In January 2011 Gramophone magazine included the Balthasar Neumann Choir in its list of the world’s “20 greatest choirs”, while the Neue Zürcher Zeitung described the Balthasar Neumann Orchestra as “quite simply sensational”. By working together the singers and players create an unmistakable sound whose intensity allows us to hear the musicians’ familiarity with this music and the passion that they bring to it, making them unique in the world.
Thomas Hengelbrock is the founder and artistic director of both ensembles. In order to be able to realize exceptional projects and programmes independently of normal schedules and conventions, he brought together a group of outstanding vocal soloists in 1991 to form the Balthasar Neumann Choir, adding the Balthasar Neumann Orchestra four years later. Since then the two ensembles have been synonymous with innovative concert programmes, semi-staged productions and regular forays into the world of musical theatre.
The Orchestra’s repertory extends from the early Baroque to modern music but with particular emphasis on the 17th and 18th centuries: by using period instruments, the players recreate the sound world of the time when the works in question were written.
Every member of the choir is in a position to assume the duties of a soloist but is also capable of being fully integrated into the overall sound as part of a collective. The result is a unique degree of flexibility in terms of both vocal resources and repertory.
The Ensembles take their name from that of the Baroque architect Johann Balthasar Neumann (1687–1753), who regarded art as a space in which each and every one of us can develop freely. His designs reflect the interaction of architecture, painting, sculpture and landscape gardening in pursuit of an overall concept.
His ideal was inspired by the belief that the arts should work together, a belief that forms the basis of the work of Thomas Hengelbrock and his two ensembles. Their concert programmes are carefully planned in terms of their dramaturgy and feature rarely performed works, including ones by Lotti, Steffani and Zelenka. But Thomas Hengelbrock and his ensembles have also recreated the original sound world of operas by Mozart, Bizet, Verdi and Wagner.
The Balthasar Neumann Choir and Orchestra have won numerous awards and received many honours in the course of their illustrious history. These awards include the Culture Prize of the Region of Baden-Württemberg, several Echo Klassik Awards and a Gramophone Award. Both ensembles appear regularly in Europe’s leading concert halls and at major festivals. Among the venues where they have performed are the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus, the Paris Opéra, the Teatro Real in Madrid, the Dortmund Konzerthaus, the Essen Philharmonie and the Salzburg Festival.
Not only have Thomas Hengelbrock and his two Balthasar Neumann Ensembles been acclaimed all over the world for their music making, but their work reflects new ways of communicating culture that extend far beyond the medium of music alone.