Toronto Bach Choir/Toronto Bach Society

Toronto Bach Choir. Name used by various choirs in Toronto 1922-89.

The best-known Toronto Bach Choir was the performing ensemble of the Bach Society of Toronto; it was formed officially in 1933. (A program dated 12 Dec 1922 from Jenkins Galleries in Toronto announced the participation of "members of the Bach Choir" accompanied by Reginald Stewart and Colin McPhee, but there is no further information on this earlier group.) Reginald Stewart was the Toronto Bach Choir's sole conductor (1933-41). In the program for the first concert, 27 Apr 1933, at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, the president of the organization, Victor Ross, wrote: "The need has long been felt by many music lovers of Toronto for an organization which would devote itself to the popularization of the inspiring music of Johann Sebastian Bach... The objects of the society will be to memorialize and popularize the works... by means of lectures and performances of his choral and instrumental compositions, including the performance annually by the Bach Choir of at least one major choral work."

The choir proposed to present a program of cantatas each December and the St John Passion every spring. Performances were given at Yorkminster Church, Convocation Hall (University of Toronto), or Eaton Auditorium. The choir numbered about 150 voices and was assisted by a 45-member orchestra, of which Elie Spivak was concertmaster. Among the accompanists were Helen Cherrie, D'Alton McLaughlin, Frederick Silvester, and Healey Willan. Soloists included Norman Cherrie, Hubert Eisdell, Irving Levine, Eileen Law, Frank Oldfield, Jeanne Pengelly, and Robert Reid. Lawrence Mason described a presentation of the St John Passion as a 'splendid addition to the city's major annual fixtures' and added that 'Reginald Stewart is adding more dramatic touches to the straightforward simplicity of his readings in recent years' (Toronto Globe and Mail, 17 Apr 1939). With the Promenade Symphony, the choir gave the premiere 3 Jun 1937 of Willan's Te Deum laudamus in B Flat.

The name Toronto Bach Society has since been used by two other groups. The first, founded by Udo Kasemets in 1957, comprised members of the Festival Singers of Toronto and was active until 1961 under guest conductors Elmer Iseler, Victor Feldbrill, George Little, Mario Bernardi, Ernest MacMillan, and Heinz Unger. The group performed in Toronto at Casa Loma, the North Toronto Collegiate Auditorium, and Eaton Auditorium, featuring soloists Lois Marshall, Elizabeth Benson Guy, and Glenn Gould. Conductor and organ recitalist William Wright initiated a second Toronto Bach Society in 1987, performing 1987-9 at Deer Park United Church with guest soloists Catherine Robbin, Michael Schade, and Daniel Lichti.