The Society was founded back in 1922 to give annual Holy Week performances of Bach's St. Matthew Passion in the great church of Naarden. Those concerts quickly became a beloved national institution and now attract 12,000 audience members each year.
Yet the Society itself, happily, does not suffer from institutional inertia. Back in the 1920s and '30s, of course, it performed Bach's sacred music with a symphony orchestra and a big oratorio choir. Since Jos van Veldhoven became artistic director in 1983, the Netherlands Bach Society has switched to period instruments, expanded its repertoire to include Bach's contemporaries and predecessors, established a satellite ensemble (the Cappella Figuralis) to focus on 17th-century music, and made a slew of recordings, tours and television appearances.
In fact, at a performance of the B minor Mass in the Dutch city of Kampen on Monday (April 16) — a send-off concert for the U.S. tour — van Veldhoven received a royal decoration, becoming a Knight of the Order of the Dutch Lion.
For the Mass, van Veldhoven conducts the Society's orchestra and a core group of five soloists — sopranos Dorothee Mields and Johanette Zomer, countertenor Matthew White, tenor Charles Daniels and bass Peter Harvey — who sing all of the choruses as well as the arias and duets. In addition, there are ten ripieno singers (think of them as the backup vocalists) who join in at key points in many (but not all) of the choruses, following a common German Baroque practice.
The tour comes on the heels of a handsome new CD release of the Mass by van Veldhoven and the Society with the same soloists. The Dutch label Channel Classics has issued the Mass in a two-disc box set, with a book full of handsome reproductions of religious art from the Catharijneconvent museum in Utrecht.
The itinerary for this U.S. tour is:
April 18 - New York City - Metropolitan Museum of Art
April 19 - Ann Arbor, MI - St. Francis of Assisi Church
April 21 - Berkeley, CA - First Congregational Church
April 22 - Seattle - Town Hall
April 24 - Richmond, VA - Modlin Center for the Arts
More information on the concert tour, the B minor Mass CD release and the Netherlands Bach Society in general is available at www.bachvereniging.nl.