Bach’s Legacy Series: Bach – The Eternal Legacy

The following is part of a 6-part series of articles about ABS’s
“Bach’s Legacy” concerts coming up on April 25-28, 2014.

The story of Bach’s posthumous reception is often told as a narrative of fame emerging from obscurity. While it is true that J.S. Bach’s music enjoyed a dramatic reappraisal and rediscovery with Felix Mendelssohn’s legendary performance of the St. Matthew Passion in 1829 with the Berlin Singakademie, his music had not vanished completely. Whereas the musical careers of Bach’s illustrious sons, especially C.P.E., Johann Christian, and Willhelm Friedemann, eclipsed that of their father in the late 1700s, the elder was never forgotten.

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

By 1800, Johann Sebastian and his works had become a specialist’s pursuit, known primarily to music students and composers. In 1789, Mozart made a point of reviewing Bach’s manuscripts when his travels brought him to Leipzig. Before being shown the collection of organ works he sought, the youthful genius heard the choir singing a Bach motet. An observer and Bach devotee, Friedrich Rochlitz, recorded what happened next:

The choir surprised Mozart with the performance of the double-chorus motet “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied,” by Sebastian Bach. Mozart knew this master more by hearsay than by his works, which had become quite rare; at least his motets, which had never been printed, were completely unknown to him. Hardly had the choir sung a few measures when Mozart sat up, startled; a few measures more and he called out “What is this?” And now his whole soul seemed to be in his ears. When the singing was finished he cried out, full of joy “Now, there is something one can learn from!”

Samuel Wesley

Samuel Wesley

Bach’s keyboard music was the currency of virtuosity and a necessity for artistic development, but the brilliance of his works was not fully appreciated until later. Some young devotees like Samuel Wesley (1766-1837) and Carl Friedrich Horn (1762-1830) went beyond practicing the keyboard works and chorales; their enthusiasm encouraged a worshipful attitude toward the man as well as the music. Wesley wrote to a friend that he “rejoined to find that you are likely to regard his [J.S. Bach’s] Works with me as a musical Bible unrivaled and inimitable.” Wesley was also friends with Horn, a man he described as “longing to find some spirited enthusiasts like himself to co-operate in bringing the Musical World to Reason and Common Sense, and to extort a Confession of the true State of the Case against the Prepossession, Prejudice, Envy, and Ignorance of all Anti-Bachists.”

After the 20-year-old Mendelssohn’s performance of St. Matthew Passion, the groundswell enthusiasm for Bach’s music became a wave of popular and critical interest. A prolific writer and musician, Robert Schumann inquired, “would it not be a timely and useful undertaking, if the German Nation decided to publish a complete collection and edition of all of the works of Bach?” No less than Beethoven essayed a similar sentiment: “That you want to publish Sebastian Bach’s works delights my heart, which beats wholly for the great and lofty art of this father of harmony, and I wish to see the enterprise in full swing.” A group of prominent musicians, professors, and museum directors formed the Bach-Gesellschaft, a society whose mission was the publication of a complete edition of Bach’s works come scrito, without editorial additions or corrections. The volumes began issuing forth for popular consumption in 1851 and concluded 49 years later with the 46th and final volume.

With increasing access to this imposing body of work, it should come as no surprise that many 19th century musicians were captivated by J.S. Bach’s music:

  • Johann Sebastian Bach

    Johann Sebastian Bach

    “Study Bach. There you will find everything.” – Johannes Brahms

  • “O you happy sons of the North who have been reared at the bosom of Bach, how I envy you.” – Giuseppe Verdi
  • “…the most stupendous miracle in all music!” – Richard Wagner
  • “Bach is a Colossus of Rhodes, beneath whom all musicians pass and will continue to pass. Mozart is the most beautiful, Rossini the most brilliant, but Bach is the most comprehensive: he has said all there is to say. If all the music written since Bach’s time should be lost, it could be reconstructed on the foundation which Bach laid.” – Charles Gounod
  • “Any musician, even the most gifted, takes a place second to Bach’s at the very start.” – Paul Hindemith
  • “In Bach, the vital cells of music are united as the world is in God.” – Gustav Mahler
  • “And if we look a the works of JS Bach—a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity—on each page we discover things which we thought were born only yesterday, from delightful arabesques to an overflowing of religious feeling greater than anything we have since discovered. And in his works we will search in vain for anything the least lacking in good taste.” – Claude Debussy

Bach’s music has been a source of inspiration for composers, music students, audiences, and creative individuals of all persuasions throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Don’t miss the opportunity to hear Jeffrey Thomas direct the American Bach Soloists and American Bach Choir in “Bach’s Legacy” (April 25-26), a program that traces the Bach tradition from moving works by the master and compositions by artists who were directly influenced by those works and Bach’s genius. Then, on the subject of inspiration, don’t forget about the ABS Festival & Academy (July 11-20), when ABS will explore the artists who influenced Bach and initiated the grand tradition. See you at the concerts this weekend and at the Festival!

“Bach’s Legacy” ~ April 25-28, 2014

25th Season Celebration Afterglow

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Loretta O’Connell, Millicent Tomkins, Dee Norris, and Dorli Hanchette


March 21 is an important day every year for music enthusiasts as it is the birthday of the greatest composer in recorded history: Johann Sebastian Bach. March 21, 2014 proved doubly significant for American Bach Soloists as it was a day to celebrate our namesake while also honoring a significant milestone in the ensemble’s own history: twenty-five years of performances! A gala affair was held at Haas-Lilienthal House—a crown jewel of San Francisco historic sites.

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Wendy Buchen and Jeffrey Thomas

Jeffrey Thomas, the musicians, board, and staff of ABS were on hand to toast a glorious history and usher in the next quarter-century of musical excellence with many of ABS’s generous supporters and ardent fans. Since emerging on the scene with that first concert of Bach cantatas at St. Stephen’s Church on February 2, 1990, ABS has been a strong musical force within the Bay Area community and further abroad. To honor its reaching this landmark season, civic leaders feted ABS for its contributions on Bach’s birthday.

Mayor of San Francisco proclaims “American Bach Soloists Day”

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Mark Leno and Hugh Davies

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee proclaimed March 21 “American Bach Soloists Day” and State Senator Mark Leno presented a Resolution by the State Senate to ABS Board President Hugh Davies. Senator Leno opened the festivities with a moving speech about the impact ABS has had on cultural life in Northern California, the State’s goal to improve conditions for arts groups within California, its efforts to make music education a priority for young people, and then encouraged the attendees of the soirée to enjoy the music, keep up its support for this valuable treasure, and to bid extravagantly on the auction items!

Baritone Mischa Bouvier and members of ABS perform works by Bach and Telemann

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Noah Strick, Gretchen Claassen, Mischa Bouvier, Corey Jamason, Clio Tilton

Next up was a program of works by Bach and Telemann featuring baritone Mischa Bouvier, harpsichordist Corey Jamason, violinist Noah Strick, violist Clio Tilton, and violoncellist Gretchen Claassen. The program opened with one of only two Bach settings with an Italian text, Amore traditore. ABS Artistic and Music Director Jeffrey Thomas introduced the work, explaining how the three-movement cantata for baritone soloists and harpsichord might also be viewed as a sort of concerto for harpsichord due to virtuosic demands in the second part. Bouvier and Jamason proved a delightful musical duo in this number with the baritone movingly portraying the narrator’s emotional turmoil toward a traitorous love and Jamason astonishing the audience with his breathtaking facility at the keyboard. The strings joined in for performances of Telemann’s “Ode on the Death of a Pet Canary” and an aria from Bach’s Ich habe genug. Thomas explained how the latter was included in an album of music the Bach family kept for private music making and intimate soirées. On this occasion, ABS and its loyal supporters all gathered to enjoy the same music with a similar environment of appreciation and intimacy.

The concert portion of the night was followed by a live auction for four fabulous get-away packages to New York, Napa Valley, Santa Fe, and a “stay-cation” here in San Francisco. Four lucky bidders now have some exciting adventures ahead of them.

Fine wine, tasty food

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Carmen Florez-Mansi and Tom Flesher

When friends gather to celebrate and enjoy one another’s company, the addition of fine wine, tasty food, and champagne often contribute to the occasion being a memorable one for all. Following the superb musical presentation and auction in the ballroom, the attendees of the event returned to the first floor of the Haas-Lilienthal for a reception among the elegant social spaces of the Victorian home. Delicious! Catering provided a beautiful spread of refreshments and hors d’ouevre and, aided by stimulating conversation and a familial kind of camaraderie, the party to celebrate ABS’s 25th season became a night to remember.

“The evening … represented a cross-section of ABS’s tremendous achievements”

Don Scott Carpenter

Don Scott Carpenter

“It was the perfect way to celebrate our first twenty-five years,” said ABS Executive Director Don Scott Carpenter, “The evening brought together founders, including Sandy Ogden, generous supporters, and Academy alumni who together represented a cross-section of ABS’s tremendous achievements over a quarter century. I would like to send a special thank you to Carmen Florez-Mansi our Development and Donor Services Associate for overseeing such a historic event.” Thank you to all who made the evening so special: Mayor Lee, Senator Leno, Jeffrey Thomas, Steven Lehning, and the Development Committee, co-chaired by Jan Goldberg and Rick Boyer. And, of course, thank you to all of our supporters who have helped get ABS this far and are committed to making the next 25 years a period of unparalleled musical excellence.

Jeffrey Thomas Master Class at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on April 21

415-conArtistic and Music Director Jeffrey Thomas will lead the third of this season’s public master classes at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on Monday, April 21 at 7:30. Don’t miss this opportunity to witness Thomas work with promising young artists from the Conservatory on vocal interpretation, phrasing, expression, and Baroque style. All ABS master classes at the Conservatory are free and open to the public.

In addition to being the co-founder of American Bach Soloists and leading the many memorable performances over the ensemble’s first 25 years, Thomas’s commitment to the next generation of musicians is exemplary. During the academic year, Thomas is a faculty member at UC Davis where he leads the University Chorus. Each summer he works with more than 60 ABS Academy participants, coaching those emerging professionals along the path to major careers. Don’t miss this opportunity to see Maestro Thomas provide leadership and guidance to some of the Conservatory’s finest.

At the end of the week, Thomas will lead ABS and the American Bach Choir in “Bach’s Legacy,” the final subscription series concert of the 2013-14 season. In July, he, along with his orchestra, will return to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for the ABS Festival & Academy—San Francisco’s Summer Bach Festival—from July 11-20.

Monday April 21 2014 7:30 p.m.
Osher Salon – San Francisco Conservatory of Music
50 Oak Street (between Van Ness & Franklin)
San Francisco CA 94102

Sponsored by ABS & Judith Flynn

Bach’s Legacy Series: Bach in the 19th Century – Mendelssohn & Brahms

The following is part of a 6-part series of articles about ABS’s
“Bach’s Legacy” concerts coming up on April 25-28, 2014.

At their next concert, Jeffrey Thomas, ABS, and the American Bach Choir will celebrate the profound impact of the music of J.S. Bach on later generations in “Bach’s Legacy” (April 25-28). In previous posts, we explored the program in terms of the cantatas and motets that will be heard as well as the resonances of those works in the compositions by living composers Sven-David Sandström and Knut Nystedt. Between Bach’s time and our own, however, a bridge had to be built, a tradition established, so that those manuscripts in the safe keeping of Bach’s descendants and friends might see the light of day and exert their influence. Perhaps the most influential architects of that bridge are two of the greatest musicians to come after Bach: Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and Johannes Brahms (1833-1897).

Mendelssohn_BartholdyLike other musical talents of the era, Felix Mendelssohn was a devotee of J.S. Bach’s music, learning his keyboard works and singing the known chorales. But Mendelssohn was an outlier of the most extraordinary sort. Along with Mozart, who preceded him, and Paganini and Chopin who came later, he was one of the greatest musical prodigies to ever live; his talent and celebrity as a boy-genius knew no bounds. Friends of the Mendelssohn family and his teacher Carl Friederich Zelter believed Bach was a formidable example, perhaps the example, by which to temper and inspire the prodigy’s singular talent and he was permitted access to Bach manuscripts. The exposure yielded a profound impact both in Mendelssohn’s career as a professional musician and in his enduring legacy as a composer.

For “Bach’s Legacy,” Jeffrey Thomas will conduct the American Bach Choir in Mendelssohn’s motet cycle Sechs Sprüche zum Kirchenjahr and his setting of the chorale “Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich” which Bach set in the cantata Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort (BWV 126). Sechs Sprüche (literally “Six Sentences”) is a fascinating work with six different liturgically defined episodes—Christmas, New Year’s Day, Passion Week, Good Friday, Advent, and Ascension—presented in Biblical paraphrases sung by an eight-part choir. Bach is surely a model for this posthumously published composition that occupied Mendelssohn in his final years, as it is a cycle of formidable complexity and gorgeous musical expression. Mendelssohn’s setting of Luther’s chorale “Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich” is another fine example of Bach’s music reconceived by a Romantic mind for a different age. Thomas and the American Bach Choir will perform both Bach’s setting and Mendelssohn’s version.

BrahmsMendelssohn died young and the duty of carrying the Bach tradition fell to the able shoulders of one of classical music’s “Big B Three”: Johannes Brahms (the others being Bach and Beethoven, naturally). In his voluminous output of chamber, symphonic, sacred and secular vocal works, it is Brahms’s motets that provide the clearest example of esteem and veneration he had for Bach’s music. At “Bach’s Legacy,” his Fest- und Gedenksprüche (Festival and Commemoration Sentences), Op. 109, will open the second half of the program and set the tone for cross-generational inquiry that informed Thomas’s curatorial choices for the concert. The polyphony of the three-movement work presents complex textures, but the composer of such timeless examples of Romanticism as the “German Requiem” and Symphony No. 2 imbues the vocal lines with strong feeling and warmth. One might say the work is in the spirit of Bach, with the sensibility of the 1880s.

“Brahms, as much as any other composer, idolized Bach and his compositional techniques, and in many if not all of Brahms’ choral works he placed specific references to Bach’s style. As a contrapuntalist, Brahms was unrivaled among all the late-nineteenth century composers, and his choral works— specifically his motets—exhibit extraordinary technical and structural mastery and maturity.”

– Jeffrey Thomas

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Johannes Brahms: Fest- und Gedenksprüche, Op. 109:1

Over 260 years have elapsed since the death of J.S. Bach, yet his music endures both in performances of his surviving works and in those he inspired. Join us for “Bach’s Legacy.” You might find that kernel of truth within this illustrious continuum to fire your own spirit and creativity. Tickets and more information are available here.

“Bach’s Legacy” ~ April 25-28, 2014

Bach’s Legacy Series: Bach and His Motets

The following is part of a 6-part series of articles about ABS’s
“Bach’s Legacy” concerts coming up on April 25-28, 2014.

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Bach’s manuscript of “Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf” – Click to enlarge.

Bach’s motets form an important part of his artistic legacy. These extraordinarily beautiful and powerful works hold a beloved place in the Baroque repertory and—in spite of their difficulty and the demands they place upon performers—are regularly performed. The motets have exerted a strong influence on composers of vocal music through the ages and for some, Mozart for example, they provided the point of entry for discovering Johann Sebastian Bach. Two of Bach’s motets—Komm, Jesu, komm (BWV 229) and Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf (BWV 226)—and the motet-like movement Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren (BWV-Anhang 231) will be performed by ABS and the American Bach Choir under the direction of Jeffrey Thomas at ABS’s “Bach’s Legacy” concerts (April 25-28). Vocal works by Mendelssohn, Brahms, Sandström, and Nystedt will round out this program, specially curated by Maestro Thomas, which connects the world of Bach to our own by way of a shining and vibrant musical thread.

For all of their brilliance and centrality to the repertory, Bach’s motets present a host of authentication, identification, and performance practice challenges. For example, we can only be relatively sure about the occasion and date of the composition of one of the traditional six attributed to him, Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf. Outside the six, there are motet-like works—O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht (BWV 118) and Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren (BWV 231)—whose status as motets is debatable, and there are works like the motet Ich lasse dich nicht of which Bach’s authorship has only recently been established.

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“ABS’s performances of Bach’s motets have been featured events both on our own Subscription Series and, in two separate years, at the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition. They seem to be such a perfect fit for our wonderful artists, both vocalists and instrumentalists. In all of my travels, I have never worked elsewhere with musicians whose careful and thorough attention to the details of texts even remotely approaches the meticulousness and thoughtfulness of performances by our artists. I am always grateful for their mastery, but I am especially so in the compositions by Bach (the cantatas, motets, and passions) that are tremendously dependent on subtleties of text and rhetoric”

– Jeffrey Thomas

Provenance is admittedly sketchy and incomplete for this rewarding body of work, and the more basic matter of definition provides little in the way of sure grounding for inquiry. The simple question of “What is a motet?” does not have a simple answer as this particular realm of musical terminology has a history of imprecision and liquidity. “Motet” has been used variously to describe liturgical music in Latin, sacred music in the vernacular, secular polyphonic music during the late Middle Ages, a cappella works, or vocal polyphony with instruments. For Bach, his motets are fairly consistent with regard to a few important features. They are polyphonic vocal works for one or two choirs, sometimes with instrumental accompaniment, often (though not always) based on biblical texts. They were presumably performed as prayers for recently deceased dignitaries.

Perhaps the least contentious in terms of date of composition, instrumentation, and occasion for which it was written is Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf. The common assumption about Bach’s motets is that they were composed as funeral music, though Der Geist hilft is the only one bearing an autograph dedication; it was performed in October of 1727 at the memorial service of Johann Heinrich Ernesti, rector of the Thomasschule in Leipzig. Debates about instrumental accompaniment of motets can be laid to rest for this one, as instrumental parts—strings paired with Choir I and winds paired with Choir II—exist in Bach’s hand. The only mystery is whether Bach intended the concluding chorale, “Du heilige Brunst,” to be played by the instrumentalists since Bach wrote music for the chorale into the vocal parts, but not for the instrumentalists. Should we surmise that this last portion was sung a cappella at the gravesite where the orchestra, especially the organ, would not have accompanied? The text of the chorale is a poetic benediction for the departed:

Heavenly fire, sweet consolation, help us now, so that joyfully and confidently we may faithfully serve thee and not be deflected by sadness. Oh Lord, prepare us through thy power and strengthen the reluctant flesh, so that we shall fight valiantly and pass through death and life to thee. Hallelujah!

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Bach: Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf, BWV 226
La Chapelle Royale ~ Collegium Vocale ~ Philippe Herreweghe ~ 1985

For “Bach’s Legacy,” Jeffrey Thomas has selected a sampling of Bach’s vocal music that will showcase the singular excellence of the American Bach Choir and instrumentalists of ABS. The works by Bach include the motets Komm, Jesu, komm and Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf, the chorale Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich, the motet-like movement Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren, the early cantata Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir, and the sacred song Komm, süßer Tod. These compositions profoundly affected later composers such as Mendelssohn, Brahms, Sandström, and Nystedt. Works by this great quartet of composers will also be also performed to demonstrate the depth of Bach’s influence. See you there!

“Bach’s Legacy” ~ April 25-28, 2014

Bach’s Legacy Series: Sven-David Sandström’s Komm, Jesu, komm

The following is part of a 6-part series of articles about ABS’s
“Bach’s Legacy” concerts coming up on April 25-28, 2014.

SandstromSwedish composer Sven-David Sandström enjoyed an international breakthrough in 1972 when his orchestral work Through and Through was performed by the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam two years after its premiere in the composer’s homeland. From that point, leading musical assemblages worldwide have performed his compositions making him one of Sweden’s leading composers. Within contemporary choral music, Sandström’s music occupies a unique position that is both firmly rooted in the traditions established by predecessors like Bach, Mendelssohn, and Brahms, yet also rigorously twenty-first century modern.

American Bach Soloists first performed one of Sandström’s works in May 2005 for “Sonic Tapestries,” an all-choral program that presented different approaches to consonance and dissonance in works by William Byrd, John Tavener, Arvo Pärt, and others. On that occasion, Jeffrey Thomas and the American Bach Choir performed Sandström’s Agnus Dei and it made a terrific impression on audiences and critics. San Francisco Classical Voice commented, “The final piece, Sven-David Sandström’s Agnus Dei, was the clearest example on the program of a contemporary composer’s upsetting the traditional hierarchy of consonance and dissonance. Because the choir performed the piece with such virtuosity and ease, however, the difference in dissonance treatment in this piece seemed like just another change of color. The slow collapsing of the dissonant final chord into triadic consonance was exquisite.” ABS performed Agnus Dei again in 2008 as part of the “Vocal Visionaries” program along with Sandström’s setting of Henry Purcell’s “Hear my prayer, O Lord.”

“I think that everyone who heard our performances of Sandström’s Agnus Dei, and certainly every singer who participated in those concerts, has never forgotten the experience. Sandström’s deep admiration, even love, for Bach’s music is undeniable. Like Bach, he knows how to elicit an exact and specific emotional response from his listeners. He understands how we hear music and how we equate unrestrained willingness on the part of performers to reveal the music to their audiences with a safe and promising invitation to let ourselves go as we experience the sweeps of passionate authenticity that are such a great part of all of Sandström’s works.”

– Jeffrey Thomas

Central to Sandström’s output of vocal music is a series of six motets composed after Bach’s originals. For “Bach’s Legacy” (April 25-28), Jeffrey Thomas will direct the American Bach Choir in Bach’s Komm, Jesu, komm (BWV 229) and Sandström’s 2005 setting. Utilizing the text and spirit of Bach’s motet, Sandström’s is a meditative work for the twenty-first century. It reinterprets the original with a different melodic and textural approach, yet retains the expressiveness and moving quality associated with the original.

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Sven-David Sandström: Komm, Jesu, komm

“Bach’s Legacy” will feature juxtapositions of extraordinary compositions by Bach with those of later composers. Along with dual versions of Komm, Jesu, komm, Bach’s setting of the chorale Verleih uns Frieden ganädiglich will be performed alongside Felix Mendelssohn’s version, and Bach’s Komm, süßer Tod will be paired with a setting by Knut Nystedt. We hope you will join us as we explore these fascinating connections and celebrate the Legacy of one of music’s greatest inspirations.

“Bach’s Legacy” ~ April 25-28, 2014

Bach’s Legacy Series: Knut Nystedt’s “Immortal Bach”

The following is part of a 6-part series of articles about ABS’s
“Bach’s Legacy” concerts coming up on April 25-28, 2014.

In celebrating the music and lasting impact of Johann Sebastian Bach in “Bach’s Legacy” (April 25-28), the outstanding American Bach Choir under the direction of Jeffrey Thomas will perform a selection of extraordinary and challenging choral works. The program will include motets from the pen of Bach and choral compositions by later composers that show his unmistakable influence. This artistic legacy became well-known and pervasive during the early nineteenth century following Felix Mendelssohn’s famous “rediscovery” of the St. Matthew Passion in 1829, but Bach’s music continues to inspire with undiminished potency. One composer to find inspiration in Bach’s creations in our era is the Norwegian composer Knut Nystedt.

Knut Nystedt (b. 1915)

Born in Kristiania (now Oslo) in 1915, Nystedt is one of Norway’s leading composers of orchestral and choral music. His compositions have been performed around the world and recorded by groups including Accentus, the Holst Singers, and Ensemble 96, whose 2006 GRAMMY-nominated album Immortal Nystedt featured solely works by the composer. His works are known for their beauty and challenging arrangements.

“Our Legacy program features not only works by composers who idolized Bach and incorporated what they learned from the Baroque master’s rhetoric into their own original compositions, but also two compositions (by Nystedt and Sandström) that are based on  actual works by Bach. Nystedt’s setting of the famous and beautiful sacred song, “Komm, süßer Tod,” utilizes multiple choirs of singers to create a spatially separated impression of music through time. The effect of overlaying harmonies and music moving slowly through space is awe-inspiring.”

– Jeffrey Thomas

The American Bach Choir are no strangers to innovative contemporary music. As recently as “An ABS Christmas” in December 2013 when they performed Eric Whitacre’s Alleluia (2011) and a David Conte’s arrangement of Silent Night (1989), Thomas and the Choir have earned rapturous acclaim in a broad range of styles and works. When they perform Nystedt’s Immortal Bach during “Bach’s Legacy” it will be an ABS premiere and the ensemble’s first performance of any of the Norwegian composer’s works.

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Click image to hear a performance of Knut Nystedt: Immortal Bach
(Komm, süßer Tod, komm selger Ruh) by the Monteverdi Choir

As the title suggests, Nystedt’s Immortal Bach honors the resonance of Bach’s creations through the ages. Utilizing both the melody and text of Bach’s “Komm, süßer Tod, komm, selge Ruh” (Come, sweet death, come, blessed rest) and employing multiple choirs that begin and end the text at different points and at different tempi, Nystedt reconceives the balance and simplicity of Bach’s original in a complex and extremely moving new setting.

“Bach’s Legacy” ~ April 25-28, 2014

Bach’s Legacy Series: An Early Bach Cantata

The following is part of a 6-part series of articles about ABS’s
“Bach’s Legacy” concerts coming up on April 25-28, 2014.

The surviving 200 plus cantatas composed by J.S. Bach constitute one of the richest legacies of any composer in music history. Often written for specific liturgical purposes and times of year, we can be relatively confident that the provenance of these masterpieces is accurate, yet some of them remain a bit mysterious. Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir (“From the depths I call to you, Lord”), BWV 131, which will be featured in “Bach’s Legacy,” April 25-28, is a thrilling cantata, but one with its share of mysteries.

St. Mary's Church, Mühlhausen

St. Mary’s Church, Mühlhausen

Probably first performed in 1707 while Bach was the organist at St. Blasius’s in Mühlhausen, Cantata 131 is one of his earliest surviving works. It is unlikely, however, that he composed it for performance at St. Blasius, but rather for another church in town, St. Mary’s. From an inscription in the autograph score, we know that the work was composed at the request of the minister at St. Mary’s, Georg Christian Eilmar. Some have speculated that Eilmar also fashioned the text of the cantata and recruited Bach to write music to commemorate the anniversary of a devastating fire that had struck the community. Whatever the circumstances surrounding the date and occasion for its creation, the cantata is a stirring work of profound impact utilizing oboe, bassoon, strings, and basso continuo along with chorus and soloists.

The text of Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir is based largely on Psalm 130 (also known by its Latin title, De Profundis), yet also includes elements of the chorale “Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut” to underscore the message of supplication. (The full text of Cantata 131 is available here). Bach’s treatment of the text does not follow the operatic conventions evident in his later cantatas, avoiding recitatives or da capo repeats in its arias. Instead he favors an expressive presentation that appeals directly to the hearer without musical rhetorical devices. After the opening chorale comes an arioso for bass, “So du wilt, Herr, Sünde zurechnen” (“If you will, Lord, mark all our sins”). Another brief chorus precedes the work’s central aria for tenor soloist, “Meine Seele wartet auf den Herrn von einer Morgen wache bis zu der andern” (“My soul waits for the Lord from one morning watch to the next”). Continuo accompaniment and the pitches of the cantus firmus (the chorale sung in long tones) provide a supportive fabric for each soloist in these inner parts of the work. In the aria, the chorale supplies harmonic guideposts “from above” for the tenor soloist, as it occurs in a higher register.

“This superb cantata comes from the early period in Bach’s career when he was experimenting with various musical forms and rhetorical devices. Like the other early cantatas which are all quite dramatically different from each other, the immediacy of Bach’s intentions — how he wanted the listener to react to the music — is undeniable. The musical portrayal or rendering of the text couldn’t be more direct, and so much of the music is utterly hypnotic. It is a long-time favorite of all ABS musicians who have performed this cantata in the past, both in concerts and on recording.”

– Jeffrey Thomas

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ABS Cantatas Vol. IV

ABS recorded Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir in 1994 and that performance is available on Bach Cantata Series: Vol. IV – Early Cantatas for Holy Week. From April 25-28, audiences in Belvedere, Berkeley, San Francisco, and Davis will have the opportunity to hear this moving work from Bach’s earliest period performed by the expert forces of ABS under the direction of Jeffrey Thomas at “Bach’s Legacy.” We hope to see you there! For tickets and more information, please visit our website.

“Bach’s Legacy” ~ April 25-28, 2014

ABS 25th Season Celebration on March 21st

Logo-25th-Season-72dpi-WEB-ONLYWe hope you will join us as we celebrate 25 years of American Bach Soloists on Friday, March 21, 2014, at San Francisco’s historic Haas-Lilienthal House, located at 2007 Franklin Street (between Washington & Jackson Streets). Beginning at 5 p.m., the evening will be a joyous celebration filled with music, champagne, delicious food, and plenty of camaraderie with Jeffrey Thomas, the Musicians, Board, and Staff of ABS. We hope you will join in the fun and help us make it a night to remember.

HaasLilienthalA quarter century is a major landmark in the lifespan of any performing arts organization. Only the very best and most graciously supported celebrate such a milestone of cultural public service. Under the artistic guidance and visionary leadership of Jeffrey Thomas, ABS celebrates their twenty-fifth year at a particularly felicitous time when the company’s activities are healthy and robust, their artists are at the top of the heap, and new generations of early music virtuosi are emerging year after year from the ABS Academy. ABS has a glorious history and plenty more to come!

An extraordinary evening is planned.

The 25th Season Celebration festivities begin at 5:00 p.m. with champagne toasts followed by a concert performed by members of American Bach Soloists and a live auction featuring activities and events in San Francisco, Napa, Santa Fe, and New York. Following the concert, the celebration will continue with heavy hors d’oeuvre, plenty of wine, and good cheer in a most festive evening. Complimentary valet parking will be provided.

BOUVIERThe special concert will feature baritone Mischa Bouvier and the musicians of ABS. Mr. Bouvier is well known to ABS audiences for his performances of Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral and the Mondavi Center last December and also in Handel’s cantata Apollo & Dafne and arias by J.S. Bach last May. A graduate of the ABS Academy in 2010, Mr. Bouvier is an accomplished and charismatic performer who is equally at home in recital, concert, or on the opera stage. He will sing a program of works by Bach and Telemann, including Bach’s unusual secular Italian cantata, Amore traditore, BWV 203.

For more information about the menu or auction items, please visit our event page for the 25th Season Celebration. Reservations may be made through our website or by calling the ABS office at (415) 621-7900. The cost is $250 per person. Proceeds from this event will support the ongoing work of American Bach Soloists. $150 of every ticket purchased goes directly to underwrite the soloists, orchestra, and chorus of ABS.

ABS would not have grown and thrived for 25 years without the support, patronage, and enthusiasm of the fans and friends of ABS. Make your reservation for the celebration today—lets honor this milestone together and kick off the next 25 years in grand style.

Join us on March 21st

ABS 2014-15 Season Announced

Jeffrey Thomas

Jeffrey Thomas

We are excited to announce the 2014-15 season, which will include five performances of Handel’s Messiah and three subscription concert weekends featuring Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major, and the solo cantata Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, along with Handel’s Acis and Galatea, works by Vivaldi, and Leonardo Leo’s Concerto for Violoncello in A Major featuring the 2015 Jeffrey Thomas Award winner, Gretchen Claassen. Packed with Baroque masterpieces and rarities, under the careful and inspired direction of Jeffrey Thomas, the new season promises musical delight and discovery.

Handel’s Messiah

Eric Jurenas

Eric Jurenas

The season kicks off in December with five performances of Handel’s enduring masterwork, Messiah, given in three venues. Beginning on Sunday December 14, Thomas will conduct the ABS period-instrument orchestra, the American Bach Choir, and an outstanding quartet of soloists at the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis, followed closely by three performances in San Francisco’s historic Grace Cathedral, and the ensemble’s debut at the Donald & Maureen Green Music Center in Rohnert Park. The soloists for all five performances will be ABS favorites soprano Mary Wilson, tenor Wesley Rogers, baritone Jesse Blumberg, as well as countertenor Eric Jurenas who astounded audiences in last year’s performances.

Messiah VIDEO Project

Messiah in Grace Cathedral

Messiah in Grace Cathedral

ABS’s presentation of Messiah in Grace Cathedral has been a beloved annual tradition and a perennial sell-out event for sixteen years. To share this magical experience with an even broader audience and to preserve it for future generations, Emmy Award winning Zamacona Productions will record this season’s performances utilizing seven High-Definition cameras, which will allow for release on local and national television stations, as well as DVD and BluRay.

Bach & Handel

RichardsonNola

Nola Richardson

The subscription season opens January 23-26, 2015, with “Bach & Handel,” an attractive pairing of masterworks by two musical giants. First, Thomas directs his renowned orchestra through Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major. The balance of the program will be devoted to Handel’s 1718 pastoral, Acis and Galatea. Buoyant, witty, and generously stocked with charming melodies, Acis and Galatea is one of Handel’s most popular operatic works. Thomas conducts a trio of charismatic artists in this story of love and jealousy. Soprano Nola Richardson and tenor Kyle Stegall will portray the ill-fated young lovers and baritone Mischa Bouvier will sing the role of the jealous and murderous giant Polyphemus.

Bach’s St. Matthew Passion

Wesley Rogers

Wesley Rogers

From February 27-March 2, 2015, ABS will revisit Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. ABS has become closely associated with this masterpiece. Their emotionally stirring performances are unforgettable. The experience of their 2012 performances of an early version of the work made a profound impact on audiences and critics alike. “I am so grateful I was there,” one patron excitedly proclaimed. SFCV remarked that the work, “when cleansed of much historical baggage, shone as new. Thanks to Thomas and ABS for such a profoundly beautiful, moving evening.” Returning to the work’s more familiar form this season, Thomas will direct the Passion with his accustomed focus on transparent textures, direct expression, and intense intimacy. ABS and the American Bach Choir will be joined by soloists tenor Wesley Rogers as the Evangelista and William Sharp as Christus.

Bach & Vivaldi

Gretchen Claassen

Gretchen Claassen

The subscription season concludes May 1-4 with “Bach & Vivaldi.” Balancing vocal and instrumental works, the program includes the solo cantata Gott soll allein mein Herze haben (“God alone shall have my heart”) performed by countertenor Ian Howell. The Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major, Bach’s virtuosic tour through French dance forms will showcase the magnificent orchestral forces of ABS. Howell will again be featured in Vivaldi’s psalm setting, Nisi Dominus, often described as a concerto for voice. It was written for an extraordinary soloist in his Venetian ensemble at the Ospedale della Pietà. Another highlight will be the opportunity to hear the 2015 Jeffrey Thomas Award recipient, Gretchen Claassen, performing Leonardo Leo’s Concerto for Violoncello in A Major.

SUBSCRIPTIONS

Subscription renewals for the 2014-15 season go on sale March 1 with new subscriptions available on April 21. Single tickets for Messiah and subscription series concerts will go on sale July 1. For tickets or more information about the new season, please visit americanbach.org.

MEET THE SOLOISTS

Jesse Blumberg

A cherished ABS collaborator since 2007, Jesse Blumberg most recently appeared in Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral in 2012 when SFCV observed, “Baritone Jesse Blumberg took the listeners deep into the valley of darkness, which only made the softly gleaming shaft of ‘Light’ he found there more transforming.”

Mischa Bouvier

Mischa Bouvier attended the ABS Academy in 2010 and has since developed an impressive and diverse career as recitalist, concert singer, and operatic artist. His most recent collaborations with ABS included Handel’s Messiah and Apollo & Dafne when he was praised by SFCV for his “rare vocal and interpretive gifts.”

Gretchen Claassen

Grethchen Claassen, winner of the 2015 Jeffrey Thomas Award, is precisely the type of performer the award was designed to encourage: hard working, talented, and deserving of wider recognition. Ms. Claassen is a three-time ABS Academy participant.

Ian Howell

Ian Howell has been praised by The New York Times for “his clear and attractive timbre.” Mr. Howell’s debut recording was ABS’s 1685 and the Art of Ian Howell featuring a program of arias by Bach, Handel, and Scarlatti.

Eric Jurenas

A 2011 Academy participant, Eric Jurenas has emerged as a favorite ABS artist, most notably in his performance of Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral in 2013. Opus Colorado said “I don’t ever recall hearing a countertenor who had the incredible power as Eric Jurenas, not to mention his breath control.”

Nola Richardson

A 2012 and 2013 participant at the ABS Academy, Nola Richardson has been praised by The Washington Post for her “astonishing balance and accuracy, lavishing crystalline diction on everything she touched.”

Wesley Rogers

Wesley Rogers’ “Evangelist” from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion is a role for which he has been praised as “flawless” (SFCV) and “intense… with a loud ringing voice” (Not For Fun Only).

William Sharp

William Sharp has performed with ABS for more than two decades and is featured on ABS recordings of Bach cantatas, St. Matthew Passion, Mass in B Minor, and Handel’s Messiah.

Kyle Stegall

Kyle Stegall is an Academy alum who impressed many ABS Academy goers in 2013 with the clear quality of his voice and beautiful lyricism. He will make his ABS season debut.

Mary Wilson

Mary Wilson is an extraordinary artist and beloved favorite of ABS audiences. Ms. Wilson is “a fresh-voiced singer and a direct communicator,” observed the San Jose Mercury News, “she loops and embellishes, executing Handel’s tricky flights with seemingly little effort.”

2014-15 Season 

Gretchen Claassen, ‘cellist, Named Winner of 2015 Jeffrey Thomas Award

2014.02.18 Gretchen HeadshotAmerican Bach Soloists are proud to announce the winner of the second annual Jeffrey Thomas Award. Violoncellist Gretchen Claassen, a graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Juilliard School, and a three-time ABS Academy participant, is precisely the serious and committed artist that the award was designed to encourage. From promising student to emergent professional, her development as a musician has been clear from her fine performances in both modern and historically informed contexts. As a participant in the ABS Academy, Ms. Claassen has distinguished herself as a historically informed ‘cellist of the first rank. Her performances in the ABS Festival, most notably as principal ‘cellist in Handel’s Ariodante (2011) and Rameau’s Pigmalion (2012), have met the high standard expected by ABS and its audiences. More recently she performed with ABS in Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral and the Mondavi Center in December 2013.

As a recipient of this award, given once per year at the discretion of ABS Artistic and Music Director Jeffrey Thomas to an exceptionally promising early music performer, Ms. Claassen will receive a cash prize and an invitation to perform as a soloist with American Bach Soloists during the 2014-15 Season. She will be featured during ABS concerts in May 2015 performing Leonardo Leo’s Concerto for Violoncello in A Major.

Ms. Claassen began her musical training in Arizona and then at the Juilliard School of Music where she studied ‘cello performance with Bonnie Hampton. She has studied chamber music with members from the Juilliard String Quartet, Cleveland Quartet, Calder Quartet, and the Chiara Quartet and has participated in several distinguished music festivals including the Kneisal Hall Chamber Music Festival and American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy. Her avid interest in historically informed performance began while pursuing graduate studies at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music where her teachers included Jennifer Culp and Elisabeth Reed. While at the SFCM, she received an Artist Certificate in Chamber Music and was a two-time winner of the Baroque Concerto Competition. In addition to ABS, she has performed with several Bay Area musical organizations including Archetti, Wildcat Viols, Karl Cronin and the Americana Orchestra, and she is a founding member of the Cello Street Quartet and period ensembles MUSA and the Alchemy Trio.

READ THE PRESS RELEASE

INTERVIEW WITH PREVIOUS RECIPIENT GUY CUTTING

Interview With Tenor Guy Cutting Following His ABS Debut

CuttingGuy600x450The winner of the inaugural 2014 Jeffrey Thomas Award was tenor Guy Cutting who very recently impressed audiences and critics in his performances with ABS in “Bach’s Magnificat” in January 2014. Welcoming Mr. Cutting to the Bay Area for his appearances with ABS was especially gratifying. In addition to being a superb artist and exciting newcomer to the early music community, he greatly enjoyed the ABS environment and the San Francisco Bay Area. ABS Executive Director Don Scott Carpenter spoke with Guy about being the first recipient of the Jeffrey Thomas Award and working with ABS:

What are your impressions of ABS and the new colleagues that you met?

I thoroughly enjoyed working with the ABS team in January; it was a pleasure to work with so many fine Baroque musicians. Music aside, I was hugely grateful for the warm welcome that I received from the very start of my visit, which enabled me to relax and enjoy the concerts as much as possible.

What is it like to work with Jeffrey Thomas?

Jeffrey is a fantastic musician and lovely to work for. His musical ideas and suggestions are well grounded and enhance the music. He demands the necessary high standards of his performers but always in a calm and pleasant atmosphere for both rehearsal and concert.

As a performer, what draws you to Bach’s music?

I was introduced to Bach as a chorister at New College, Oxford. We used to perform the St. John Passion at least once a year. I would also hear Bach at home—my parents, both professional musicians themselves, are huge Bach fans. As a result, I quickly developed an admiration for his music.

As a high tenor, it doesn’t get much better than singing Bach. Although challenging, it is always thrilling. The evangelist roles in both the St. John and the St. Matthew Passions are personal favorites of mine—there is always a huge sense of accomplishment (and relief!) when finishing the final recitative!

What’s coming up next for you on your performance schedule?

I’ll be spending April in The Netherlands evangelising Bach’s St Matthew Passion with Nieuwe Philharmonie Utrecht, then performing five concerts with the Nederlands Kamerkoor. In February and March, I’ll be recording two early music CDs in London; the first with Alamire, the second with Contrapunctus. I’ll be touring both the UK and Europe with The Orlando Consort, The Marian Consort, and The Tenebrae Choir. I’ll be involved in a reconstruction of the first performance of Handel’s Messiah—in period costume—with the Gabrieli Consort, which will be released as a short film on BBC television later this year.

Highlights of the rest of the year include tours to Russia, Holland, Germany and the USA with The Tallis Scholars, a three-week trip to Australia with the Fieri Consort, and concerts in England, Ireland, and Germany with The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Read more about the Jeffrey Thomas Award

Up Next: Bach’s Hercules, February 21-24

Hercules at the Crossroads by Pompeo Batoni, 1748.

Hercules at the Crossroads
by Pompeo Batoni, 1748.

The 25th season celebration continues February 21-24 with “Bach’s Hercules,” an all-Bach program of favorite works chosen by ABS Artistic and Music Director Jeffrey Thomas. The program showcases the composer’s genius for creating masterpieces within different musical formats and settings—liturgical, intimate instrumental suite, and dramatic secular cantata.

“Bach’s Hercules” features three exquisite works by Bach: the Missa Brevis in G Major, the Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C Major, and his cantata about the mythic Hercules, Laßt uns sorgen, laßt uns wachen, which includes an opening chorus, arias, and duets that were later utilized in the “Christmas Oratorio.”

Elegantly streamlined, the Missa Brevis in G Major is one of Bach’s four “Little Masses” or settings of the Gloria and Kyrie portions of the Mass. Thomas will direct the esteemed American Bach Choir and four superb soloists: soprano Kathryn Mueller, countertenor Ian Howell, tenor Derek Chester, and baritone Jesse Blumberg. The Orchestral Suite (or Ouverture) in C Major is a tour de force for the ensemble’s two oboes and bassoon, which will be played by oboists Debra Nagy and Stephen Bard and bassoonist Dominic Teresi.

The vocal and instrumental forces take on altogether different roles in Laßt uns sorgen, laßt uns wachen, Bach’s 1733 Dramma per musica subtitled “Hercules at the Crossroads.” This morality tale depicts the famous Greek hero deciding between a virtuous path and one of indulgence. Composed to celebrate the 11th birthday of Friedrich Christian, the young heir to the Polish throne. Friedrich, who went on to rule Saxony with grace, diplomacy, and civility in a brief reign that lasted only 74 days (he died of smallpox in 1763), is praised for his wisdom and, by example, his musical gifts in Bach’s dramatic, near-operatic, cantata. Choosing to characterize the young prince, who as a boy suffered from poor physical health including paralysis in one foot, as a figure known for strength, valor, and cunning was a vote of confidence for the prince’s bright future.

Countertenor Ian Howell will portray the role of the conflicted Hercules. Well known to ABS audiences for his moving performances in Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral and his 2009 recording, 1685 and the Art of Ian Howell, Howell was also the Distinguished Artist of the 2012 ABS Festival.

As Vice and Virtue respectively, Kathryn Mueller and Derek Chester will do their best to sway Hercules like a devil or angel on either shoulder. As the god Mercury, baritone Jesse Blumberg will close the work with a final aria sung directly to Prince Friedrich and the audience.

Remember, all “Bach’s Hercules” concerts will be preceded by Pre-Concert Insights, a lecture about the program beginning one hour before the concert. The lecturer for these concerts will be violinist Robert Mealy. Also, don’t miss Ian Howell’s master class at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music one week before the concerts on Monday, February 17 at 7:30 pm.

More About “Bach’s Hercules” | Tickets

ABS Festival Tickets are now on sale!

ABSFAJULY 11-20 2014

Tickets for the 2014 ABS Festival and Academy are now on sale! Titled “Bach’s Inspiration,” this summer’s event continues ABS’s 25th season celebration with a line-up of concerts, free lectures and master classes, and a public colloquium that promise to be the greatest two-week Baroque immersion in the history of the ABS Festival. Purchase your single tickets and Festival Pass subscriptions today.

2014.02.05 FestivalMusical delights and discoveries will fill the days and nights of the 2014 Festival. From large-scaled masterworks for full orchestra, choir, and vocal soloists to intimate instrumental works, there will be something for everyone to enjoy and, more likely, ample reason to “move in” to the Conservatory for two weeks in order to take it all in. Bach only set two works to Italian texts—Amore Traditore BWV 203 and Non sa che sia dolore BWV 209—and both will be part of the Festival. Many fabulous instrumental works will also be performed, including Vivaldi’s Concerto for four violins in B minor, concerti by Alessandro Marcello, Frederick the Great, and, of course, J.S. Bach with, among others, his Concerto for Three Harpsichords in C Major and Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. It is going to be an unforgettable event. Read below for a sneak peak at the events and be sure to visit the Festival page for tickets and more information.

The Festival kicks off on Friday, July 11, with a celebratory opening night dinner at Dobbs Ferry Restaurant in Hayes Valley. Dine with ABS Artistic and Music Director Jeffrey Thomas and other members of the ABS family before heading over to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for “Bach’s Inspiration—Part I,” the opening program which traces the influences of Italian and North German composers on J.S. Bach’s life and music. Works by composers who inspired him, including his uncle, Johann Christoph Bach, Dieterich Buxtehude, Johann Kuhnau, Frederick the Great, and Alessandro Marcello will be performed along with his paraphrase of Psalm 51, a fascinating re-working of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s famous Stabat Mater. ABS and the Faculty of the Academy will be joined by guest artists soprano Mary Wilson, countertenor Eric Jurenas, and tenor Derek Chester.

The exploration of Bach’s influences and compositions will continue on Saturday, July 12, with “Bach’s Inspiration—Part II.” This captivating program will include works the young Bach may have heard on his 1705-1706 journey to Lübeck to hear Dieterich Buxtehude. Compositions by Johann Adam Reincken, Nicolaus Bruhns, Buxtehude, and George Melchior Hoffmann will be performed. After intermission, ABS will perform mature works by Bach composed after he had absorbed all that he could from his forebears, peers and colleagues, including the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 and the trio-sonata from the “Musical Offering.”

Regular ABS Festivalgoers know that the two Festival Sundays each July are reserved for Bach’s monumental Mass in B Minor as performed by the ABS Festival Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Thomas. This year, the July 13 performance will begin at 7:00 pm and July 20 will begin at 2:00 pm. These performances are among the highlights of the musical calendar for Bach lovers and ABS fans—don’t miss out! (or maybe hear it twice?)

Three Academy-In-Action programs, July 14-16, will give you the opportunity to hear the work of the 2014 Academy in beautiful and rarely heard works performed by the next generation of early music virtuosi. At $10 a ticket, these concerts are a great value for truly rewarding experiences. Hear these outrageously talented emerging artists before they become stars.

Friday, July 18, is Baroque opera and oratorio night at the Festival and this year Handel’s L’Allegro, Il Penseroso ed il Moderato will command the stage. Composed in the years between Israel in Egypt and Messiah, Handel’s masterful adaption of pastoral poems by John Milton and Charles Jennens is an expressive, musical romp through the pleasures of Happiness, Melancholy, and Moderation. Featuring vocal soloists from the Academy and a performance by the ABS Festival Orchestra, tickets for this delightful oratorio will surely go fast!

Soprano Mary Wilson, this year’s Distinguished Artist, will command the spotlight on Saturday, July 19. A well-established favorite of ABS audiences and musicians alike, Ms. Wilson and ABS will continue to explore the theme of “Bach’s Inspiration” with a diverse program devoted to Bach’s Italianate side. Along with Bach’s cantata Non sa che sia dolore, Wilson will also perform works by Vivaldi, whose scores Bach studied while in Cöthen, and his contemporary, G.F. Handel, who was also born in the year 1685. It is only fitting that Wilson who has won admiration for her thrilling performances of Handel’s music, will perform his cantata Tra le fiamme. The text cautions that butterflies drawn to a flame will burn, but a phoenix will rise again—expect fireworks!

The 2014 Festival concludes on Sunday, July 20, with a matinee performance of the Mass in B Minor; a final opportunity to hear Maestro Thomas and the ABS Festival Orchestra and American Bach Choir as they perform one of the greatest works of art ever created.

Following a banner year for the ABS Festival in 2013 when every main stage concert sold out, we strongly encourage Festivalgoers to secure their tickets early. As an attraction for music fans from all over Northern California, the country, and beyond, the 2014 ABS Festival—San Francisco’s Summer Bach Festival—promises to be one of this summer’s greatest highlights!

PROGRAMS AND SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

Countertenor Ian Howell Master Class on Monday, February 17

ABS continues to support the fine work of San Francisco Conservatory of Music students with a public master class on February 17 led by countertenor Ian Howell. Witness this acclaimed artist work with advanced Conservatory students on vocal interpretation and style in Baroque repertory. All ABS master classes at the Conservatory are free and open to the public and begin at 7:30 pm.

_H7S6643_croppedPraised by the New York Times for his “clear voice and attractive timbre” and San Francisco Classical Voice for the “heart at the core of his soulful sound,” Howell sings with a warm and seamless tone rarely heard from countertenors. He has recorded for the American Bach Soloists, Warner Classics, Rhino, Carus, and Gothic labels. His debut solo CD, 1685 and the Art of Ian Howell with ABS was released in March 2009 and features repertory by Domenico Scarlatti, J.S. Bach, and G.F. Handel. He can also be heard on recordings of the all male chamber choior Chanticleer on one DVD and eight CDs, including the Grammy Award winning Lamentations and Praises.

Howell is a frequent ABS collaborator and a favorite with Bay Area audiences. In 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012 he performed in ABS’s performances of Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral. He also appeared in the first Distinguished Artist solo concert at the 2012 ABS Festival & Academy where he sang a gorgeous program of songs with a consort of viols. With songs by William Byrd, Henry Purcell, John Jenkins, and others, the evening remains one of those great ABS Festival memories. The opportunity to hear Howell, who is also a teacher of vocal pedagogy at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, work with Bay Area-based aspiring singers promises to yield many insights.

_H7S6897

Howell will also be a featured performer at the next ABS subscription series concert, “Bach’s Hercules,” from February 21-24. Tickets are available for this concert and our April 25-28 program, “Bach’s Legacy,” on our website or by calling the ABS office at (415) 621-7900. For more information about our master class series at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, please visit the education tab on our website. We look forward to seeing you at Mr. Howell’s master class and at “Bach’s Hercules”!

Support ABS and win fantastic prizes

Raffle 2014 8x12 poster

American Bach Soloists announces its 2014 raffle drawing! This annual event is a terrific way to support ABS and offers a chance to win one of three different prize packages.Tickets are $20 each (or six for $100) and may be purchased throughout the month of February.

Please call the ABS office at (415) 621-7900 during our normal business hours (10:00-4:00 M-F) or pick up your raffle tickets during the “Bach’s Hercules” performances from February 21-24. The winners will be drawn on Friday, February 28.

First prize is a trip for two to the 2014 Colonial Williamsburg Early Music Festival, September 23-26. The winner will enjoy airfare for two, a four-night stay, tickets for all festival concerts, restaurant gift certificates, and free admission to all museums and exhibitions throughout the four-day event. The festival line-up will include two evening performances on period instruments at the candlelit Governor’s Palace, with a reception following the closing night concert. Thursday night’s attractions will feature a rare, fully staged performance of Thomas Arne’s 1760, two-act English opera Thomas & Sally or The Sailor’s Return, a tale of two lovers separated at sea. Total value: $2500. Four days of early music fun in Historic Williamsburg? Priceless.

Second prize winner receives two subscriptions to American Bach Soloists 26th season, two tickets to our 2014 Gala on September 20, and VIP seating at Messiah in Grace Cathedral. Total value: $1,100.

Third prize wins our “Summer Survival Kit,” which includes two subscriptions to the 2014 ABS Festival & Academy (9 performances), two tickets to the Festival Opening Night dinner at Dobbs Ferry, two ABS sweatshirts, and two ABS coffee mugs. At this year’s Festival, ABS will perform works by Vivaldi, Handel, Buxtehude, and Bach’s forebears, tracing the influences of Italian, French, and North German composers on Bach’s music. Total value: $700.

By purchasing a raffle ticket—or a handful of them—you are doing more than entering to win these great prizes; you are supporting the fine work of American Bach Soloists as we continue to bring you the best music by the best artists. Please consider buying raffle tickets this February and help ABS achieve its goals. Who knows? You might just win!

Please call (415) 621-7900

Academy Applications due Saturday February 1st

Calling all aspiring Baroque musicians! The application deadline for the 2014 ABS Academy is coming up—all applications are due February 1, 2014. To apply, visit our Academy page and fill out the online application. Audio recordings and recommendation letters are required for a complete and competitive Academy application, so don’t hesitate: get started with your application today!

The ABS Academy has been preparing the next generation of early music virtuosi for professional careers since 2010, inviting a class of participants every summer to come to San Francisco and work closely with the incredible musicians of ABS. The application process is highly competitive, but the rewards of the program are many. One past Academy participant said, “I recommend this program to anyone inspired and ready to push their musicianship to a challenging and exciting professional level. I won’t say it is easy, but I will say it is worth it.”

2013 Academy "grads" performing as members of ABS during 2013 Messiah performances

2013 Academy “grads” performing as members of ABS during 2013 Messiah performances

Throughout the duration of the Academy and simultaneous ABS Festival, the general public has many opportunities to observe and hear the work being done within the Academy. In addition to free public master classes and some Festival concerts (most notably two performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor and the opera/oratorio program), Academy participants enjoy the spotlight during the Academy-in-Action concerts that open the Festival’s second week. These three concerts (July 14-16) allow Academy participants to perform for works they have developed in classes and coachings throughout the first week for an enthusiastic audience including fellow participants, the ABS faculty, and the general public. The Academy-in-Action concerts provide great moments of discovery: both in regard to hearing beautiful yet rarely performed works and for being introduced to exciting, new performers.

The Academy environment has something of a Baroque analogue in the Collegium Musicum founded by Telemann in 1702, and directed by Bach between 1729 and 1741 at Zimmermann’s Coffee House in Leipzig. That legendary assemblage of artists came together to play new works, dedicate themselves to high-level music making, and to build their performing careers. Journalist and first-hand observer of the entertainments at Zimmermann’s, Lorenz Christoph Mizler, provided a great description of Bach’s sessions:

“Both of the public musical Concerts or Assemblies that are held here weekly are still flourishing steadily. The one is conducted by Mr. Johann Sebastian Bach, Capellmeister to the Court of Weissenfels and Musik-Direcktor at St. Thomas’s and at St. Nicholas’s in this city, and is held, except during the Fair, once a week in Zimmermann’s coffeehouse in the Catherine Street, on Friday evenings from 8 to 10 o’clock; during the Fair, however, twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, at the same hour. The other is conducted by Mr. Johann Gottlieb Görner, Musik-Direcktor at St. Paul’s and Organist at St. Thomas’s. It is also held once weekly, in the Schellhafer Hall in the Closter-Gasse, Thursday evenings from 8 to 10 o’clock; during the Fair, however, twice weekly, namely, Mondays and Thursdays, at the same time.

“The participants in these musical concerts are chiefly students here, and there are always good musicians among them, so that sometimes they become, as is known, famous virtuous. Any musician is permitted to make himself publicly heard at these musical concerts, and most often, too, there are such listeners as know how to judge the qualities of an able musician” (Neu eröffnete musikalische Bibliothek, September 1736).

If you ever wished you were a participant at Zimmermann’s Coffeehouse or wanted to be a fly on the wall to observe that legendary artistic laboratory, don’t miss the ABS Academy this July.

MORE ABOUT THE ABS ACADEMY

Meet ABS Intern Hannah Parkins

WHannah Parkins head shote are pleased to welcome intern Hannah Parkins for the month of January. Joining us through our internship partnership with the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, Hannah arrived at a particularly busy and exciting time at ABS: “Bach’s Magnificat” (January 24-27) and “Bach’s Hercules” (February 21-24) are right around the corner! Luckily she arrived ready to work.

Tell us about yourself: Where you are from?

I am from Tacoma, Washington by way of a little town in Iowa called Newton. I moved to the West Coast when I was ten years old. Right now I reside in Oberlin, Ohio, where I attend Oberlin Conservatory and College in pursuit of two degrees in French horn performance and creative writing.

How did you become interested in music and performing?

It’s a funny story, actually. In middle school, I chose band class instead of orchestra because my sister played ‘cello. I had to be different. My mom was furious at the possibility that I might start playing drums, so she called the principal and tried to switch my classes. Luckily, there was no room in the orchestra. Instead of choosing horn, it’s almost like the horn chose me because, out of all the kids, I was the only one who could make a sound on the mouthpiece. I was eleven years old.

Do you have any favorite composers or works?

I am drawn to music, art, and literature from all eras. I absolutely love Bach, which is what drew me to American Bach Soloists in the first place. His work is timeless and diverse, absolutely rich with metaphysical meaning. I can listen to the ‘cello suites on an infinite repeat – it’s like reading a great book or reconnecting with an old friend; something new always unfurls from the music and moves me.

Other composers I enjoy are Brahms and Thomas Tallis, especially if it’s raining and I can soak up Spem in Alium. I also love the second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

You had a choice of where to apply for your internship. Why American Bach Soloists?

I was looking for an opportunity to learn how an arts organization runs, and American Bach Soloists jumped out of the crowd—it presented itself creatively and passionately. I fell in love with the mission statement on the website about music as a human right and saw right away that the organization fulfills that promise of high quality music to their community. I loved that the educational philosophy of JS Bach was built into the organization’s core – ABS believes in educating present and future audiences, staying true to the musical heritage of historical cultures. The internship itself I knew would reflect these high standards, and I am not disappointed! I’m getting a blend of marketing, development and social media all within the first week.

What are your interests?

I am passionate about the arts and humanities. Communicating is of particular interest to me, and I believe that music and language are inseparable in their ability to transfigure people. I think the best way to effect change in the world is through the medium of the arts; they say what humans alone cannot. If we output beauty and love into the world, then there will always be an inspiration and a goal for humankind.

Tell us something we may not know about you?

I once saved a baby shark by tying a rope around it and lassoing it back out to the sea. I can pogo stick better than I can walk and wish that it were the preferred method of transportation in the city.

Have you learned anything unexpected or exciting in your first week on the job at ABS?

I have learned that everyone involved with American Bach Soloists – and I’d wager with any arts organization – is first and foremost an entrepreneur. Each member has her/his own specific role within the organization that contributes to its success. On top of that, each member is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to answering phones, executing mailings, networking, problem solving, scheduling, advising, and much more. From Don Scott, I learned that it is possible to be highly organized and efficient and still cultivate extremely meaningful relationships. From Steve Lehning, I learned that I should build my personal library before launching into the professional realm. From Jeff McMillan, I learned that a desire to help guide anyone in the right direction is essential, that being flexible is of the utmost importance when running an organization. From Carmen, I learned to be quick, positive, and refreshing despite unanticipated challenges. From Steven Spector, I learned to always back up my files in case my computer crashes.

As you can see, I’ve learned a great deal in the first week. What I am most struck by is everyone’s kindness, dedication, and passion for music. From what I’ve observed, this commonality is what really propels American Bach Soloists into the forefront of arts organizations and makes it the growing success that it is.

Meet the rest of the ABS Staff

Remembering ABS’s Inaugural Season

SF Chronicle February 2 1990 (click to enlarge)

SF Chronicle February 2 1990 (click to enlarge)

Happy New Year!

Our first concert of 2014, “Bach’s Magnificat,” formally kicks off ABS’s 25th consecutive season of subscription concerts from January 24-27. As we look ahead to the fantastic season ahead, we will also periodically revisit some of ABS’s history throughout this benchmark season. For the first look back, we go all the way back to February 1990: President George H.W. Bush had just given his first State of the Union address, a new production of Gounod’s Faust opened at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, Steel Magnolias was dominating the box office in movie theaters around the country, and a new ensemble dedicated to the music of J.S. Bach were preparing to give their inaugural concert.

On February 2 & 3 of 1990, the American Bach Soloists offered their first public concerts at St. Stephen’s Church in Belvedere. Presenting three complete cantatas by J.S. Bach, the first program was an ambitious one:

Wachet! betet! betet! wachet! BWV 70
Meine Seel erhebt den Herren, BWV 10
Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147

The ensemble for the initial concerts included 16 instrumentalists and a chorus of 8 voices. Several of the members of that trailblazing assemblage of artists are still very much a part of ABS: Elizabeth Blumenstock (violin), Lisa Weiss (violin), Katherine Kyme (violin), John Abberger (oboe), Steven Lehning (violone), and Ed Betts (tenor) were among the ensemble. The quartet of vocal soloists was a great one: Judith Nelson (soprano), Jennifer Lane (alto), James Weaver (bass), and our very own Artistic and Music Director Jeffrey Thomas (tenor).

2014-01-07-Thomas-Dimmock

Founding Directors Jeffrey Thomas & Jonathan Dimmock at the 2013 Gala

Nearly three months later on April 27 & 28, the group’s second concerts were offered at St. Stephen’s. That program included four complete cantatas:

Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV 54
Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut, BWV 199
Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht, BWV 55
Ich habe genug, BWV 82

The assembled vocal soloists for the April program constituted another outstanding group: Judith Nelson (soprano), Drew Minter (countertenor), Jeffrey Thomas (tenor), and William Sharp (baritone). Cantatas 54, 55, and 82 were recorded with the same soloists that year, along with Cantata 51 (Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen; Julianne Baird, soprano soloist), for ABS’s first recording: J.S. Bach: Solo Cantatas BWV 54, 55, 82, 199. This recording is now available as Cantatas: Volume I.

ABS’s stellar reputation for presenting the best players and singers in superb, historically informed performances has been well earned over the last quarter-century, but what many may not know is that ABS began at the top. The first concerts in 1990 reflect this in their personnel, challenging programs, and the ecstatic responses and support that immediately followed. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Robert Commanday declared, “A major Bach ensemble has started up in the Bay Area and soon will be a festival feature that people will travel distances to hear.” The Bay Area’s early music community has been an especially rich and enterprising one since the 1980s. In 1990, ABS joined the mix and went straight to the top and have remained there ever since.

The next opportunity to hear ABS will be the all-Bach program titled “Bach’s Magnificat” from January 24-27. Jeffrey Thomas leads the ABS orchestra, the American Bach Choir, and soloists Clara Rottsolk (soprano), Eric Jurenas (countertenor), Guy Cutting (tenor), William Sharp (baritone), and Sandra Miller (flute). See you there!

Bach’s Magnificat – January 24-27 2014

Thank You from ABS Executive Director Don Scott Carpenter

December 31, 2013

I must start with Thank you! American Bach Soloists  had such an exciting 24th season in 2013; I cannot believe another year has already passed. I am again reminded of the impact we have on the Bay Area, across the country, and around the globe and I am so grateful to everyone who supports us in all of our endeavors. Whether you attend our annual subscription season, our Summer Bach Festival, our Summer Academy, our annual performances of Messiah, master classes, lectures, or so many other initiatives, we appreciate how much you trust us to present the finest early-music performances anywhere.

In January we presented Bach’s St. John Passion and continued with “Bach, Handel, & Vivaldi” in March, and Handel’s Apollo & Dafne in May. Our ABS Festival & Academy returned in July with a chamber performance by our international faculty, two performances of the Mass in B Minor, a concert-version of Handel’s Esther, a solo performance by Distinguished Artist Tanya Tomkins, and the highlight of this year’s Festival, Biber’s Missa Salisburgensis – scored for 53 individually composed parts. Our 25th season kicked-off on September 21st with our fundraising Gala at St. Stephen’s Church, Belvedere, and continued in December with our annual performances of Messiah in Grace Cathedral and the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, as well as a one-night only holiday concert, “An ABS Christmas.” And of course, we released our newest recording on December 10th, Mary Wilson sings Handel. 

“The length of his [Jeffrey Thomas] (and many of his associates’) tenure helps to explain the unique group style, level of artistry and sense of community ABS possesses.”
(David Littlejohn, Wall Street Journal)

“Thank goodness for ABS!”
(Jonathan Rhodes Lee, SFCV)

“American Bach Soloists are a historically informed orchestra that relies on period instruments or copies thereof. A pianist friend described them as ‘simply the best,’ which was confirmed by their Berkeley performance of the St. John Passion.”
(Cy Ashley Webb, Stark Insider)

“Handel’s Messiah is one of those durable traditions that are the music industry’s equivalent of ‘Black Friday.’ In the Bay Area, if this is part of your holiday to-do list, then there are five words for you: American Bach Soloists, Grace Cathedral.”
(Michael Zweibach, SFCV)

As we turn the calendar over to the New Year, we continue our 25th season celebration as we immediately enter into our subscription season on January 24-27 with Bach’s Magnificat, followed on February 21-24 with Bach’s Hercules, and concluding on April 25-28 with Bach’s Legacy. In July we will present the 5th annual American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy, featuring our annual performances of the Mass in B Minor, as well as Pergolesi’s Stabat mater (arranged by Bach) and Bach’s Concerto for Three Harpsichords. The Festival also includes Distinguished Artist Mary Wilson and plenty of free master classes and lectures.  On September 21, ABS will host our annual gala at St. Stephen’s, Belvedere, and in December we will present five performances of Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral, the Mondavi Center, and the Green Center.

Over the course of 2013 we saw an increase in earned income of 14% and contributed income of 25%, which includes 149 first time donors. Our board has been diligent in monitoring our fiscal health to ensure that ABS is here for future generations to experience. American Bach Soloists exists because you support and appreciate great music in so many ways. We are grateful for your patronage and look forward to seeing you in 2014 during our 25th season!  If you haven’t had the opportunity to support ABS this calendar year, it’s still not too late! You can visit our website at americanbach.org/giving to make your year-end contribution.

On behalf of music director Jeffrey Thomas, the musicians, board, and staff, I wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year.

With sincere gratitude,
Don Scott Carpenter