OAKLAND -- The Berkeley Bach Cantata Group celebrates its silver anniversary with a Sunday concert at St. John's Episcopal Church in Montclair, where the musicians have been meeting to play for a quarter-century.

"The group had a modest beginning 25 years ago in a Berkeley living room," said the group's publicist, Sylvia Ahern, who also sings in St. John's choir. "They play just for the love of Bach and the ensemble-playing experience. They've gone through almost the entire opus of Bach's cantatas and revisited some favorites as well."

Since those early years, about 35 professional and amateur musicians and singers have been met twice a month at St. John's church to explore the choral music of Johann Sebastian Bach, under the direction of conductor Ernest Fredric Knell.

Jean Klems, one of the group's founding members, said the musicians have had a wonderful time over the years.

"We have found that the intimacy of the chamber movements of some of Bach's cantatas contrast wonderfully with the glorious full orchestra and choral sound of others," Klems said. "We've had a thrilling time with this exploration."

Deborah Kropp is a longtime member of the group and a soprano soloist.

"Under his wonderful direction, Ernest has encouraged us to plow through very difficult music," Kropp said. "Ernest often shares special nuances of Bach's Baroque style, giving verbal descriptions of the music the way a painter might describe the details of a landscape he recently painted."

The 25th anniversary concert will include cantatas "BWV 34," "O Ewiges Feuer," "o Ursprung der Liebe," "BWV 68," "hat Gott die Welt geliebt" and "BWV 11." As was the custom back in 1735 when the piece was performed in Leipzig, Germany, audience members will be invited to join in "Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen," also known as the "Ascension Oratorio."

The celebration will also include Julianne Booth Knell's concert debut on timpani. She is a former San Francisco Opera singer, longtime St. John's congregant and the wife of Ernest Knell. The couple met in 1987 while both worked with the San Francisco Opera and were married at St. John's church the following year -- to the accompaniment of members of the San Francisco Opera chorus.

IF YOU GO
What: Berkeley Bach Cantata Group 25th anniversary concert
Where: St. John's Episcopal Church, 1707 Gouldin Road, Oakland
When: 4 p.m. Sunday
Cost: $20 suggested donation