BCCO was founded by Eugene Jones in 1966, under the auspices of the Berkeley Adult Education Program. With persistence, charisma, talent, and devotion he realized his dream of creating a chorus of non-auditioned singers and an orchestra drawn from the community that together would perform choral masterworks in free concerts for the general public. For over twenty years, Eugene — the first African American conductor of a large Bay Area chorus and orchestra — guided the group, bringing great choral works (which often featured his superb bass voice) to our singers and audiences. When Eugene died in fall 2003, many longtime BCCO members sang at his memorial service.
In 1988, Arlene Sagan became BCCO’s Music Director. A passionate educator and strong believer in music for singers at every level of experience and ability, Arlene promoted BCCO as a “one-room schoolhouse,” in which experienced singers would help those just learning. Under her tutelage, the chorus grew to as many as 200 singers and performed such works as Bach’s Mass in B minor, Gounod’s St. Cecilia Mass, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Brahms’s Requiem, and Verdi’s Requiem. Arlene championed BCCO’s Choral Composition Competitions, in which local composers vied to have original compositions premiered by BCCO, with a monetary prize awarded to the winner. Arlene enjoyed bringing to the chorus special clinics hosted by guest conductors, including Mark Bruce, Joseph Liebling, and Jeffrey Thomas. She gave singers the opportunity to work with professional soloists and such local composers as Julian White, Jerry Mueller, and Robin Eschner. Arlene retired in May 2011 — her farewell concert was Brahms’s Requiem and Robin Eschner’s Because We Sang, a piece commissioned in her honor.
In fall 2010 and spring 2011, with Arlene on medical leave, BCCO’s longtime friend Joseph Liebling served as our Guest Conductor, delighting us with his energy, his musicianship, and the joy he brought to every rehearsal. Under his baton we enthusiastically learned and performed Haydn’s Harmoniemesse and Brahms’s Requiem.
In June 2011, Ming Luke became BCCO’s third Music Director, following an eighteen-month search that resulted in 48 applications for the position. Ming begins his tenure in fall 2011 with Vivaldi’s Gloria and Randall Thompson’s Frostiana. He is putting his energy and enthusiasm not only into teaching the music but into improving the chorus’s vocal technique and sound. Believing that music professionals have a responsibility to support developing artists, Ming has created a conductor mentoring program to help aspiring conductors get the experience they need to qualify for future conducting positions. Ming has also guided us to create a nationwide search for vocal soloists and an Emerging Composer Competition.
BCCO is an independent non-profit organization funded by tuition of chorus members and donations from the chorus and the general community. The goals of BCCO remain steadfast: to offer anyone in the community the opportunity to sing and hear great choral music.