The BACH FESTIVAL each year focuses worldwide attention on the Cleveland area through the interpretation and enjoyment of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries. Organized at BALDWIN-WALLACE COLLEGE by DR. ALBERT RIEMENSCHNEIDER and his wife, Selma, the first series of concerts was held 9 June 1933. Expanded to 2 days in 1934, the festival, held in early summer at the college conservatory, featured guest artists appearing with outstanding students and faculty of the college. Exposing Cleveland to rarely heard (until then) works of the Bach canon, Riemenschneider conducted the B Minor Mass (1935-36), the St. John Passion (1937, 1941), the Christmas Oratorio (1938), and the St. Matthew Passion, plus chamber music and motets.
With the dedication of the Kulas Memorial Arts Bldg. in 1940, the conservatory gained more room for festival functions. Upon Riemenschneider's retirement in 1947, Geo. Poinar, head of the violin department at the conservatory, became festival director. The festival began widening its mandate by including "modern" works in 1969 and works by Bach's contemporaries 2 years later. Famed Bach scholar and conductor Helmuth Rilling was guest director in 1975, when he reduced the size of the chorus to give more flexibility to the sound, and Dwight Oltman became director in 1976. In 1992 the festival celebrated the 300th anniversary of the births of Bach and Handel, as well as its own 60th anniversary, with expanded 3- and 4-day programs. In 1995 Dr. William Carlson, director of the Conservatory of Music, was the festival's general manager.