Choir History

Founded as the Aberdeen Bach Society by Charles Sanford Terry in 1913, Aberdeen Bach Choir was reconstituted in 1956 under conductor Willan Swainson. Beginning with a core of twelve members, the choir now consists of more than a hundred singers and usually performs two main recitals a year, at least one of which normally features a work by J.S. Bach. In 2006, the Choir celebrated its 50th Anniversary since reconstitution and 2016 marks the 60th Anniversary.

The impetus for its formation began with the retirement from the Music Department of Aberdeen University of Willan Swainson, distinguished academic, organist and conductor, and the desire of a number of people who had sung under his direction in the University Recital Choir and the Oratorio Choir to continue working with him. Coincidentally, Mr Swainson’s farewell concert with the university choirs and orchestra was the first work performed in the 60th Anniversary season - the Mass in B minor by J.S. Bach. The first performance by the new Aberdeen Bach Choir was the Bach Christmas Oratorio and took place in St Machar’s Cathedral on December 17th 1956.

Aberdeen Bach Choir has singers from different professions - as well as having various members who are connected to music through teaching, many others enjoy singing in the choir.

Usually, professional soloists are imported for the main concerts, but in addition to this various members of the choir have coped admirably with the demands of solo singing.

St Machar's Cathedral in Old Aberdeen was the venue for the first performance of a Bach work in Aberdeen (in 1912) and has been our spiritual home for the last 60 years. It is a very special place in which to sing, and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to do so twice a year. The choir normally holds its regular performances twice yearly in April and December but over the years it has also performed in other venues in the city and beyond. These include Brechin Cathedral, Greyfriars Church and St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, the Church of the Holy Rude in Stirling and St Columba's Church in London. In Aberdeen, performances have been held in the Mitchell Hall, both St Andrew’s and St Mary’s Cathedrals and, singing in Aberdeen Sinfonietta concerts, in the Music Hall.

Patrons

To mark our 60th Anniversary, the choir has followed the example of many other musical ensembles and appointed patrons. We are delighted that two very distinguished musicians, leaders in their own fields, have accepted our invitation to fulfil that role: Professor John Butt O.B.E. and Dame Emma Kirkby.

John Butt is a distinguished Bach scholar and author of a number of books on Bach and the music of the Baroque period. He is the Musical Director of the Dunedin Consort with whom he has made a number of highly acclaimed and award winning recordings including all the major works of JS Bach. He is also a Principal Artist with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.  

In 2011 he was awarded the Royal Academy of Music/Kohn Foundation’s Bach Prize, for his work in the performance and scholarship of Bach. In 2013 John Butt was awarded the medal of the Royal College of Organists and the OBE for his services to music in Scotland.

An internationally renowned soprano whose distinctive voice is particularly suited to her specialism in early music, Emma Kirkby is very popular with Aberdeen audiences where she has performed numerous times in the Music Hall, at Aberdeen University and twice in recent years in St Machar’s Cathedral with Aberdeen Bach Choir. She was a founder member of the Taverner Choir and in 1973 began a long association with the Consort of Musicke. She has made well over 100 recordings. 

In 2007 she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire and then in 2010 she was awarded the Queen’s Medal for Music an honour awarded for her “contribution to the nation’s musical life”.

She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Music by Aberdeen University in 2012, where she is a Visiting Fellow in Performance.

Conductors and Musical Directors

Willan Swainson 1956 - 1957
John B. Dalby 1957 - 1960
Graham R. Wiseman 1960 - 1967
David Murray 1967 - 1969
James G. Lobban 1969 - 2006
Gordon Jack 2006 - 2010 (Musical Director)
Peter Parfitt 2010 + (Musical Director)

Early history of Bach performances in Aberdeen