History of Bach at the Sem

The American Kantorei, its pre-history and pre-cursor

The American Kantorei has its origins in the former Concordia Cantata Chorus associated with Concordia Seminary in Clayton, Mo. Following its beginning in 1955 with a performance of Johannes Brahms’ Deutsches Requiem, the Concordia Cantata Chorus soon developed into a well-known ensemble dedicated to the music of Bach, Handel, Buxtehude, Schein, Schütz, Praetorius, Monteverdi, Gabrieli, Hillert, Wienhorst, Willan, Britten, Vaughan Williams and others. Specializing in liturgical music for the worship services of the Seminary, the chorus also performed in concerts and toured extensively. The high quality of performance resulted in invitations from the National Guild of Organists and its regional divisions, from the National Association of Musicologists, from the Bicentennial of Orders of Sisters of Mercy and the Precious Blood of Jesus in South and North America, and for weeklong appearances at conventions and festivals in 1960 (Dallas), 1964 (San Antonio) and 1972 (Chicago and Kansas City). The Cantata Chorus also represented the United States at the 1966 International Heinrich Schütz Festival in Delft, Holland. The Dutch government issued the invitation and sponsored the trip financially. Several days were devoted to recording sessions of old and new music in the studios of the Christian Radio Broadcasting and Recording Studios in Hilversum. In connection with the Holland appearances, the Concordia Cantata Chorus sang concerts in London, St. John’s College, Cambridge and five cities in Germany. The recordings made at Hilversum of music by Bach, Schütz, Schein, Gabrieli, Distler, Micheelsen, Bender and Wienhorst were used for broadcast extensively in northern Europe and South Africa.

The Reborn American Kantorei

Following a hiatus of some 20 years, the American Kantorei was resurrected in 1993 at the behest of its major sponsors, Robert and Lori Duesenberg and Richard and Phyllis Duesenberg. Maestro Robert Bergt, following conducting and teaching appointments at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale and Valparaiso University, had been serving as the music director at the Musashino Academia Musicae in Tokyo. He was engaged initially to return periodically to conduct concerts, the preparation for which was done by assistant conductor, Dr. Jeral Becker, a member of the original Kantorei. The concerts soon became popularly known as Bach at the Sem. In 1995, Bergt, with his continuo-player wife, Joan, returned to the United States and became the artist-in-residence at Concordia Seminary, his major responsibility being the planning and conducting of Bach at the Sem concerts, usually four or five a season.

From 1993 until Bergt’s death in July 2011, the American Kantorei performed all the major vocal and choral works of J.S. Bach, many of them several times: the Passions, Masses, oratorios, motets and more than 50 cantatas. Other composers have also been featured, including Buxtehude, Schütz, Mendelssohn and Beethoven.

In addition to the choral and instrumental works, Bach at the Sem organist, Dennis Bergin, and several guest organists have performed more than 90 organ works of J.S. Bach, as well as those of other composers.