William Baerg, conductor, educator, administrator (born 24 February 1938 in Bassano, AB). William Baerg was chair of the music department at the Mennonite Brethren Bible College and College of Arts from 1972 until 1999. From 1966 till 2012, he conducted biannual oratorio concerts with the 250-voice Mennonite Oratorio Choir and the Mennonite Festival Singers, in collaboration with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. He also founded the CBC Winnipeg Singers in 1972 and was their conductor and artistic director until 1983. Baerg and his wife, pianist Irmgard Baerg, received the Golden Baton Award for distinguished service to music in Canada from the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in 2012.
Education and Early Career
William Baerg earned his ARCT in 1961 and a BA from Goshen College in Indiana in 1962. From 1963 to 1966, he studied conducting with Kurt Thomas and Martin Stephani on a DAAD German exchange scholarship in Detmold, Germany.
Baerg then taught at the Mennonite Brethren Bible College and College of Arts in Winnipeg (1966–70). He completed his graduate studies at the Peabody Conservatory (1970–72) in Baltimore and received the Baltimore Handel Society’s Conductor’s Award in 1972. In 1974 and 1976, he received Canada Council summer scholarships to study with Nicolaus Harnoncourt and Helmuth Rilling in Austria and Germany, respectively. Baerg earned his Doctor of Musical Arts from the Peabody Conservatory in 1978.
Baerg returned to the Mennonite Brethren Bible College and College of Arts in 1972 to become chairman of the music department and conductor of the college’s Oratorio Choir and A Cappella Choir. He continued to hold these positions till his retirement in 1999. The 40-voice A Cappella choir was heard on CBC Radio and TV, toured Canada, the US and Europe, and twice represented Canada in the BBC competition Let the People Sing.
From 1966 till 2012, Baerg conducted biannual oratorio concerts with the 250-voice Mennonite Oratorio Choir and the Mennonite Festival Singers in collaboration with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. They performed the major choral works from Bach and Handel to Stravinsky and Britten.
Baerg founded the CBC Winnipeg Singers in 1972 and was their conductor and artistic director until 1983. Initially, the choir existed as a professional studio ensemble, often in collaboration with the CBC Radio Orchestra. After 1974, they gave six public concerts annually. Baerg continued to guest conduct the Winnipeg Singers during his 10-year term as artistic director of the Winnipeg Bach Festival. This culminated with a performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra for CBC’s national Christmas Day broadcast in 1990.
Baerg conducted the Holiday Festival Singers in a 1974 recording of Victor Davies’s Beowulf. In 1975, he conducted the premier performance of Davies’s Mennonite Piano Concerto with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. He became one of the two regular conductors of the Mennonite Community Orchestra in 1978. (See Music of the Mennonites.) In 1983, he conducted the Mennonite Singers in a selection of Songs of the Mennonite Faith, used in the film And When They Shall Ask (1983). In 1985, he recorded These our Hymns, a collection of 25 hymns, with the Riverton Singers.
Baerg was also instrumental in bringing internationally acclaimed conductors Robert Shaw and Helmuth Rilling to Winnipeg between 1985 and 2000 for a series of oratorio concerts with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. This was done under the umbrella of Church Music Seminar, a biannual event that began in 1975. In 1989 and 1993, Baerg prepared the Mennonite Festival Chorus for performances with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at the International Choral Festival.
Baerg also made many guest appearances with the Choral Federations of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario as conductor, clinician, adjudicator and lecturer. He also served as a regular consultant and jury member with the Canada Council for more than a decade.
William Baerg was made a Professor Emeritus at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg in 1999. In 2012, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra jointly awarded Baerg and his wife, pianist Irmgard Baerg, the Golden Baton Award for distinguished service to music in Canada.