The Bach Society Orchestra, Harvard's premier chamber orchestra, is devoted to the study and performance of works for chamber orchestra. This includes intimate chamber pieces as well as mid-sized symphonies, taken from an eclectic set of historical periods. Each season involves several performances at Harvard, often featuring collaborations with student guest soloists or Harvard choral groups.
Popularly known as BachSoc, the Bach Society Orchestra is staffed, managed, and conducted entirely by students. Each year, the members of the orchestra select a student - always an undergraduate - to be their conductor for the following year. In turn, at the beginning of the new year the inaugurated conductor reauditions every member of the orchestra, ensuring that the quality of the orchestra remains high. BachSoc's rehearsals provide a refreshingly egalitarian ethos combined with the highest standards of musical performance.
The Bach Society Orchestra has been an official undergraduate organization of the University since the 1954-5 academic school year. At its founding, the orchestra loosely devoted itself to performing the music of J.S. Bach; since then, the repertoire has grown to span the historical continuum from baroque to the contemporary. The orchestra's annual composition and concerto competitions have become respected institutions of the Harvard music scene. Alumni include cellist Yo-Yo Ma, composers John Adams and John Harbison, conductors Alan Gilbert, Isaiah Jackson, Christopher Wilkins, Hugh Wolff, and Samuel Wong, and members of top American symphony orchestras.
An excerpt from History of Music at Harvard to 1972 by Elliott Forbes (Harvard UP: 1988) about BachSoc's beginnings:
"The 'Musical Club of Harvard University,' as it was called upon its founding in 1898, took on new life after World War II. The idea of a chamber orchestra was broached for the first time in 1947. Then in 1951 an organizational meeting of the Harvard Music Club was called to discuss the forming of a chamber chorus and orchestra. The next year a catalogue was compiled of all Harvard and Radcliffe musicians, and finally in the academic year 1954-55 were founded the Bach Society Chorus, Howard M. Brown '51, conductor, and the Bach Society Orchestra, Michael L. Greenebaum '55, conductor.
"The chorus was soon disbanded, but the Bach Society Orchestra has continued to flourish. Greenebaum continued as conductor for a second year, then as a graduate student. Starting with his successor Michael Senturia '58, who led the orchestra from 1956 to 1958, the conductor has always been an undergraduate, chosen either by an independent jury or by the orchestra members acting as a collective jury."
For more information about BachSoc's history, including a list of all reviews, relics such as posters from the early years, and a list of past music directors and their post-BachSoc endeavors, check out our history section here. More specific information about playing in the orchestra is available in the form of an FAQ found under the prefrosh section.