The Bach Aria Group (= BAG) holds the unique distinction of being the only musical organization in the world whose charter is to promote the performance and study of the music of J.S. Bach. Founded in 1946 by musicologist and philanthropist William H. Scheide, at a time when the cantata literature was known and appreciated by only a relatively small number of people, the Bach Aria Group was created to help combat the lack of awareness and appreciation. Scheide formed a 9-member ensemble of vocalists and instrumentalists to perform Bach cantata music and specifically the aria literature, which is the chamber music portion of the cantatas. In fulfilling its mission through touring, combined with the recording and broadcasting of its performances, the Bach Aria Group has enjoyed its role as a unique chamber music organization as well as a major force in developing Bach audiences around the world.
Bach's arias are unique in music literature. They challenge both the vocalist and instrumentalists with their rigorous, virtuosic demands, while at the same time eliciting highly developed ensemble skills. Divergent vocal and instrumental capabilities are pitted against one another, necessitating just the right inflection and balance of timbres to unlock the musicıs magic. In its programming policy the Bach Aria Group juxtaposes the beautiful and varied aria repertory with complete cantatas and instrumental chamber music. It is felt that by placing the arias in context with Bachs instrumental and choral pieces, all the works are illuminated.
The Group sponsored the Bach Aria Festival and Institute, an annual summer event held at the State University of New York at Stony Brook in Long Island from 1981 to 1987. The Festival was very successful, attracting some of the most gifted musicians from across the USA. The talented fellows received coaching from members of the Bach Aria Group and guest artists and then joined them in performance at Festival concerts. In addition, the most prominent Bach scholars lectured on significant topics in Bach scholarship. The public shared in the dynamics of the interchange by attending open master-classes, rehearsals, coaching sessions as well as the concerts.
The Bach tricentennial was commemorated most notably with the one-hour television program In Search of Bach, made during a summer session at the Festival, which was broadcast nationally in the summer of 1985 on PBS.
As the Bach Aria Group enters its fifth decade, it finds itself to be one of the longest-running chamber music organizations in the USA.