The Washington Bach Consort (= WBC), founded in 1977 by Dr. J. Reilly Lewis, is committed to the study and performance of the complete vocal and instrumental works of Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries. Dr. J. Reilly Lewis still serves as the Consort's Music Director, aided by Assistant Conductor Gisèle Becker. The Consort has a professional chorus of 16-24 singers, as required, and an orchestra of professional Washington-area musicians noted for their performance of 18th-century music. In its 22 years the WBC has developed from an organization offering free concerts in churches throughout the city to a critically acclaimed and nationally recognized chorus and orchestra.
The WBC has made regular appearances with organizations such as the National Symphony Orchestra and the former Handel Festival Orchestra and has been chosen by such renowned conductors as Christopher Hogwood, Richard Hickox, and Nicholas McGegan for their appearances in Washington. The WBC has made two critically acclaimed European tours - in June 1981 and in March 1985, when the WBC represented the USA at the International Bachfest Leipzig, Germany for the 300th birthday of J.S. Bach (the only ensemble from the USA invited to perform). In 1989 the WBC presented the opening two concerts of the prestigious Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C. In 1991 the WBC was featured at the Bach Festival of Philadelphia. In 1992 the WBC appeared with the Mark Morris Dance Company at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and with the Folger Consort at the Folger Library.
In March 1994, the WBC gave a joint performance of Carmina Burana with the Cathedral Choral Society at the Kennedy Center, to a sold out audience and critical acclaim. During the 1994-1995 season, the Consort made a guest appearance in the tenth anniversary concert of the Washington Chamber Orchestra, and joined forces again with the Folger Consort for a production of Dido and Aeneas. The 1995-1996 season included a reunion of the Bach Consort and Cathedral Choral Society at the Kennedy Center in a joint performance of William Walton's Belshazzar's Feast. During the 1996-1997 season the Consort participated in the "Welcome to Washington" Benefit for Leonard Slatkin at the Kennedy Center in September 1996, and returned to the Kennedy Center in December 1996, to perform George Frideric Handel's Messiah with the National Symphony Orchestra and guest conductor, Nicholas McGegan. In June 1997 the Consort performed, for the fourth consecutive year, with Christopher Hogwood and the National Symphony Orchestra, in the annual Mozart Festival.
The 1997-1998 season was the WBCís 20th Anniversary Celebration Season, and also marked the year in which the Consort committed itself to exclusively period-instrument performances. Highlights of the 1997-1998 season included a performance of J.S. Bachís Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), in its entirety; a January, 1998 concert with guest conductor, Christopher Hogwood, at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.; and the final concert of the season, a performance of the Magnificats (BWV 243) by J.S. and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach - father and son. This performance of the Magnificats was recorded for compact disc, and released in February of 1999 by Newport Classic.
In May 1998 the WBC performed in the National Symphony Orchestraís Russian Festival, under the direction of Maestro Leonard Slatkin. With cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, they presented the USA premiere of Canticle of the Sun, a work by Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina.
The 1998-1999 season opened with J. Reilly Lewis leading the WBC chorus and orchestra in a concert titled "Masters of the Baroque," featuring music by J.S. Bach, G.F. Handel, and Antonio Vivaldi. Highpoints of the season included an all-Purcell concert with British guest conductor Paul McCreesh in January 1999, and a performance of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) on J.S. Bachís birthday, March 21. In May, the renowned baritone Max van Egmond joined the Consort for a performance of some of Bachís most noted cantatas, and the WBC appeared again with the Mark Morris Dance Company for performances of G.F. Handelís LíAllegro, il Pensero ed il Moderato at the Kennedy Center.
Highlights of the 1999-2000 season include a performance of G.F. Handelís Solomon with internationally-renowned guest conductor Nicholas McGegan, and the Consortís first performance in three years of J.S. Bachís Mass in B Minor (BWV 232), the featured event sponsored by the American Bach Society during their biennial convocation. The Consort will also present several mixed repertoire programs showcasing a wide variety of music by Bach and beyond. In June of 2000, the WBC joined forces with Leonard Slatkin and the National Symphony Orchestra for several performances of J.S. Bachís Es ist genug (BWV 82). The season concludes in July with a 10-day tour of Germany in commemoration of the 250th anniversary of J.S. Bachís death.