The Newcastle upon Tyne Bach Choir was founded in 1915 by W.G. Whittaker, the musicologist, Bach scholar, folk song collector, composer, choral arranger and conductor. He gathered a group of 24 singers to study and perform the cantatas of J.S. Bach which were almost totally unknown at the time.

Whittaker was a personal friend of many British composers, particularly Holst and Vaughan Williams, and championed their music, giving many ‘first performances outside London’. In 1924, the choir sang William Byrd’s ‘Great Service’ in St Margaret’s, Westminster, the first time it had been heard in public since the sixteenth century.

These enthusiasms still figure largely in the choir’s repertoire, making due allowance for a much larger membership which now numbers about 100 voices. Rehearsals and concerts follow the pattern of the academic year and three major concerts are given annually; one of works primarily by Bach, one a large major choral work and the third a contrasting programme which usually focuses on works by British composers.  The choir also, usually, performs a concert of Christmas music.

Over the last few years the choir has sung in Middlesbrough Cathedral, Fountains Abbey, Holy Island, Alnwick Gardens, Seahouses, Washington Old Hall as well as giving major


The Choir

performances each year in both the King’s Hall, Newcastle and Sage Gateshead. In recent years the choir has performed some major works, including Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, Verdi’s Requiem, Britten’s War Requiem and Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast in conjunction with students from Newcastle University and the University Symphony Orchestra. In November 2015 the choir celebrated its centenary with a concert in St George’s Church, Jesmond, which replicated the first performance given by the choir in 1915. In the summer of 2016 the choir joined the Städtischer Musikverein Gelsenkirchen and Gürzenich-Chor Köln for a performance of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, conducted by Christian Jeub. In March 2017 the Choir performed Bach’s St Matthew Passion in Sage One and in February 2018, Handel’s Messiah. In June 2018 the Choir was joined by Städtischer Musikverein Gelsenkirchen to sing Mendelssohn’s Elijah in Sage One and in March 2019 the Choir joined the Waynflete Singers to perform Elijah in Winchester Cathedral. In November 2019 the Choir once again joined forces with the Waynflete Singers, and the Newcastle University Symphony Orchestra, to perform Elgar’s The Kingdom in Sage One.

Throughout its history, the Newcastle Bach Choir has been based in the Music Department of what is now Newcastle University. Professor Eric Cross is the latest in a succession of distinguished Music Directors. Vaughan Williams, Edmund Rubbra and Denis Matthews have all been Presidents of the choir, a position currently held by Sir Thomas Allen, the internationally-acclaimed baritone.

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Newcastle upon Tyne Bach Choir

is a registered charity.

Charity Number: 507520

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