J. Reilly Lewis

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John Reilly Lewis (September 15, 1944 – June 9, 2016)[1] was an American choral conductor who founded the Washington Bach Consort and the music director of the Cathedral Choral Society. As a keyboard artist he specialised in baroque music, particularly the music of J. S. Bach.

Education and career[edit]

Born in 1944 in Vallejo, California, he received his bachelor's degree from the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music and his master's and doctoral degrees from The Juilliard School.[2] A Fulbright Fellowship enabled him to spend a year in Germany doing specialized study in conducting, organ and harpsichord at the Hochschule für Musik in Frankfurt am Main. Several years later, he spent a summer in France studying with the composition teacher, Nadia Boulanger.


Lewis was organist and choirmaster at Clarendon United Methodist Church in Arlington, Virginia since 1971, where he led the adult choir, as well as choral and instrumental youth music programs. He led semi-annual singalong presentations of Handel's Messiah (Handel) during Advent and Easter, featuring guest soloists accompanied by full orchestra. This was the first and the longest-running series of performances of Messiah presenting the complete oratorio in the Washington, D.C. area[citation needed].

In November 2005, he performed Samuel Barber's Toccata Festiva for the second time in the Washington National Cathedral with Leonard Slatkin conducting.[3] He also performed the complete Bach Goldberg Variations in recital on multiple occasions and was a featured organ soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra.

His performing and conducting career included appearances with the Minnesota Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Handel Festival, Halle, the Bachfest Leipzig, the Aspen Music Festival, the Cologne New Music Festival and the Mozart Festival in New York and Washington. During a Chinese/American Festival in Taipei's main concert hall, he played the organ and later conducted the orchestra and chorus in various 20th century works including a world premiere by the Chinese composer Gordon Shi-Wen Chin. He made his National Symphony Orchestra debut in December 2002, guest conducting Handel's Messiah at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Honors and awards[edit]

Lewis received the Paul Hume Award from the Levine School of Music, for "outstanding commitment to enriching the cultural life of Washington".[citation needed] His work with children and youth includes the education and outreach programs of both the Cathedral Choral Society and the Washington Bach Consort. In April 2004, he received the Distinguished Washingtonian Award from the University Club of Washington, DC in honor of its centennial.[citation needed] In January 2006, the Washingtonian magazine named Lewis as a 2005 "Washingtonian of the Year".[4] In 2010, Lewis was inducted in Washington, D.C. as a National Patron of Delta Omicron, an international, professional music fraternity.[5]


Lewis died on June 9, 2016, of a massive heart attack at his home in Arlington, Virginia. He is survived by his wife, Beth Lewis; his daughter, Lauren Currie Lewis; and grandson, Ocea Currie.[6][7]


  1. ^ Schudel, Matt (11 June 2016). "J. Reilly Lewis, organist, choral director and Bach authority, dies at 71". The Washington Post. Retrieved 13 June 2016. 
  2. ^ "‘Divinely ordained,’ he was led to the National Cathedral". The Washington Post. 24 June 2011. Retrieved 25 November 2014. 
  3. ^ "A Haven in America". Washington National Cathedral. 13 November 2005. Retrieved 25 November 2014. 
  4. ^ Milk, Leslie; Ryan, Ellen (January 2006). "Washingtonians Of The Year 2005". Washingtonian. pp. 48–59. 
  5. ^ Klafeta, Jennifer. "The President's 2010–2011 Fall Overture to Alumni Chapters and Clubs." September 2010. P. 1.
  6. ^ Midgette, Anne (10 June 2016). "RIP: J. Reilly Lewis, 1944–2016". Retrieved 10 June 2016 – via washingtonpost.com. 
  7. ^ "J. Reilly Lewis – Cathedral Choral Society". Retrieved 10 June 2016.