small number of singers from Roodepoort and Dr Eberhard Künkel as his accompanist.

Künkel was head of the Opera School at the Pretoria Technikon and had trained in choir direction under Professor Kurt Thomas in Detmold, Germany. Künkel was a superb organist and continuo harpsichord player and was the mainstay of many of Weiss Doubell's rehearsals. Weiss had many other musical commitments and was absent from some rehearsals, which were taken by Künkel.

For the first concert in 1983, the choir performed Beethoven's Missa Solemnis in D major, Opus 123, conducted by Weiss Doubell in the Johannesburg City Hall. This was a very ambitious project as the work is long, difficult and very intense, but a masterpiece of choral composition. The soloists were Marita Napier, a South African born soprano, celebrated internationally for her Wagnerian roles, Stella Beder, Sjoerd Beute and Andreas Haller.

 

 

 

 

 

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The concert attracted a full house. Audience and critics alike gave the musicians full credit for a fine performance. Weiss Doubell was deservedly congratulated and the Missa Solemnis was probably one of the highest musical achievements of the choir.

The November City Hall concert consisted of one work, Bach's Christmas Oratorio, conducted by Dr Eberhard Künkel.

The choir's archive contains a copy of Weiss Doubell's resignation as musical director, following a disagreement with the choir's management team about whether the Christmas Oratorio should be sung in English or in the original German text. Doubell was quite correct in his statement that the English translation did not do justice to the work, but there were practical considerations in that music scores were not available in German. Fortunately, choir members were not aware of the problems as rehearsals were mostly taken by the choirmaster, Dr Künkel, who was eventually persuaded to conduct the concert performance and take over the position of musical director.

 

 

 

 

 

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Eberhard Künkel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1984

The Johannesburg Bach Choir had existed for twenty years and some manner of celebrating this was sought. Many proposals were considered, but one, perhaps more extravagant than the others, was adopted _ a 20th Anniversary Concert in the Johannesburg City Hall at which each of the choir's five former conductors plus the present one, would be invited to conduct one work.

This idea caught the imagination of choir members and conductors alike and all made themselves available for the performance on the 18 June. Each conductor chose a suitable choral piece which was rehearsed by the choirmaster until a week before the concert, when the various "maestros" had the opportunity of putting the singers through their paces.

The patron saint of musicians, St Cecilia, must have smiled kindly on the organisers as the concert went off without a hitch, much to the delight of the participants.

The programme naturally consisted of six choral pieces:

Work                                             Composer     Conductor

Motet No. 5, `Komm,                  J.S. Bach     Eberhard Künkel

Jesu, Komm'

Cantata No. 50, `Nun is               J.S. Bach     Tony Fell

das Heil und die Kraft'

Magnificat                                    J.S. Bach     John Mitchell

`Ave Verum'                                 Mozart         Tony Olds

Missa Brevis in D                        Mozart         Robin Walton

`Te Deum'                                    Haydn          Weiss Doubell

The audience enjoyed the varied programme and the sight of six conductors on one platform, but the event was most appreciated by the 131 members of the Johannesburg Bach Choir.

 

 

 

 

 

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A large and decorative concert programme costing R2-00 gave the names of singers and the musical accomplishments of the conductors in addition to details of the works performed. There was a suitable celebration after the concert.

The choir performed again in the Johannesburg City Hall in November 1984. The main work was the Stabat Mater by Rossini, with the celebrated Mimi Coertse as soprano soloist. The programme also included two of Haydn's `Gesänge' _ `Aus dem Danklied zu Gott' and `Der Greis' _ and the Symphony No. 40 by Mozart. Eberhard Künkel conducted the concert.

At the choir's Annual General Meeting on 3 June 1985 at St Katharine's School, Parktown, where the choir rehearsed each week, the financial reports for the 1984 year were presented by the treasurer, Jill Ackerley. These included the accounts for the two public performances and indicate some of the activities required to stage a concert.

20th Anniversary Concert                                                             R

Income            Ticket sales less commission                       10002

                         Programme Sales                                            1072

                         Programme Advertising                                    275

                         Income Total                                                 11349

Expenses         Orchestra & Conductor                                  5976

                         Soloists                                                            1125

                         Hire of Hall                                                       705

                         Front of House Staff                                         138

                         Programmes & Posters                                  1229

                         Advertising                                                        450

                         Entertainment & PR                                         990

                         Presentations & Prizes                                     445

                         Hall Décor                                                         556

                         Gratuities                                                          146

                         Expenses Total                                             11760

                         Deficit                                                            (-411)

 

 

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It will be seen that the largest expense was for the hire of the professional orchestral players and vocal soloists, usually for two rehearsals and a performance. The choirmaster was paid a concert fee of R400, but the other conductors gave their services free. They were partly compensated by a substantial lunch with committee members, in a private room at the Johannesburg Country Club, hosted by the chairman _ hence a rather large entertainment bill of R990. The cost of decorating the hall for this special occasion with flowers and banners was rather higher than usual. There were presentations to each of the conductors after the concert, consisting of engraved pewter tankards.

Those choir members who sold the most tickets were given cash prizes as a reward for their efforts. Direct selling of concert tickets by choir members was found to be the most effective way of getting an audience and this activity needed to be encouraged.

For example, tickets for the later Rossini Stabat Mater concert were sold as follows:

                                                          R        %

Choir members                           5694        61

Choir mailing list                        1840        20

Computicket                               1410        15

Box Office                                     387      __4

                                                     9331      100

This shows the importance of the choir member's direct sales efforts, amounting to 61% of the value of the total ticket sales. Unfortunately, Rossini did not attract as large an audience as the previous 20th Anniversary Concert, and a loss of R2821 was made. This, together with the loss from the earlier concert of R411, made a total loss for the year of R3232.

 

 

 

 

 

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The balance sheet for 1984, suitably abbreviated, showed:

                                                                                                       R

Income:                    Membership fees & interest                 3630

Expenditure:            Purchase of music                                  3236

                                  Hire of rehearsal hall                               300

                                  Choirmaster                                           2160

                                  Other                                                        689

                                  Total Expenditure                                  6355

                                  Deficit                                                  (2755)

                                  Deficit from concerts                           (3232)

                                  Total deficit for 1984                           (5987)

At the start of 1984, the choir had funds of R13,828 and these were now reduced to R7841.

The AGM debated this situation. It is recorded that future concerts, some of which were to be in collaboration with the SABC orchestra, were expected to be profitable, so no action was taken other than to raise membership subscriptions from R20 to R24 a year and seek financial support from sponsors.

Other than the choir's ability to fund its future public performances, a main concern was a drop in the number of singing members and the need to recruit suitable voices to balance each section as necessary.

While there were 131 names of members on the 20th Anniversary programme in June 1984, the singing strength of the choir had declined to 85 one year later. One of the reasons was the resuscitation of the SABC Choir under the direction of Richard Cock, which attracted some of the Bach Choir singers.

 

 

 

 

 

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The choirmaster, Dr Künkel, was confirmed in his position for a further two years and congratulated on his efforts, and the deputy chairman, Lawrence Russell, was also thanked for his assistance when Ken and Inge Fuller were both incapacitated following a motor accident in July 1984.

The committee elected on 3 July 1985 comprised:

Chairman                                            Ken Fuller

Choirmaster                                        Dr Eberhard Künkel

Honorary Treasurer                           Jill Ackerley

Membership Secretary                      Inge Fuller

Honorary Secretary                           Fiona Crowe

Soprano Representatives                  Denise Tero

                                                             Anna Ramsay

Alto Representatives                         Judy Tilden

                                                             Robbie Welch

Tenor Representatives                      David Thorpe

                                                             Don Macey

Bass Representative                          David Kinghorn

 

 

 

 

 

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131 Bach Choir members whose names appeared in the programme

of the 20th Anniversary Concert, 18 June 1984

Sopranos                        Altos                              Tenors

Jill Ackerley                  Pam Blundell                 Paul Bradley

Simone Bendig               Virginia Bradley            John Brauer

Rixa Beutl                      Renate Brauer              Felix Ernst

Veronica Boniface         Ila Burda                       Bill Henderson

Angelika Breuer            Joan Coppin                  Peter Kerr

Almut Britz                     Fiona Crowe                  Johannes Leichter

Elma Bruggermann       Jolanda de Beer            Brian Loveday

Liffy Carverhill              Margriet de Jong          Donald Macey

Valerie Edminson          Beatrice Delvare          Herwig Martinek

Carla Ernst                    Pat Fantl                        Evan McGillivray

Jean Evans                    Mary Anne Forrester   John Nicolson

Loraine Fleming            Inge Fuller                     Peter Praschma

Leona Geyser                Priscilla Fuller               Michael Rees

Jean Greig                     Yvonne Garson             Michael Romancia

Peta Glasser                  Jean Hart                      Lawrence Russell

Hilary Groves                Rita Hefftner                 EliSabeth Schilling

Adrianna Harvey           Heide Heitmann            David Thorpe

Frances Henderson       Ann Henderson             Heinrich Wichern

Hiltrud Hoffmann          Rosemary Henley         Basses

Heike Hoffmeyer          Laïla Hugow                  Bill Adams

Tessa Hund                    Barbara Hurst               Graham Behr

Sheila Hunt                    Jenepher James            Martin Behr

Jill Kirkland                   Silke Jaschinski            Henry Blagden

Mariette Künkel           Angela Lloyd                 Graham Bodman

Elizabeth Macey            Kathy Mabin                 David Carverhill

Jeanne McKie-Thomson                                     Caroline McDonald                                         Robert Charlton

Sigrid Mertens              Thelma Mills                 Pieter de Lange

Retha Moller                 Hettie Moller                Leigh Evans

Cathy Morton                Lisl Murray                   Reiner Fossati

Gwen Nicolson               Jane Nicol                     Ken Fuller

Anna Ramsay                Hanna Niedeheitmann Peter Hart

Elena Rees                    Barbara Rosenberg      Bernard Hefftner

Jane Rees                      Joy Sadler                     Ted Homdrom

Beth Reynolds               Hildegard Stielau          Bill Ingram

Barbara Russell            Nancy Sutherland         David James

Gertrud Schmitt             Judy Tilden                    David Kinghorn

Mary Sinclair                 Linda Toms                   Philip Lloyd

Denise Tero                   Sophie Turner               Paul Loveday

Barbara Thorpe             Tessa-Ann Viljoen        Mike Martinson

Patricia Thorpe              Roberta Welch              Charles Pfenniger

Margaretha von Beck   Inge Volbrandt              David Sadler

Gesa von Roon                                                     Werner Schlebach

Pat Wark                                                               Paul Skoberla

Gabi Zahn                                                             John Slaughter

                                                                               Barry Sweet

                                                                               Hendrik van der Walt

                                                                               Daniel Yett

 

 

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1985

1985 was the three-hundredth anniversary of the births of J.S. Bach, Handel, and Domenico Scarlatti, as well as the four-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Heinrich Schütz. To commemorate these important events, the Johannesburg Bach Choir gave its first performance of Bach's vast St Matthew Passion in the City Hall at Easter. Eberhard Künkel conducted and also played the continuo harpsichord and was praised by the critics for his direction of the large musical forces.

Writing in the Star, Roland Solomon described the choir's singing as "expressive". He continued:

"The St Matthew Passion is one of the monumental works from Bach's Leipzig period (1723-1750) and is a prime example of his mature style. It calls for large musical forces, being scored for double chorus and orchestra, organ and harpsichord continuo, unison choir of boy sopranos (in this performance girls from Roedean) and six soloists. The Bach Choir, celebrating its 21st birthday and Bach's 300th birthday, gave a most creditable performance. The work includes some of Bach's most majestic chorales and in these the Bach Choir was excellent."

In October the Johannesburg Bach Choir joined with other choirs to sing Handel's Messiah at the invitation of Weiss Doubell at the National Eistedfodd held in Roodepoort.

A second concert was given in the City Hall in November and conducted by Künkel, was described as a `Baroque Anniversary Concert' and included works by Schütz, Bach, Handel and Scarlatti.

 

 

 

 

 

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Also in November 1985, the Johannesburg Bach Choir joined with the SABC Choir, the National Symphony Orchestra and the PACT Symphony Orchestra in a Gala performance of Mahler's `Resurrection' Symphony (No. 2). A performance was given in the State Theatre in Pretoria and repeated in the Johannesburg City Hall. The visiting American conductor and Mahler specialist Richard Dufallo conducted the concerts, with vocal soloists Mimi Coertse and Angelica Novak.

The preparations and performances of this work caused great excitement and enthusiasm among concert-goers and critics alike. The combined orchestras and choirs numbered 360, and the stage of the Johannesburg City Hall was enlarged to accommodate all the performers. Both the Johannesburg and Pretoria concerts were sold out and critics and audiences were highly appreciative _ the SABC announcing that the concert would become an annual event. Margaret Nabarro writing in the Star stated:

"Every participant and all planners deserve full credit for mounting such a wonderful performance of a great but rarely heard symphony."

An interesting note in the programme reads: "Watch the bleep _this is not the time to clash with the music, please switch off your digital watch".

1985 was a good year for the choir's finances as the loss from the previous year was wiped out by a surplus of R4735 giving the choir funds of R12,576.

The choir made a small profit of R1423 from its own concerts and received fees for its participation in the Mahler and Messiah concerts. There was also R1000 from commercial sponsors and a small grant from the Johannesburg City Council for the choir's activities in supporting Johannesburg's centenary year.

 

 

 

 

 

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1986

The Johannesburg Bach Choir performed three times at the Johannesburg City Hall during 1986. In June the choir sang Bach's Mass in B minor, conducted by Dr Künkel, with soloists Bronwen Basson, Susan Braatvedt, Sjoerd Beute and Andreas Haller. Richard Cock played the organ continuo and Leif Hansen was the concertmaster. Tickets cost R14, R10 and R7-50 each. This concert attracted a large audience and a profit of R1359 was made.

In October, the Bach Choir and the SABC Choir combined to sing Beethoven's `Choral Symphony', No. 9 in D minor, under the baton of Gabor Ötvös, the Hungarian-born conductor, as part of the National Symphony Orchestra's third symphony season.

In November, the Bach Choir presented the following programme with Eberhard Künkel conducting:

Missa Brevis in D                                             Mozart

Bassoon Concerto in B flat                              Mozart

   (soloist Jos de Groen)

`Laudate Dominum'                                          Mozart

   from the Vespere Solemnes

Cantata No. 72                                                  J.S. Bach

   `Alles nur nach Gottes Willen'

Four Motets for the season of Christmas       Poulenc

While the music critics were fairly lukewarm about the earlier performance of the B minor Mass, they were quite appreciative of the choir's singing in this concert.

 

 

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The unaccompanied singing of the Poulenc motets was described as follows:

"… the large soprano section maintained its standard of controlled well-pitched singing. Cadential endings and major and minor triads were clear and delightful."

The printed programme, which cost R1-00, informed the reader that "Mozart's `Laudate Dominum' was included in the recent wedding of Prince Andrew and Miss Sarah Ferguson".

Despite the attractive and varied musical items, there was a financial loss of R834 on the concert, although this would have been more than made up by the contributions of sponsors of the Johannesburg Bach Choir:

The Anglo American and De Beers Chairman's Fund

Barclays National Bank

Ciba Geigy

Lufthansa

Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals

Siemens

Vita Force Health Products

Sponsors were offered boxes in the concert hall at choir performances.

The minutes of the Bach Choir's AGM show that there were 145 members and that 105 were active singing members. The choir's much-respected treasurer, Jill Ackerley, resigned, to be replaced by David Kinghorn, while Reiner Fossati was elected to the committee as bass representative. Ken Fuller remained as chairman.

Also of musical importance at this time was the merger between the National Symphony Orchestra and the PACT Orchestra to form the National Orchestra.

 

 

 

 

 

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1987

The choir's first concert on 18 May 1987 was devoted solely to Schubert, doubtless the influence of the choirmaster and conductor, Dr Eberhard Künkel. The programme consisted of the cantata `Miriams Siegesang' (Miriam's Song of Triumph), scored for solo mezzo-soprano, mixed choir and piano. The soloist was Sandra Nel. This was followed by Schubert's Symphony No. 3 in D major. Then came the short choral work `Heilig Heilig' from Schubert's German Mass in D and the Mass No. 5 in A flat with soloists Tersia Potgieter (soprano), Sandra Nel (contralto), Pieter Marais (tenor), Johann Botha (bass).

Conductor, choir and soloists were commended by music critic Margaret Nabarro. Under the headline:

"Nel sets the tone

accompanied on the piano with choral backing, Nel's rich mezzo voice was heard to good account. Künkel is an excellent choirmaster and choral entries and diction were good. Concerning the Mass in A flat, the most moving section was the Sanctus. Künkel had a good feel for the massed chorus work and the Agnus Dei and Amen were excellent. This was a polished choral presentation and an interesting, even if too long, programme."

In July, performances of Carmina Burana were given by the National Orchestra in the Johannesburg City Hall and the State Theatre Pretoria conducted by Enrique Garcia-Asensio. The Johannesburg Bach Choir joined with the Pretoria Bach Choir, the Pretoria Ad Musicum Choir and members of the Wits and RAU choirs.

In October, the Johannesburg Bach Choir presented an unaccompanied concert in the City Hall, conducted by Eberhard Künkel.

 

 

 

 

 

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The programme consisted of works by Schütz, J.S. Bach and Poulenc, all from the choir's repertoire.

In November, the choir once again joined forces with the National Orchestra to sing Beethoven's `Choral Symphony' with the SABC Choir in Johannesburg and Pretoria, the conductor being Wolfgang Bothe, one of the many guest conductors of the National Orchestra.

The choir had been very active during 1987 with six public performances, but its own concerts were not as well supported as expected and a financial loss of R9058 was made. This was partially compensated by fees for performing with the National Orchestra.

1988

In contrast to previous years, the choir presented only one concert in 1988. This was Mozart's Requiem, performed in May in the Johannesburg City Hall under the baton of Dr Künkel. The concert was well attended and the singing of the choir and soloists pleased the critics and audience alike. A satisfactory surplus on the concert account amounted to R4025.

In July, some 40 members of the Bach Choir transferred their talents to the stage of the Roodepoort City Opera to take part as the chorus in Beethoven's opera Fidelio, presented in German. They were joined by members of the Welsh Male Choir of South Africa, the Randburg Male Voice Choir and the Roodepoort City Opera Chorus.

This was the first performance of Fidelio in the Transvaal and Weiss Doubell, the conductor, had gathered an impressive cast among whom were Marita Napier, Øystein Liltved, Hans van Heerden, George Kok and Werner Nel. The critics were very supportive and some members of the Bach Choir enjoyed the opportunity of acting as well as singing.

 

 

 

 

 

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In November the Johannesburg Bach Choir joined with the SABC Choir to sing, in Russian, the cantata `Alexander Nevsky' by Prokofiev, conducted by Paul Capolongo. The music was first written at the request of the eminent Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein for the film of the same name. When the film was released in 1938, the enthusiastic reception of the music prompted Prokofiev to arrange it for mezzo-soprano solo, choir and orchestra.

1989

The Johannesburg Bach Choir had survived for twenty-five years and a suitable anniversary concert was given in the City Hall in May. The varied programme, conducted by Eberhard Künkel was:

Motet No. 6, `Lobet den Herrn'                                   J.S. Bach

Cantata No. 150, `Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich'     J.S. Bach

Four chorales from various works                               J.S. Bach

Brandenburg Concerto No. 4                                       J.S. Bach

Divertimento in D major for strings                             Mozart

Hymn to St Cecilia                                                       Britten

In October the choir combined with the SABC Choir in performances of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis as part of the National Orchestra's symphony season. The conductor was Reinhard Schwartz. In November, Gabor Ötvös conducted both choirs in two performances of Mahler's `Resurrection' Symphony.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bach Choir members whose names appeared in the programme

of the 25th Anniversary Concert

 

Sopranos                        Sopranos                        Tenors

Jill Ackerley                  Barbara Thorpe            Felix Ernst

Barbara Anderson         Ianthe van der Walt      Bill Henderson

Rixa Beutel                    Karen von Loeper         Peter Kerr

Colleen Blowe                Pamela Werrell             Johannes Leichter

Veronica Boniface         Kathy Whiteley             Brian Loveday

Almut Britz                     Kirstin Wilkens             Donald Macey

Deirdre Campbell                                                 Herwig Martinek

Anne Campbell              Altos                              Peter Praschma

Ildiko Cannon                Fiona Andrews              Geoffrey Price

Norma Chislett              Sonnie Brauer               David Thorpe

Rosemary Clarke          Pat Christie                   Stephen Whiteley

Linda de Villiers            Judy Cousins                 Heinrich Wichern

Modesta Doruyter        Margriet de Jong          Werner Witschi

Carla Ernst                    Karin De Klerk             John Woodward

Doreen Every                Jean Denyer

Angele Grant                 Monika Fletcher           Basses

Jean Greig                     Inge Fuller                     Martin Behr

Hilary Groves                Yvonne Garson             Henry Blagden

Adriana Harvey             Sue Harris                     Peter Blowe

Judith Hawarden           Jean Hart                      Graham Bodman

Frances Henderson       Yoka Hartog                  Robert Charlton

Ishbel Hingle                 Rita Hefftner                 Leigh Evans

Heike Hofmeyer            Ann Henderson             Reiner Fossati

Angelike Illman             Laïla Hugow                  Ken Fuller

Simone Keulen              Jenepher James            Peter Hart

Mariette Künkel           Sarah Leybourne          Rob Hartog

Elizabeth Macey            Kathleen Leon              Bernard Hefftner

Margie Midgley            Caroline McDonald      Bill Ingram

Jeanne McKie-Thomson                                     Hanna Niederheitmann             David Kinghorn

Zerilda Nel                     Riana Oosthuizen          Roelof Kunst

Maria Neumuller           Sheila Parram                Richard Lyne

Anna Ramsay                Joy Sadler                     Mike Martinson

Beth Reynolds               Hildegard Stielau          Rodney Nicholson

Inge Ritti                        Linda Toms                   David Sadler

Gabrielle Schlosser       Sophie Turner               Michael Sipser

Alison Smart                  Roberta Welch              Norman Turner

Anne Stephenson           Ingeborg Wollbrandt     Francois van der Walt

 

 

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1990

Some sort of malaise seemed to afflict the Johannesburg Bach Choir in 1990. Perhaps it started after the choir's 25th Anniversary concert in May 1989, for which the management team had high hopes, but which was, according to some reports, not well performed and which resulted in a loss of R2300.

The committee minutes reflected the following concerns:

irregular attendance at rehearsals;

• choir members losing interest in the works being performed and singing standards falling;

membership declining, especially sopranos and tenors;

general lack of enthusiasm among members;

many performances with other groups may have eroded the choir's identity. Although the choir had performed publicly three times in 1989, only one Bach Choir concert had been given.

To add to the perceived problems, St Katharine's School, Parktown, where the choir rehearsed each Monday night, decided to raise its fees to an unaffordable level. St Katharine's was a very suitable location for members and had excellent facilities, but a new venue had to be found.

The committee embarked on a recruiting drive by requesting members to introduce suitably musical persons and decided to get tough with those members who frequently missed rehearsals. The choirmaster urged members to do their musical homework and encouraged sections to rehearse separately. Fortunately St Katharine's had two pianos in different areas so it was possible for tenors and basses to learn in one hall and sopranos and altos in another, with all sections combining after a tea break.

More serious were the committee deliberations to replace the choir-master. Having performed recently with the SABC Choir, Bach Choir

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members had frequently experienced the dynamic personality of the SABC Choir director, Richard Cock, who usually rehearsed both choirs together, before concerts. Unfavourable comparisons, not always free from personal bias, were made between Richard Cock and Eberhard Künkel. There is no doubt that Künkel was a thoroughly professional and accomplished choir director, but he seemed unable to motivate the singers as in the past.

Eventually, after much soul-searching, the committee came to the conclusion that a change in choirmaster was necessary. The matter was discussed with Künkel, who graciously accepted the situation, and agreed to train the choir and conduct a concert in June.

The following works were performed in the Johannesburg City Hall:

Lutheran Mass in G                                J.S. Bach

Concerto for oboe d'amore in A              J.S. Bach

Missa Brevis in D                                    Mozart

Magnificat                                                Pergolesi

The vocal soloists were Gwynneth Lloyd, Margi Nel, Dana de Waal and Walter Visagie. The oboe d'amore soloist was Peter Jaspan of the National Orchestra.

This mixed choral and orchestral programme was intended to appeal to a wide range of musical tastes to attract a large audience.

Choirmasters are not exactly thick on the ground in South Africa and choirmasters with charisma, which is what the Bach Choir thought it needed, are as rare as hen's teeth. After many enquiries, the committee found what they were looking for in the person of Colin Yorke, who had recently arrived in Johannesburg to take the position of senior music programme producer with the SABC and Radio Allegro. Yorke, with the musical qualifications MMUS, FLSM and LRAM, was born in Cape Town and studied in London at

 

 

 

 

 

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the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal School of Church Music where he was appointed choirmaster. He also conducted the Jubilate Singers and the Sebastian Orchestra. Before confirming his appointment, Bach Choir committee members attended a rehearsal of the Wits Choir, which Yorke was conducting, and were suitably impressed. Colin Yorke's confident personality, musical knowledge and enthusiasm quickly earned him the respect of choir members. He also encouraged some student members of the Wits Choir to join the Bach Choir and introduced Craig Tocher, a very accomplished pianist, as accompanist. The team of Yorke and Tocher added much energy and enjoyment to Bach Choir rehearsals.

In November Colin Yorke conducted his first concert with the Bach Choir and orchestra in the Johannesburg City Hall. The programme consisted of the Fantasia on Christmas Carols by Vaughan Williams, the `St Nicholas' Mass and the Te Deum by Haydn and the `St Paul Suite' for Strings by Holst. The critics were very complimentary. Michael Traub of the Citizen wrote under the headline:

"Choral Precision

Conductor Colin Yorke obviously sets great store by choral sophistication for under his baton, the Johannesburg Bach Choir not only achieved precision of ensemble, but also showed a healthy respect for the printed dynamic markings."

Davis Hoenigsburg wrote:

"Sparkling and energetic concert. . . this is a choral sound that is most pleasing, controlled and secure, the choir sings with a great range of dynamic contrast and effortlessly so."

While Colin Yorke's arrival had improved the morale and singing skills of the Johannesburg Bach Choir, more members were still required, as indicated by a notice in the concert programme: "The choir needs twenty new members for its next concert."

 

 

 

 

 

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Colin Yorke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1991

Two hundred years earlier, on 5 December 1791, Mozart died, leaving his famous Requiem uncompleted. To commemorate this musical genius, the Johannesburg Bach Choir gave an all-Mozart concert in May in the City Hall conducted by Colin Yorke. The programme consisted of the Mass in C minor, the Motet `Ave Verum Corpus', and the piano concerto No. 9 in E flat. Vocal soloists were Lisa-Jean Lorenz, Renette Bouwer, Johan de Bruin and John Fletcher. The pianist was an eighteen-year old local girl, Petronel Malan, who was described by one critic as "a truly gifted and attractive performer", although another reviewer wrote that her interpretation was "emotionally shallow". There was no doubt that the packed audience greatly enjoyed the singing and piano playing.

In September, the choir joined other singers at the opening of the annual Eisteddfod festival in Roodepoort to repeat Mozart's Mass in C minor, this time conducted by Weiss Doubell.

For their second concert in 1991, the choir performed Bach's Mass in B minor in the City Hall on 18 November with Colin Yorke conducting.

Pridwin School in Melrose had once again kindly offered its school hall as a temporary rehearsal venue _ the choir had first rehearsed there in 1969. In 1991, the school hall was also the school dining-room, which meant that before choir rehearsals could start, the heavy dining tables and benches had to be moved to accommodate choir members. After rehearsals, the furniture had to be shifted back to its original position, a task not enjoyed by the male singers. After a short time, the choir was fortunate to discover Parkview Senior School and started rehearsing there, initially for the weekly remuneration of the caretaker.

 

 

 

 

 

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At the annual general meeting held in April, the chairman, Ken Fuller, was able to report favourably on the status of the choir. Although small losses were still being made on concerts, there was support from sponsors and fees from singing with the National Orchestra. The records show that the choir had a bank balance of R32,372, but the committee deemed it prudent to raise the members' yearly subscription from R30 to R40. As usual the last rehearsal of the year turned into a Christmas party with cakes and mince pies provided by members. Some light-hearted entertainment about the assumed life of J.S. Bach was acted out by the committee (the hall at Parkview School had a stage) and Colin Yorke tested members' knowledge with a musical quiz.

1992

With the headline "Yorke inspires Bach Choir to new heights", Paul Boekkooi, music critic of the Star, gave a complimentary review of the Johannesburg Bach Choir's first concert of the year, performed at the Johannesburg City Hall in May. The programme consisted of Fauré's Requiem, Poulenc's Organ Concerto in G minor with soloist Wim Viljoen, and Haydn's `Nelson' Mass. The vocal soloists were Lisa-Jean Lorenz, Ronelle Brand, Malcolm Chalmers and André Howard. Boekkooi ended his review:

"Colin Yorke, in the space of two years, has built up the Johannesburg Bach Choir to an excellent level. There is a lot of honesty and inspiration that emanates from him."

Records showed that this concert cost R21,147 to mount with a resulting loss of R683.

In August the choir presented an all-Brahms concert conducted by Colin Yorke, consisting of the Requiem and the Double Concerto

 

 

 

 

 

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in A minor for violin and cello, with soloists Charlotte Potgieter, violin and Clara Hooyberg, cello. The two vocal soloists were Lisa-Jean Lorenz and André Howard. The cost of hiring the orchestral musicians for the Brahms orchestra plus the four soloists made it an expensive concert and, in order to reduce costs, the choir experimented with one pre-concert rehearsal with orchestra and soloists instead of the usual two. While the Brahms concert returned a surplus of R490, it was felt that for future concerts, two orchestral rehearsals were essential to ensure a confident performance by the singers.

The choir's last outing in 1991 was to sing the Te Deum by Berlioz with the combined Transvaal Philharmonic Orchestra (previously the PACT orchestra) and the National Orchestra, conducted by Gabor Ötvös. The Bach Choir joined the SABC Choir and the Auckland Park Preparatory School girls' choir. The concert was performed in Johannesburg and Pretoria and marked the farewell to Gabor Ötvös, who was principal conductor to both orchestras. The Johannesburg performance was broadcast live, while that in Pretoria was televised live.

During the year, the choir had enrolled 15 new singers and the number of members totalled 102. Choir funds had increased by R7000. There was some criticism about the ladies' concert dress which consisted of long black skirts and plain white blouses. The plainness of the blouses caused some unhappiness and a subcommittee was formed to recommend a new, more decorative design.

 

 

 

 

 

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1993

In the history of the Johannesburg Bach Choir, there are some concerts that remain in the memory as outstanding performances _ the first time the B minor Mass was sung in 1976, and the Mozart Requiem conducted by John Mitchell in 1978, to name only two. In May 1993, the choir performed Mendelssohn's Oratorio Elijah which proved to be a splendid accomplishment. John Fletcher sang the role of Elijah with great conviction. The other soloists, who were in top form, were Sally du Randt (soprano), Margi Nel (alto), and Kobie van Rensburg (tenor). Also in top form was conductor, Colin Yorke, and the orchestra led by Annie Kossmann. Possibly because of the drama of the choruses or the potency of the text, the choir became inspired by the work and sang accordingly. Writing in the Star, the critic Paul Boekkooi said:

"Mendelssohn's Elijah, in the right hands, is a masterpiece and Johannesburg audiences who follow their Bach Choir concerts were tonight reminded of this unmistakable fact…this was a wonderful opportunity to salute the choir's spirit and enterprise."

In August, Colin Yorke was forced to relinquish his duties as choirmaster due to his radio work, but continued to act as conductor. The task of rehearsing and training the choir was accepted by the accompanist Craig Tocher.

In October, the choir and orchestra gave another City Hall concert, consisting of works by Bach and Handel. The choir sang Bach's Magnificat and Handel's four `Coronation' Anthems. Craig Tocher was the soloist in Handel's Organ Concerto in F. This concert was not as well attended as expected and resulted in a loss of R2000.

 

 

 

 

 

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Douglas Reid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1994

During 1994, the Johannesburg Bach Choir celebrated thirty years of existence, gave two concerts in the Johannesburg City Hall and lost the services of its choirmaster, conductor and chairman.

Choirmaster Craig Tocher obtained a scholarship to study in America. He was replaced by Shirley Woods, who many years earlier had accompanied the choir at rehearsals. Shirley was now an established piano and singing teacher, and had trained a church choir, so was well suited to take over as choirmaster.

Colin Yorke conducted the first concert on 21 March, which consisted of Mozart's Requiem, the Magnificat by Pergolesi and the Serenade for String Orchestra by Dag Wiren. Ticket prices were R27-50 and R17-50, the programme cost R3-00. The concert was well attended and a surplus of R3500 was recorded.

Shortly after this concert, Colin Yorke announced with regret that he would be unable to continue, as he wanted to return to London.

The choir had planned to perform Bach's Christmas Oratorio in November as a thirtieth anniversary concert and rehearsals started under Shirley Woods before a new conductor was found.

Getting an experienced choral conductor at short notice was almost impossible, so the choir was very fortunate when Professor Douglas Reid, the head of the music at UNISA, made himself available.

Douglas Reid, far from being solely an academic, was a practising choral conductor and had recently formed the UNISA Choir and Orchestra. He was a graduate of the universities of the Witwatersrand, Cambridge and Cape Town. He had previously conducted the Wits University Choir and opera productions there, as well as the St Stithian's Singers. Some members of the choir would

 

 

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have rehearsed Carmina Burana under Douglas Reid in 1981 when the Johannesburg Bach Choir and St Stithian's Singers joined together in performances conducted by Maurice Handford.

At the Annual General Meeting held on 20 June, Ken Fuller, the Chairman, reported on the state of the choir as follows:

• There were 110 singing members

• 73 were present at the AGM

• The choir's funds amounted to R64,000. Although a loss of R6000 had been sustained on the 1993 concerts, this amount had been recouped from sponsor support

• The departure of Colin Yorke and Craig Tocher was noted with regret and both were thanked for their contributions to the choir's musical achievements

• Members of the choir were informed of the appointment of Professor Douglas Reid.

The Chairman advised members of his decision to resign for business and personal reasons. He had occupied the chair since 1974 and felt that the direction of the choir should now pass to another.

The meeting elected the following members to the committee:

Chairman                                David Kinghorn

Treasurer                               Stephen Whiteley

Secretary                                Kathy Whiteley

Membership Secretary          Inge Fuller

Soprano Representatives      Pam Werrell,

                                                Gabriella Broccardo

Alto Representatives             Roberta Welch, Anne Henderson,

                                                Maya Ingwersen

Tenor Representatives          Don Macey,

                                                Ilario Broccardo

Bass Representatives           Reiner Fossati,

                                                Uwe Niederheitmann

 

 

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The new Chairman expressed the thanks of the Choir to Ken Fuller, who was later presented with piano scores of some of J.S. Bach's keyboard music.

Douglas Reid conducted the thirtieth anniversary concert, Bach's Christmas Oratorio, performed in the Johannesburg City Hall on 14 November. Vocal soloists were Hilary Falkow-Friedland (soprano), Margi Nel (contralto), Wilhelm Theunissen (tenor) and Eric Visser (bass).

Paul Boekkooi, writing in the Johannesburg Star, described the occasion as:

"Promising first concert for Douglas Reid

The crispness in attack and overall tonal variety, resonance and balance has improved considerably."

The concert was well attended and a profit of R6000 was made.

There was some dissatisfaction with the administration of the Johannesburg City Hall. Half an hour before the concert was due to start it was discovered that too few seats had been placed in the hall for the audience and the City Hall staff were not available to bring in extra chairs. The problem was solved by the male members of the choir in their shirtsleeves. This unaccustomed exercise no doubt warmed them up admirably for their singing. The hall where the after-concert party was held had not been cleaned and the underground parking was unsatisfactory. A letter of complaint was addressed to the City Hall requesting a refund for poor service.

 

 

 

 

 

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Part 3

1995-2000

Singing in the New South Africa

The previous year saw the first all-race democratic elections in South Africa, the election of Nelson Mandela as President and the establishment of black majority rule. The social and cultural scene was changing rapidly. `Culture' was now being qualified as Eurocentric or Afrocentric, and the relevance of the European classical tradition of all forms of art, including music, was being questioned. These concepts initially had no effect on the Johannesburg Bach Choir or its plans for future concerts. However, there was a disconcerting rumour that the SA Broadcasting Corporation would now devote more resources to broadcasting and producing programmes in African languages and it would no longer be prepared to support the National Orchestra, which might be disbanded. The possible loss of experienced orchestral players was a new problem for the Bach Choir management team.

The new chairman, David Kinghorn, had been on the committee since 1984, first as a bass representative and then as Treasurer. Many of the committee had been members for a long time, so the new team was well qualified to ensure the continued smooth running of the choir _ the main function being to plan and organise concerts. Usually after four or five months of rehearsal, a public concert would be given, the culmination of all the effort of learning the music and an opportunity for members to perform before an audience. A public performance is the most important event in the choir's life. Even with experience, concerts are not easy to organise and promote. Much planning is required to co-ordinate the activities of soloists, orchestral players, singers, ushers, programme sellers, and refreshment vendors, as well as pre-concert arrangements

 

 

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concerning hall bookings, publicity and ticket sales. Although all committee members are involved, the handling of ticket sales is particularly onerous and unrewarding, and this is still the task of Reiner Fossati. His skill and dedication to this job are much appreciated, as are the contributions of the then choir secretary,

Kathy Whiteley, and the scores librarian, Henry Blagden.

1995

The choir was settling down to its new conductor, Douglas Reid, who was also involved with the UNISA Choir. In May the Johannesburg Bach Choir combined with the UNISA Choir and orchestra under the direction of Douglas Reid to present an all-Beethoven concert in both the Johannesburg City Hall and in Pretoria at UNISA. The main work was the Choral Fantasia for solo piano, chorus and orchestra, with Anneke Lamont as piano soloist. Two other works were performed:

`Calm sea and prosperous voyage' for choir and orchestra

`Christ on the Mount of Olives', an oratorio for vocal soloists, choir and orchestra. The soloists were Hilary Falkow-Friedland, George Pretorius ( who deputised for George Kok) and Eric Visser.

In April the choir joined forces with other choirs to perform Handel's Messiah under the baton of Weiss Doubell. The concert was held at night in the newly opened Sandton Square. The pre-concert rehearsal in the afternoon took place in the empty basement parking which provided a dramatic acoustic _ the Hallelujah chorus continued long after the choir stopped singing!

When a second City Hall concert was being planned for the end of the year, it became evident that Douglas Reid would be unable to continue with the choir as a result of his musical commitments in Pretoria, which were closely linked to his position at UNISA.

 

 

 

 

 

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An invitation had been received from the Freemasons to sing and provide an orchestra at a centenary celebration of the Grand Lodge of the Transvaal in September. The choir accepted, and Douglas Reid promised to make himself available to conduct, but regretted that thereafter he would no longer be able to train and conduct the choir. The Freemasons' ceremony was held at the World Trade Centre at Kempton Park and attended by many distinguished Masons and guests from around the world.

The music, which was performed at intervals during the ceremony, was as follows:

Overture: Ode to St Cecilia's Day             Handel

Anthem: `Zadok the priest'                        Handel

Anthem: `I was glad'                                   Parry

Anthem: `The King shall rejoice'               Handel

Chorus: `The Heavens are telling'             Haydn

Two Masonic Cantatas                               Mozart

Hymn: `All people that on earth do

dwell' (Old Hundredth)                               arr. Vaughan Williams

National Anthems

While the choral programme offered no serious challenges to the singers, those who took part were intrigued by the Masonic ritual and insignia and found the proceedings most enjoyable.

The committee felt that, even without a conductor, a City Hall concert should take place in November, relying on Shirley Woods to train the singers. It was hoped that one of the choir's former conductors would be prepared to conduct the concert, and Weiss Doubell, John Mitchell and Robin Walton were to be approached. Before this happened, however, Colin Yorke, now in England, offered to return to Johannesburg to conduct the proposed City Hall concert, exchanging his conductor's fee for an air ticket.

 

 

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Colin's offer was accepted with some relief and he returned in October.

At the end of October, the Bach Choir joined forces with other choirs at the National Eisteddfod held at Roodepoort and again performed Handel's Messiah, conducted by Weiss Doubell.

The last concert of 1995 held in the Johannesburg City Hall consisted of music by Mozart, conducted by Colin Yorke:

`Ave Verum Corpus'

Three Masonic Cantatas:

`Dir, Seele des Weltalls'

`Lasst uns mit geschlungnen Händen'

`Laut verkünde unsre Freude'

Mass in C minor

The vocal soloists were Hilary Falkow-Friedland, Ruth Karius, Wilhelm Theunissen and Eric Visser. Tickets cost R35 and R25 and the programme cost R5. Perhaps reassured by the return of Colin Yorke, the choir performed well and the concert was a great success.

1996

The Annual General Meeting held in July reflected a stable and well-run organisation. The Choir boasted 104 members, its musical director Colin Yorke had decided to stay and work in Johannesburg, and choir funds amounted to R75,800, the same as the previous year. Although some money had been lost on public concerts, the loss had been made up from sponsors and fees for participating in other musical events and singing in advertising commercials. Subscriptions from members came to R4000, total income was R18,000 and total expenses were R17,800.

 

 

 

 

 

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Colin Yorke conducted the choir's first concert in 1996 in the Johannesburg City Hall on 20th May. The programme was:

Motets:           `Ecce Saccerdos'              Bruckner

                        `Afferentur regi'

Gloria                                                       Rutter

Stabat Mater                                             Rossini

Soloists were Hilary Falkow-Friedland, Elizabeth Frandsen, Jannie Moolman and Eric Visser.

The work by Rutter was new to the Choir. Writing in the Star the critic Paul Boekkooi described the concert as a "somewhat odd but nevertheless stimulating mix of works by the ever-aspiring Johannesburg Bach Choir…"

"Rossini's Stabat Mater was by far the most satisfying part of the programme. The Bach Choir sang with a lot of spirit and characterised each of the choral pieces with real feeling… the overall effect of the singing was quite exquisite, especially in the a capella items."

In October the choir was persuaded to join Heinz Rosner's Deutsches Orchester to perform a series of popular vocal gems in the City Hall in a programme `Musical Diamonds' comprising melodies from Verdi, Weber, Zeller and Johann Strauss. Not all members were enthusiastic, but most enjoyed the change from sacred music.

In November the choir sang Haydn's `Nelson' Mass, Bach's Cantata `Wachet Auf' and Vivaldi's Gloria in the Johannesburg City Hall. Colin Yorke conducted, the orchestra was led by Annie Kossmann, and the soloists were Hilary Falkow-Friedland, Margi Nel, Jannie Moolman and Eric Visser.

 

 

 

 

 

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At the choir's Christmas party, the committee again performed one of Ken Fuller's comedies written for the occasion and appropriately entitled "Monkey Business". Fortunately newspaper critics were not invited. The custom of committee members providing entertainment at Christmas originated when John Mitchell was conductor and a suitable adaptation of "The twelve days of Christmas" was rendered.

1997

The choir performed three concerts this year, each at a different venue. The first was at the Standard Bank Arena when the eminent British conductor Sir David Willcocks conducted Verdi's Requiem. Members of his London Bach Choir, who were on tour, joined the SABC choir, the Bonisudumo Choristers, the Soweto Songsters and the Johannesburg Bach Choir to sing the choruses. Sibongile Khumalo and George Stevens were local soloists, while Maureen Brathwaite and Gordon Christie came from England with Sir David. The concert, which was financially assisted by a number of local and international sponsors, including MTN and the British Council, attracted an audience of 4000. Performers, audience and critics were all highly impressed with the conducting skills and warm personality of Sir David.

Shortly after this concert it was learned that the SA Broadcasting Corporation would no longer support the National Orchestra and a fund was set up to ensure its future. The Johannesburg Bach Choir donated R4000 to this orchestral fund.

Sports and sweat shirts in contemporary styles, prominently displaying the choir's logo and name, were produced for choir members and became very popular.

 

 

 

 

 

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As 1997 marked the hundredth anniversary of Johannes Brahms's death, the choir presented an all-Brahms concert in the Johannesburg City Hall in June. The programme was the Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny) and the famous German Requiem. Colin Yorke conducted with soloists Elizabeth Frandsen and Eric Visser.

The choir's minute book reveals the committee's concern about the suitability of the Johannesburg City Hall as a concert venue. Hire costs had increased, while municipal services had deteriorated and the centre of Johannesburg was increasingly confirming its reputation as an area unsafe for visitors at night. Committee members felt that alternative concert venues should be considered. The choir's choral repertoire was ideal for performing in churches, provided there was sufficient room for choir, orchestra and audience. The Holy Trinity Church in Braamfontein was celebrating its centenary with a series of concerts and it seemed appropriate for the choir to present the final concert of 1997 at this church. The programme consisted of two contrasting choral works, J.S. Bach's Motet `Jesu meine Freude' (Jesu, priceless treasure) and Vaughan Williams's Mass in G minor for double choir. Both works are intended to be sung unaccompanied and provide a challenge for the choral ensemble. At the concert, the choir and soloists were supported by an organ continuo played by Dianne Coutts. The conductor felt that the singing was not up to the choir's usually high standard and it was agreed that all members should be individually re-auditioned early the following year.

 

 

 

 

 

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1998

The prospect of an audition was greeted with little enthusiasm by members, but all except two sopranos survived the ordeal. The soprano section of the choir needed strengthening and twenty ladies requested to join, following an advertising campaign, of whom twelve were accepted as new members.

The Johannesburg Bach Choir was approached by a German choir, The Leipziger Vocalensemble, which proposed visiting South Africa. The two choirs eventually collaborated in singing Bach's Mass in B minor under the baton of the Leipzig choir's conductor Professor Georg Biller. Professor Biller, who was recognised internationally as a choral conductor, had been appointed Kantor of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig in 1992 _ the sixteenth in succession to J.S. Bach himself. His choir of 45 singers were former members of the famous Thomanerchor. The Johannesburg Bach Choir organised the concert, which took place in the Wits University Great Hall on 19 October with local soloists Renette Bouwer, Ann-Jeanette Benson, Wilhelm Theunissen and Eric Visser and the National Orchestra. The concert attracted a large appreciative audience. Paul Boekkooi, writing in the Star, paid tribute to Biller's ability as a conductor, the splendid work of the soloists and the well-balanced contribution of both choirs _ he also mentioned that the concert must have provided an uplifting experience for members of the Johannesburg Bach Choir.

Following on the success of the Verdi Requiem in 1997, Richard Cock, now musical director of the National Orchestra and choir, persuaded Sir David Willcocks to return to South Africa to conduct Carl Orff's Carmina Burana and Borodin's Polovtsian Dances.

 

 

 

 

 

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The concert took place at the Johannesburg Standard Bank Arena on 15 November and shortly afterwards Sir David wrote to the chairman and members of the Bach Choir from his home in Cambridge, England:

"Dear Dave, . . . Together with the Symphonic Choir of Johannesburg and the Durban Symphonic Choir, your members made a really splendid choral force which was a joy to conduct.

As on the occasion of the 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 feel sure that the members of all three choirs will have felt, as I did, that our two soloists, Sanet Allen and André Howard, made a valuable contribution to the performance and that the NSO excelled in all departments as did the children's choir. I hope that the Johannesburg Bach Choir will flourish in the years ahead.

Yours sincerely

David."

Choir members subscriptions were raised to R90 a year to provide for a security guard at the weekly rehearsal venue. Two members' cars and a car radio had been stolen while rehearsals were in progress.

In July and August, the Hampshire County Youth Orchestra from England toured many cities in South Africa. The Bach Choir and the Symphonic Choir of Johannesburg combined in a performance of Mahler's `Resurrection' Symphony (No. 2) at the Johannesburg City Hall, conducted by Nicholas Wilks, the youth orchestra's musical director.

Michael Traub, writing in the Citizen, described the concert as a "Tremendous experience" and continued:

 

 

 

 

 

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"One does not often get an opportunity to hear the Resurrection Symphony, so it was all the more regrettable that the audience was small. The music was a tremendous experience from start to finish. The singing was attractive in tone and expression whether choral or solo and the two soloists, Ghislaine Morgan from England and our own Hanneli Rupert, matched and complemented each other admirably."

1999

"Quantum leap for Bach Choir", wrote Paul Boekkooi in the Star, referring to the choir's first concert, performed at the Bryanston Catholic Church on Sunday, 23 May and conducted by Colin Yorke and Dario Broccardo. The programme, ideally suited to performance in church, consisted of twentieth-century religious choral works:

Little requiem for

   Father Malachy Lynch          John Tavener (born 1941)

Requiem                                    John Rutter (born 1945)

Mass                                          Dario Broccardo (born 1975)

                                                   (This first public performance was

                                                   conducted by the composer)

Boekkooi's critique gave credit to the Bach Choir for tackling music very different from its usual repertoire and noted that a younger audience had been attracted. The choir had acquitted itself well with "unfailing beautiful tone, but with intonation that often wavered and diction which could have been clearer."

Dario Broccardo was congratulated on his refreshing outlook.

"This score is a catalogue of riches for a composer so young. If in some of the solos, Renette Bouwer sounded a bit fragile, it fitted the poignancy of the work and Broccardo was able to inspire the choir to clear diction and control over word colouring."

 

 

 

 

 

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Finding this church venue much to its liking, the Bach Choir performed Handel's Messiah in the Bryanston Catholic Church on 15 November to a full audience that gave the conductor, choir, orchestra and soloists a standing ovation. Colin Yorke conducted, with solists Marita Botha, Linette van der Merwe, Nicholas Nicolaidis and Eric Visser and an orchestra from members of the Johannesburg Philharmonic, led by Annie Kossmann.

2000

The year 2000 marked the 250th anniversary of the death of Johann Sebastian Bach and the Johannesburg Bach Choir commemorated the event with an all-Bach concert on 10 May. Once again the choir performed in the Bryanston Catholic Church under the direction of its conductor Colin Yorke. The programme consisted of:

Cantata, `Christ lag in Todesbanden', a work sung at the choir's   

   first public concert in 1964

`Brandenburg' Concerto No. 5

Magnificat

The vocal soloists were Marita Botha, Margi Nel, Nicholas Nicolaidis and Eric Visser. In the concerto, the solists were Dianne Coutts (harpsichord), Annie Kossmann (violin) and Helen Vosloo (flute).

Spurred on by the success of their Messiah concert the previous November, the choir decided to invite other singers and choirs to bring their scores and join in one rehearsal and a performance of Handel's most popular vocal work. This venture, advertised as a `Bring it and sing it Messiah', took place at the Rosebank Union Church on 14 October. 150 singers joined the Bach Choir and professional soloists for the pre-concert rehearsal and the concert, which attracted an an audience of 500. The proceeds, in excess of

 

 

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costs, were donated to the now-independent Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, formerly the National Orchestra.

For the last concert of the millennium, the choir performed Mozart's Requiem and `Ave Verum Corpus' in the Bryanston Catholic Church in November, conducted by Colin Yorke with the same soloists as in the May concert. These most moving and beautiful works attracted a larger audience than the church could comfortably accommodate and were extremely well received. As was by now customary, the audience and performers were offered refreshments by the church at the end of the concert, and many of the audience took the opportunity to congratulate the conductor, soloists, choir members and orchestral players. In thanking the Bryanston Catholic Church, the chairman said the Bach Choir would look forward to performing future concerts there.

At the end of the year 2000, the Johannesburg Bach Choir maintains its reputation as a leading choral group performing classical music in Johannesburg. The choir has an active membership of more than 80, an extensive repertoire which is still being enlarged, a healthy bank balance, a charismatic conductor and the undiminished resolve to continue singing to large public audiences.

Live performances of classical music continue to attract fairly large audiences, as is evident from the recently well-attended concerts of the independent Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, the Symphonic Choir and the Johannesburg Bach Choir. Concerts, no matter however well planned and performed, often result in financial losses and the choir is deeply grateful to its sponsors, past and present for their financial support.

 

 

 

 

 

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Since it was founded, the choir has demonstrated its will to survive and remain independent, by presenting well-rehearsed and professionally performed public concerts. Much credit must go to the various choirmasters, conductors and committee members who have all worked hard to make this possible. However, the contribution of choir members, together with their enthusiastic support, is undoubtedly the single most important ingredient in the choir's success.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Choir Membership, December 2000

Sopranos

Altos

Tenors

Basses

Janet Archibald

Carol Archibald

Ilario Broccardo

Martin Behr

Alison Austin

Priscilla Blake

George Bromley

Henry Blagden

Diana Britten

Jessica Bolton

Paul Fatti

Bob Charlton

Gabriella Broccardo

Jenny Burton

Jan Hangelbroek

Leigh Evans   

Eleanor-Mary Cadell

Mary Carson

Bill Henderson

Reiner Fossati

Deirdre Campbell

Carol Cauldwell

Jonathan Kerr

Ken Fuller

Hilary Carman

Joy Eagle

Peter Kerr

Bernhard Hefftner

Norma Chislett

Ingeborg Feldmann

Don Macey

Dieter Heiss

Adri Harvey-Melchior

Inge Fuller

Kevin Martin

David James

Judith Hawarden

Yvonne Garson

Herwig Martinek

Dave Kinghorn

Ann Hoffman

Sue Harris

Peter Praschma

Keith Manchester

Judith Kinnaird

Rita Hefftner

Mike Romancia

Mike Martinson

Lydia Lotz

Ann Henderson

Jan Smit

Evan McGillivray

Elizabeth Macey

Annegret Hohls

Paul Vermaak

Des Millward

Jenny Maimane

Marge Hughes

Stephen Whiteley

Paul Nex

Jeanne McKie-Thomson

Laïla Hugow

Heinrich Wichern

Michael Sipser

Hannelie Paterson

Maya Ingwersen

 

Barry Sweet

Vanessa Pikor

Jenepher James

 

 

Maureen Pinchin

Anthea Jeffery

 

 

Anna Ramsay

Susanne Kaufmann

 

 

Janine Roux

Hilde Loveland

 

 

Gisela Vetter

Flo Morley

 

 

Pamela Werrell

Sheila Parram

 

 

Kathy Whiteley

Diana Serrurier

 

 

Lucy Wiseman

Hildegard Stielau

 

 

Shirley Woods

Sophie Turner

 

 

Anne Young

Robbie Welch

 

 

Names of committee members are in italics

 

 

 

 

 

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Continue to Part 4

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