The Bach Choir of Bethlehem
In 2018, the Oldest Bach Choir in the United States, The Bach Choir of Bethlehem celebrates its 120th birthday season. The choir gave the first complete U.S. performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor in 1900 and Christmas Oratorio in 1901. Since its founding in 1898, the now famous choir has attracted thousands of visitors from across the United States and beyond to the annual Bethlehem Bach Festival in Pennsylvania. Since 1983, under Greg Funfgeld’s direction, the 85 dedicated volunteer singers of The Bach Choir of Bethlehem, performing with the Bach Festival Orchestra and distinguished soloists, has received international acclaim. Programming has expanded to 32 concerts and educational programs per year for an audience of more than 22,000. Venues have included the Herkulessaal at Munich’s Royal Residence and the Thomaskirche, Bach’s church in Leipzig, as part of the 1995 Germany tour; The Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall as part of the choir’s centennial celebration in 1998–2000; the BBC Proms in London’s Royal Albert Hall as part of an eight-concert tour of the United Kingdom in 2003; and Cleveland’s Severance Hall for the 75th anniversary of the Baldwin-Wallace Bach Festival in 2007. In September 2011, The Bach Choir represented the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in a 10th-anniversary musical observance of 9/11 in New York City, giving concerts in Saint Paul’s Chapel and Trinity Church, Wall Street.
The choir performed Mendelssohn’s Elijah at Strathmore in the Washington D.C. area in 2013 and the new opera Young Meister Bach in 2014 for the 250th anniversary of the German Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The choir has released nine recordings, including most recently Saint John Passion (2012) and A Child’s Christmas in Bethlehem (2013). The choir has been featured on National Public Radio’s Performance Today and Prairie Home Companion, Deutsche Radio, the BBC World Service, CBS Sunday Morning, and the Emmy Award-winning PBS documentary on the choir, Make a Joyful Noise.
The choir has been recognized for its outstanding educational outreach programs (Bach at Noon, Bach to School, and its interdisciplinary Family Concerts) by annual grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (2011–2018). The J.S. Bach Foundation in Switzerland named The Bach Choir of Bethlehem as the first U.S. recipient of its annual award to a single Bach organization, recognizing The Bach Choir’s outstanding work in Bach performance and education for young people (2012). Mr. Bach Comes to Call, a film based on the acclaimed Classical Kids CD, was co-produced by The Bach Choir of Bethlehem and is distributed internationally by The Children’s Group.
In July 2018, our affiliated Bel Canto Youth Chorus, currently celebrating its 25th year under the direction of founder Joy Hirokawa, officially merged with The Bach Choir of Bethlehem. Both organizations are looking to increase their impact in training the next generation of choral singers and cultivating a life-long passion for the choral art.
celebrated hist 35th season as artistic director and conductor of The Bach Choir of Bethlehem in 2018 with milestone projects including this recording of works by Bach and Handel. Mr. Funfgeld has expanded the programs of The Bach Choir beyond the annual Bach Festival into a year-round season of 32 concerts and educational programs with an audience of more than 22,000.
Mr. Funfgeld led the choir on two major concert tours – to Germany in 1995 and to the United Kingdom in 2003, including a performance for the BBC Proms in London’s Royal Albert Hall. He also directed the choir’s centennial performances at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall in 1998–2000. In 2011, Mr. Funfgeld directed the choir in New York City performances at Saint Paul’s Chapel and Trinity Church, Wall Street as part of a series of concerts entitled Remember to Love, presented in observance of the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Commissioned works during Mr. Funfgeld’s tenure include Libby Larsen’s cantata I It Am – The Shewing of Julian of Norwich, co-commissioned with the BBC Proms; Stephen Paulus’s A Dream of Time, commissioned in honor of Funfgeld’s 25th anniversary with The Bach Choir; and Young Meister Bach, a one act comic opera by Chuck Holdeman with a libretto by Bill Bly. Under Mr. Funfgeld’s leadership, the choir has released 13 recordings and co-produced two films – the PBS documentary Make a Joyful Noise, and the internationally distributed Classical Kids’ DVD, Mr. Bach Comes to Call.
Mr. Funfgeld is the architect and director of the choir’s outstanding educational outreach programs, including Bach to School, Bach at Noon, and the annual interdisciplinary Family Concert. These programs have been awarded an annual grant from the National Endowment for the Arts since 2011 and received an international award from the J.S. Bach Foundation, Switzerland in 2012.
Mr. Funfgeld is a member of the advisory board of The American Bach Society. He also served as the director of music at First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem for 40 years until 2016. He is a 1976 graduate of Westminster Choir College, where he studied under Dr. Joseph Flummerfelt. In 1986, he received the Alumni Merit Award for excellence in musical performance. Mr. Funfgeld was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Lehigh University in 2007 and from Moravian College in 2018, in recognition of his musical accomplishments locally, nationally, and internationally.