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Charles de Wolff (Conductor, Organ)

Born: June 19, 1932 - Onstwedde, Holland

The Dutch organist and conductor, Charles (Johannes) de Wolff, studied the organ at the conservatory in Utrecht with Stoffel van Viegen and George Stam. Later he studied piano, music theory and orchestral conducting at the Amsterdam Conservatory with Anthon van der Horst. After receiving his diploma in 1953 with special honours for virtuosity, and in 1954 being awarded the Prix d'excellence for the organ, he continued his studies under Jeanne Demessieux in Paris. He also studied orchestral conducting in Hilversum from 1956 to 1959, under Franco Ferrara and Albert Wolf.

His favoured organ repertory is, in addition to the organ works of J.S. Bach, contemporary Dutch and French music. As an organist, De Wolff has given concerts on virtually all of the Netherlands' most celebrated organs, as well as innumerable foreign instruments, and made a great number of recordings (he was awarded an Edison in 1968). During the years 1967 to 1982 he gave the premieres of many Dutch organ works at the Schnitger Festival on the Schnitger organ in the Michaelskerk in Zwolle. In 1988, at a concert in the Grote Church in Naarden, he received an award from the Academie Francaise for excellence in the performance of French (organ) music.

De Wolff was chief conductor of the Noordelijk (Nothern) Philharmonic Orchestra of Groningen for more than 25 years – from 1964 until it was dissolved in 1989 - and held this position for an even longer period with the city’s Bekker Toonkunst Choir. Wolff has conducted various choirs, including the Nederlandse Bach Vereniging, (Netherlands Bach Society) (today the Holland Bach Choir), to whom he was appointed chief conductor in 1965 by his predecessor and mentor Dr. Anthon van der Horst. He has earned international recognition for, among other things, his annual performances of J.S. Bach's Passion music with the choir of the Nederlandse Bachvereniging. He directed annual performances of J.S. Bach's St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) in Naarden from 1965 to 1983.

In his career, De Wolff has on many occasions taken up the cause of new and experimental music. This involvement led to his winning first prize in 1965 at the International Concours for interpreters of contemporary music. As conductor of the Noordelijk Philharmonic Orchestra he gave many first performances in the Netherlands of modern works, notably by Messiaen.

De Wolffs renown has spread abroad with appearances as guest conductor, for example in the former German Democratic Republic and France. Next to his activities as an organist and conductor, he teaches orchestral conducting at the Utrecht Conservatory.

Among the many sucesses he has enjoyed in his career, two especial high-points are deserving of mention here. In 1980 he conducted Mozart's Krönungsmesse at the coronation of Princess Beatrix as Queen of the Netherlands, and in 1989 he led the Amsterdam Orchestra and the Holland Bach Choir at the state visit of American President George Bush to the Netherlands.

Source: Grove Music Website; Liner notes to the album ‘J.S. Bach: Johannes-Passion’ conducted by Charles de Wolff (Vanguard Classics, 1995)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (September 2001)

Charles de Wolff: Short Biography | Recordings of Vocal Works

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