Ted Flath, Founder

History of the California Bach Society


The California Bach Society was founded by Edwin Flath in 1971. He began with choruses in Berkeley and Palo Alto, eventually expanding to San Francisco as well. Under his leadership, the Society produced many performances of Bach's Passions, motets, cantatas, the B Minor Mass, and works by other composers. The Society was the first chorus not associated with the SF Symphony to perform in Davies Symphony Hall, presenting J.S. Bach's Mass in B minor in 1981. The Society performed there seven more times through 1984, including a commissioned piece dedicated to the memory of Calvin Simmons.

After Mr. Flath's death in 1987, the California Bach Society reorganized under the direction of Edward Bolkovac. Beginning with twelve dedicated singers in a living room, Dr. Bolkovac rebuilt the choir as a smaller chamber ensemble, more in keeping with the forces Bach used. Under Dr. Bolkovac's direction, CBS continued its tradition of fine Baroque performances. In 1994 it produced a commercial recording entitled Musica Barocca, which showcased works by the Roman masters, Caldara, Carissimi, and Frescobaldi, and featured soprano Judith Nelson and organist Ron McKean.

When the Society found itself in need of a new director in 1998, we turned to Warren Stewart. Already noted for his innovative programming with the ensemble Magnificat, Mr. Stewart brought his commitment to recreations of original performance context. He also introduced professional section leaders who served as soloists for the performances. His first concert in December 1998, was a reconstruction of the First Sunday in Advent as it would have been celebrated during Bach's tenure in Leipzig. Under Mr. Stewart's direction, the Society performed Bach's Mass in B Minor at Grace Cathedral, the Ascension Oratorio to a sold-out audience at the 2000 Berkeley Early Music Festival, as well as Bach's St. John Passion, and Mozart's Requiem. In an interesting departure from the Baroque era, the Society performed Terry Riley's Sun Rings at the 2004 San Francisco Jazz Festival. 

Since Mr. Stewart's departure in 2005, the California Bach Society has taken a new direction once again, with two singer/conductors. Dr. Suzanne Elder Wallace, former alto section leader under Mr. Stewart, directed the Society for one season. In August 2006, the Society was pleased to introduce our new Artistic Director, Dr. Paul Flight, a noted countertenor, choral conductor, and educator.

Our first season with Dr. Flight saw a resurgence of attendance and critical acclaim for the California Bach Society. A fine voice coach, Dr. Flight has attracted talented new singers, and his sensitive direction has brought new definition to the choir. A recent reviewer from San Francisco Classical Voice wrote "Paul Flight, CBS's artistic director, deserves much credit for bringing consistency to his choir's sound." The Society was noted for "a fine sense of dynamic shading and sensitivity to varied homophonic and contrapuntal textures." We look forward to a continued, successful collaboration with Dr. Flight.

Written by Helen Barrios and Carol Loden.