Bach’s Magnificat ushers in the New Year, January 24-27 2014

_Z9C9236-bABS’s 2014 Subscription Series concerts begin with Bach’s Magnificat, an all-Bach program that will be presented in Belvedere, Berkeley, Davis, and San Francisco from January 24-27. To honor the group’s illustrious history and usher in the next twenty-five years of artistic excellence, ABS Music Director Jeffrey Thomas has handpicked some of his favorite works by ABS namesake, Johann Sebastian Bach, for the 2014 subscription series concerts.

SMiller (2 of 4) smallThe program begins with Bach’s grand secular cantata Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten! BWV 214 (“Sound, your drums! Ring forth, trumpets!”) and Bach’s virtuoso Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor featuring flutist Sandra Miller. Next will be one of Bach’s most extraordinarily impressive cantatas, Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir, BWV 130, a fantastically extroverted work composed for Leipzig’s lavish celebrations of the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels in 1724. Bringing back a hallmark of ABS’s cantata performances over the years, the audience will be invited to sing along on the final chorale. The final work on the program is one of Bach’s most popular sacred compositions, the Magnificat in D Major. This powerful setting is also one of the composer’s most succinct considering how comprehensive it is: a startling array of sweet and savory musical delights are encompassed within its economical 24 minutes.

The American Bach Choir will be featured on three of the program’s four selections. Directed by Thomas, this esteemed group of singers who “set the standard in choral singing” (San Francisco Classical Voice) will demonstrate their mastery in Bach’s exuberant and joyous music. Further augmenting the vocal forces for the January concert will be four exceptional vocal soloists: soprano Clara Rottsolk, countertenor Eric Jurenas, tenor Guy Cutting in his ABS debut, and baritone William Sharp.

Clara Rottsolk’s “clear, appealing voice and expressive conviction” (New York Times) have thrilled ABS audiences since this rising early music star’s 2012 debut with the ensemble in the early version of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Countertenor Eric Jurenas, a participant in the 2011 ABS Academy, dazzled ABS audiences in this season’s performances of Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral and the Mondavi Center. Tenor Guy Cutting makes his ABS debut in Bach’s Magnificat. After touring worldwide as a chorister with New College Oxford under Edward Higginbottom, Mr. Cutting has emerged in recent seasons as a distinguished solo artist and is the inaugural recipient of the Jeffrey Thomas Award. Rounding out the quartet of soloists is veteran baritone William Sharp, who has performed with American Bach Soloists for two decades, most recently appeared with the ensemble as Christus in Bach’s St. John Passion last season and as a member of the ABS Academy faculty.

Tickets for this Bach spectacular can be purchased on our website or by calling the ABS office at (415-) 621-7900.

Bach’s Magnificat – January 24-27 2014

John Thiessen, Baroque Trumpet Master Class at the SF Conservatory

As part of its education and outreach efforts, ABS has collaborated with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in past seasons in presenting a series of free, public master classes. These opportunities to hear the virtuosos of ABS work with talented, young players from the Early Music program at the Conservatory continue during the 2013-14 season with classes led by John Thiessen (Baroque trumpet) on January 20, 2014; Ian Howell (countertenor) on February 17; and Jeffrey Thomas (conductor) on April 21.

Baroque trumpeter John Thiessen

Baroque trumpet virtuoso John Thiessen kicks off this season’s master class series on Monday, January 20 at 7:30 pm in the Conservatory’s recital hall. Thiessen is well known among ABS concertgoers for his resplendent sound and flawless technique and was featured in ABS’s December programs, including Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral and the Mondavi Center as well as Bach’s cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, BWV 51, at the ABS Christmas Concert. He will again be featured with ABS from January 24-27, 2014, playing Bach’s exuberant secular cantata “Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten!” BWV 214, and the Magnificat in D Major.

Described by The New York Times as “the gold standard of Baroque trumpet playing in this country,” Thiessen’s performances combine beauty of sound with brilliance and virtuosity for 17th-19th century repertory. In addition to American Bach Soloists, he appears regularly as soloist and principal trumpet with North America’s foremost early music ensembles, including Tafelmusik, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Juilliard Baroque, Trinity Baroque Orchestra, the Boston Early Music Festival, and Early Music Vancouver.

Known for his virtuosic performances, Thiessen is also highly regarded as a master teacher. As an ABS Academy faculty member and instructor at Juilliard in New York City, Thiessen has trained many of the best up and coming period-brass players. Don’t miss this opportunity to witness Thiessen working with San Francisco’s most promising young trumpet players!

The January 20 master class is free and open to the public. The San Francisco Conservatory of Music is located at 50 Oak Street and is conveniently accessible by MUNI and BART.  Seating is available on a first come, first serve basis. To ensure getting the best seats, early arrival is strongly advised.

More about the ABS Master Class Series

ABS Holiday CD Sale


In time for the holidays, take advantage of this week’s CD sale that includes ABS’s set of six volumes of cantatas, Brandenburg Concertos, St. Matthew Passion, Mass in B Minor, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Ian Howell, choral and vocal works by Heinrich Schütz, and our Holiday Carols recording, “What Sweeter Music.”

Order soon and take advantage of quick delivery options. The sale ends on Friday, and does not include Messiah, Corelli Concerti Grossi, Bach Harpsichord Concertos, or our newest release, “Mary Wilson Sings Handel.”

Happy Holidays!

CD Sale – December 14-20

Mary Wilson Sings Handel Released!

MWEdit2American Bach Soloists’ newest CD, Mary Wilson Sings Handel, is here at last! Officially released today, December 10, this exciting new recording features the beloved soprano singing three bravura works by Handel: Silete venti, Laudate Pueri Dominum, and Gloria.

The new recording is available as a CD through our website, as well as Amazon, CD Baby, and stores that sell CDs. You may also purchase the CD at the merchandise table at any ABS concert or download it directly from iTunes.

Recorded within the sanctuary of St. Stephen’s Church in Belvedere, Mary Wilson Sings Handel features the gorgeous sounds of the ABS orchestra, the acclaimed American Bach Choir, and “shining soprano Mary Wilson, a gift from the gods if I ever heard one” (San Francisco Classical Voice). This new recording with its delicious musical program and superb performances makes the perfect gift for the music enthusiasts in your life. Happy listening!

Download Program Notes

Order CDs | Download from iTunes

Meet this year’s Messiah Soloists

ABS fans rejoice! December is here and with it the return of ABS’s highly anticipated performances of Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral—the 15th year of this beloved Northern California tradition. Wednesday and Thursday of next week (December 11 and 12) are the days for this year’s annual performances at San Francisco’s spectacular landmark. Do you have your tickets yet? Seats are selling very rapidly, but a few remain and can be purchased here:

Along with the virtuoso period instrumentalists of the ABS orchestra and the standard-setting American Bach Choir, Maestro Jeffrey Thomas will direct an outstanding quartet of soloists in this year’s performances.

Lets meet the soloists:

SULKERSHAWNETTE SULKER (soprano) has been praised by Opera News for the “natural warmth and charm” of her singing, and noted for “…displaying a bright, superbly controlled soprano with perfectly placed coloratura” (San Francisco Chronicle). ABS patrons may remember her appearances a few seasons ago in Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts with the Mark Morris Dance Group, and Henry Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas in ABS’s collaboration with the San Francisco Opera Center and The Crucible. A frequent collaborator with Maestro Thomas, Ms. Sulker has performed under his baton in performances of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. A video of that performance, with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra and University/Alumni Chorus at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, is one of the most requested classical music films on YouTube, with well over 10,000,000 views!

JURENASERIC JURENAS (countertenor), proclaimed as “the real deal” (Grand Rapids Press) and defined as having a “rich, mature voice” (Third Coast Digest) with “incredible power” (Opus Colorado), has quickly established himself as a dynamic and versatile performer in both opera and concert. Mr. Jurenas has performed as a featured soloist with American Bach Soloists, Michigan Opera Theatre, Opera Philadelphia, The Dayton Philharmonic, Colorado Bach Ensemble, Calvin College Choirs, Kentucky Bach Choir, and the Bel Canto Chorus of Milwaukee, among others. An alumnus of the American Bach Soloists Academy, he has been featured in ABS performances of Handel’s Ariodante and Dixit Dominus, and Vivaldi’s Beatus vir.

SHEEHANAARON SHEEHAN (tenor) has established himself as a first rate singer in many styles. His performances are heard regularly in the United States, South America, and Europe, and he excels equally in repertoire ranging from oratorio and chamber music to opera. His singing has taken him to many festivals and venues including Tanglewood, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Washington National Cathedral, the early music festivals of Boston, San Francisco, Vancouver, Houston, Tucson, Washington DC, and Madison, as well as the Regensburg Tage Alter Musik. Known especially for his Baroque interpretations, his voice has been described by the Boston Globe as “superb: his tone classy, clear, and refined, encompassing fluid lyricism and ringing force” and the Washington Post praised his “polished, lovely tone.” Mr. Sheehan is a first rate interpreter of the oratorios and cantatas of Bach and Handel. He has appeared in concert with ensembles including the American Bach Soloists (most recently as the Evangelist in Bach’s St. John Passion), Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Handel and Haydn Society, Boston Baroque, New York Collegium, Les Voix Baroque, Boston Early Music Festival, Aston Magna Festival, Washington National Cathedral, Pacific Music Works, Boston Museum Trio, Tragicomedia, the Folger Consort, and Concerto Palatino. On the opera stage, he has appeared in the Boston Early Music Festival’s world premiere staging of Mattheson’s Boris Gudenow, Lully’s Psyché, Charpentier’s Actéon, and in Handel’s Acis and Galatea.

BOUVIERMISCHA BOUVIER (baritone) has been noted by the New York Times for his “rich timbre” and “fine sense of line,” and his performances have been called a “delight to encounter for the first time” by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He continues to impress audiences with his keen musicality and remarkable communicative ability. Mr Bouvier is an alumnus of the inaugural class of the American Bach Soloists Academy, at which he performed the role of Lucifer in Handel’s dramatic oratorio, La Resurrezione. He has performed with a wide array of ensembles including Anonymous 4, the Mark Morris Dance Group, Boston Symphony Orchestra, American Handel Society, the Bach and the Baroque Ensemble of Pittsburgh, Bronx Opera, the Five Boroughs Music Festival, the Folger Consort, Sacred Music in a Sacred Space, and Christopher Williams Dance. A singer of tremendous versatility, Mr. Bouvier made his professional musical theater debut under the baton of Keith Lockhart in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel with the Boston Pops.


Thanksgiving at ABS


As we get set to begin another outstanding year of American Bach Soloists concerts, the 25th consecutive concert season since the group was founded in 1989, we at ABS would like to send a heart-felt thanks to all who have supported ABS over the years. We would also like to thank all those newcomers who will join us for their first ABS event in December at our presentations of Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral and the ABS Christmas Concert at St. Stephens Church in Belvedere. Thank you!

Since the beginning, ABS Artistic and Music Director Jeffrey Thomas has consistently brought together the best singers and instrumentalists of the early music world to perform the extraordinary works of J.S. Bach, his contemporaries, and several composers who influenced or were inspired by Bach’s profound artistic creations. ABS’s magnificent performances are made possible through the generous support of the members of the ABS family: you! Through donations, ticket purchases, volunteerism, and general interest in our activities, you have made it possible for ABS to achieve the goal of presenting only the best in Baroque performance year after year. We are grateful for all you do for ABS.

We look forward to seeing you during the coming all-Bach season of 2014. Subscriptions are still available for all four of our venues: Belvedere, Berkeley, San Francisco, and Davis. Subscribers enjoy the best ticket prices and many exclusive benefits. If you or someone you know would like to subscribe to the American Bach Soloists 2014 all-Bach series, please visit our website, or call the ABS office at (415) 621-7900.

The ABS offices will be closed in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday from 12:00 pm on Wednesday, November 27 through Sunday, December 1. Tickets for ABS’s presentations of Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral may be purchased at any time through our website: Wishing you all the best for the Thanksgiving holiday and we look forward to seeing you in December and in the New Year ahead.

Mary Wilson Concert and CD Release Party a Blast!

We could not have wished for a better evening on Saturday, November 16, for the special concert and CD release party for American Bach Soloists: Mary Wilson Sings Handel. A clear, warm night, gorgeous views of the San Francisco skyline, beautiful music by ABS, and a fine group of supporters all combined to form a magical evening!


Guests arrived in the downtown harbor of Belvedere at the China Cabin, a historic landmark that formerly served as the social saloon onboard the steamship PS China during the 1860s. From there, limousines delivered everyone to the nearby 125 year-old Old St. Hilary’s Church. Sitting alone atop an isolated hill in Tiburon with breathtaking views of the North Bay and San Francisco, Old St. Hilary’s is an old house of worship with plenty of rustic charm and excellent acoustics.


After a welcome from ABS Executive Director Don Scott Carpenter, a small ensemble led by Jeffrey Thomas took to the stage. The players were:

MWEditMary Wilson, soprano
Sandra Miller, flute
Noah Strick & Addi Liu, violin
Clio Tilton, viola
Gretchen Claassen, violoncello
Steven Lehning, violone
Derek Tam, harpsichord

A spirited performance of J.S. Bach’s Non sa che sia dolore, BWV 209, with the guest of honor, Mary Wilson, as the soloist, proved an excellent opening work for the concert. Miller, Lehning, and Tam followed with a brilliant performance of Bach’s Sonata in C Major for Flute and Basso continuo, BWV 1033. Finishing out the program with arias by Handel, Thomas directed this responsive, intimately connected ensemble of ABS veterans and recent Academy graduates while Wilson sang with glorious tone and effortless grace.


After the concert, musicians and guests returned to the China Cabin for a reception and CD signing party. Wilson inscribed copies of the new CD and charmed everyone in sight. It was a wonderful opportunity for many of ABS’s supporters to meet and chat with this superb artist. The new CD, Wilson’s first, is the latest to join the highly acclaimed recorded catalog of ABS. It is available for Pre-Order now on iTunes. Purchase your copy today, and help ABS get to the top of the iTunes sales charts on the release day of December 10th, when the entire album will be automatically downloaded to your iTunes library. Or, if you prefer a physical CD, you can wait until December 10 to order at, Amazon, or CD Baby.

Just click on the album cover to be sent directly to the correct page in iTunes…

Mary Wilson Handel

Special thanks are due to Delicious! Catering ( for providing tasty appetizers and champagne at the reception and also to our wonderful photographer Eddie Frank of Gas Lamp Productions ( whose photos captured the beautiful setting, music, and, most of all, people who made this a memorable day.

ABS’s donors keep us going strong year after year with generous, greatly appreciated support. The November 16 special concert was both a way for ABS to say thank you and to celebrate the release of the new recording.


Don’t Miss “An ABS Christmas”

Baroque trumpeter John Thiessen

Baroque trumpeter John Thiessen

For many, December with ABS usually means outstanding performances of Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral and the Mondavi Center. This year, ABS will also be performing a special one-night-only concert, An ABS Christmas, on Saturday, December 14 at 8:00 pm at St. Stephen’s Church in Belvedere. Artistic and Music Director Jeffrey Thomas will conduct the ABS orchestra, the American Bach Choir, Baroque trumpeter John Thiessen, and soprano Shawnette Sulker in a program that features two superb works by J.S. Bach and a selection of holiday carols. One of the highlights of the program will be a performance of Bach’s Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, BWV 51, a virtuoso cantata for soprano and trumpet soloists, two violins, viola, and basso continuo. The appropriately extroverted opening aria finds the soprano and trumpet contributing dazzling lines in a thrilling exchange of musical ideas. The cantata’s chorale, “Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren,” is a gentle, intimate setting where the soprano’s lyric melody is supported by two violins. This section sets up the finale of the work, a fugue on the word “Alleluja!” that is an all-out display of musical fireworks.

Soprano Shawnette Sulker

Soprano Shawnette Sulker

Demanding precise execution and supreme breath control throughout, Bach’s exuberant music in the hands of two virtuoso soloists like Sulker and Thiessen will surely be given a beautiful and thrilling performance on December 14. Bach designated Cantata 51 for the fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, but later added “… et in ogni Tempo…” (“and for any time”). With the forces assembled for An ABS Christmas, December 14, 2013 is the perfect time to hear this magnificent work! The exciting program—which also includes Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen from Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio,” BWV 248, and holiday choral works by Britten, Conte, Howells, Rutter, Vaughan Williams, and Whitacre—will only be performed once. Currently there are only 34 tickets remaining. Tickets may be purchased online or by calling the ABS Office at 414-621-7900.

Cover 1

Bach Cantatas Vol. I

Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen was recorded by ABS twenty-five years ago with soprano Julianne Baird and trumpeter Barry Bauguess as the two soloists. That exquisite memento is available on the CD Bach Cantata Series: Vol 1 Solo Cantatas and can also be heard on the American Bach Soloists Player, but there really is no substitute for hearing Bach’s music in live performance by Jeffrey Thomas and the members of ABS. We look forward to seeing you on the 14th!


ABS 2014 Academy Now Accepting Applications

ACADEMY only logo 72dpi RGBAn Advanced Training Program for
Emerging Professionals and Accomplished Students
of Historically Informed Performance Practice
July 7–20, 2014
Now accepting applications
Deadline: FEBRUARY 1, 2014

handout1_web72The AMERICAN BACH SOLOISTS ACADEMY is an advanced training program for emerging professionals and accomplished students of historically informed performance practice. The ACADEMY offers unique opportunities to study and perform Baroque music in a multi-disciplinary learning environment with the distinguished roster of the American Bach Soloists—named “the best American specialists in early music” by The Washington Post— gaining the perspectives of eminent and highly acclaimed professional artists from a variety of disciplines. In addition to in-depth coachings and technical studies with masters of their particular instruments, string players, wind and brass players, continuo and keyboard players, and singers work together with all faculty members.

Each day during the multi-week program, students will work in a master class environment with their teachers, rehearse ensemble works in collaboration with their new colleagues, and prepare for chamber performances and large-scale productions in which ACADEMY participants perform along with the faculty, working side-by-side. Most afternoons include presentations by faculty members on a variety of relevant topics including performance practice, Baroque studies, and historical contexts. Additionally, forums are offered on topics such as career development, recording and technology skills, and tuning and temperaments.

The ACADEMY is held in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s exquisite facilities in the heart of the city’s arts district, offering state-of-the-art performance halls, classrooms, practice rooms, and teaching studios.  During the course of the program, students and faculty present public concerts including Chamber Series programs, “Academy-in-Action” concerts, concert-version Baroque opera or oratorio, and annual performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor. Additional ACADEMY events include colloquia, public lectures and master classes, and special performances including the Distinguished Artist Series.

2014  FACULTY:
Elizabeth Blumenstock violin & viola
Max van Egmond voice
Corey Jamason harpsichord
Steven Lehning violone & contrabass
Judith Malafronte voice
Robert Mealy violin & viola
Sandra Miller flute
Debra Nagy oboe & recorder
William Sharp voice
Kenneth Slowik viola da gamba & violoncello
William Skeen violoncello
John Thiessen trumpet
Jeffrey Thomas conductor

Prepare for ABS’s All-Bach Season with new Bach Publications

Logo-25th-Season-72dpi-WEB-ONLYFrom January 24-27, the American Bach Soloists subscription series begins with Bach’s Magnificat, an all-Bach program featuring the always popular Magnificat BWV 243, the Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor BWV 1067, the secular cantata Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten! BWV 214, and the sacred cantata Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir BWV 130. This program will be a thrilling testimony to the composer’s genius for musical expression in different genres.

The January concerts mark the beginning of a (near) all-Bach subscription series that continues with Bach’s Hercules February 21-24 and Bach’s Legacy April 25-28. With a few weeks and months to go until those concerts, there are many ways to prepare for the ABS Bach extravaganza of 2014.

For those who would like to supplement their musical experiences with reading materials about this remarkable artist (or stuff the stockings of the Bach-lovers you know), we thought it would be fun to highlight some of the new Bach books of 2013.

John Eliot Gardiner

It has been a great year for new books about Bach! Conductor John Eliot Gardiner’s first book, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven (Knopf: 672 pages, $35), will be released next week. Gardiner grew up in a home with one of the two known original portraits of Bach hanging on the wall (the E.G. Haussmann portrait, 1748). He has also established a remarkable career performing the composer’s music and researching his life. The book, which weaves together the author’s biography along with that of Bach, offers many insights for readers, especially those interested in masterworks such as the Mass in B Minor and two Passion settings (instrumental works are not covered to the same degree).

Paul Elie

Another recent work is Paul Elie’s Reinventing Bach (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 512 pages, $17). At heart, an appreciation of Bach and his music, the book might also be called a celebration. Elie guides the reader through Bach’s extraordinary music with an emphasis on how recordings and performance practice have contributed to and affected how we listen.


If mysteries or thrillers are more to your liking, consider Steve Schach’s Old Bach is Come (Wandering in the Words Press: 222 pages), a historical novel about a plot to assassinate Frederick the Great during Bach’s visit to the Prussian Court.

Bach Perspectives 9For the scholarly reader, Bach Perspectives 9: J. S. Bach and His German Contemporaries (Univ. of Illinois Press: 168 pages, $54) will be released toward the end of the year. This latest volume in the series will include articles by Alison Dunlop, Wolfgang Hirschmann, Michael Maul, Andrew Talle, and Steven Zohn.

B-minor massAlso, a new collection of essays edited by Yo Tomita, Robin A. Leaver, and Jan Smaczny titled Exploring Bach’s B-minor Mass (Cambridge: 320 pages, $100) will be released in November.

New Bach ReaderA slightly older, yet indispensible, work is The New Bach Reader: A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents (W.W. Norton and Co. $24.95, 607 pages). This resource’s in-depth chronology, lists of works, and numerous letters from the Master illuminate both his works and his day-to-day life. Fascinating reading and surprisingly entertaining!

The music of J.S. Bach certainly does not require extra study time to be enjoyed in live performance. With tickets to ABS’s 2014 concerts in hand, you already have what is most essential! Purchasing tickets for any of the concerts or subscribing to all three is easy. You may purchase tickets online at or call the ABS office at 415-621-7900. Whether armed with readings, recordings, scores, and/or open ears, being there when the musicians of ABS take the stage is what is most important—it is going to be a great season!

2013/14 Season at a Glance

ABS, Messiah, and Grace Cathedral … A 15 year tradition

ABS Messiah 1998

Program Cover from ABS Messiah Performances in 1998

This season’s December 11 & 12 performances of Messiah mark the 15th year of ABS’s presentations of Handel’s masterpiece in San Francisco’s most awe-inspiring venue, Grace Cathedral. ABS’s first presentation in this glorious landmark was a single performance on Tuesday, December 22, 1998. The ensemble offered performances in San Rafael and Berkeley on preceding nights, so the Cathedral event was the culmination of the series. Who knew it would also mark the beginning of a beloved Bay Area tradition that continues to delight and attract thousands of music fans fifteen years later?

For the inaugural 1998 performance, the soloists were soprano Emily van Evera, alto Judith Malafronte, tenor Nils Brown, and baritone David Arnold. ABS Artistic and Music Director Jeffrey Thomas, who sang the tenor part in two Messiah performances a week earlier at St. Thomas’s Church in New York City, returned to the west coast just in time to lead the ABS forces in all three performances. The St. Thomas performances, by the way, featured Gerre Hancock conducting Concert Royal, an excellent period-instrument ensemble that had future ABS Baroque trumpet virtuoso John Thiessen playing “The Trumpet Shall Sound.”

From the beginning, ABS has assembled outstanding Baroque specialists year after year for their annual visits to Grace Cathedral. Messiah soloists over the years include:

The line wrapped around the block.

The line wrapped around the block.

Sopranos: Emily van Evera (98, 99), Catherine Bott (00, 01), Ellen Hargis (02), Mary Wilson (03, 11, 12), Arianna Zukerman (04, 10), Shawnette Sulker (05), Elizabeth Weigle (06), Christine Brandes (07), Tamara Matthews (08), Yulia van Doren (09),

Altos/Countertenors: Judith Malafronte (98), Katherine McKee (99), Stephanie Novacek (00), Daniel Gundlach (01), Jennifer Lane (02, 10), Marietta Simpson (03), Daniel Bubeck (04), Rosemarie van der Hooft (05), Katherine Growdon (06), Jennifer Hines (07), Ian Howell (08, 09, 11, 12), Jennifer Lane (10)

Tenors: Nils Brown (98, 99, 01), Norman Shankle (00), Sean Fallen (02), Wesley Rogers (03, 07, 09, 10, 12), Stephen Tharp (04, 05), Benjamin Butterfield (06), Aaron Sheehan (08), Charles Blandy (11)

Basses/Baritones: David Arnold (98), David Thomas (99), Nathaniel Watson (00), Thomas Meglioranza (01), Vitali Rozynko (02), Aaron Engebreth (03), William Sharp (04, 05), Jeremy Galyon (07), Jesse Blumberg (08, 09, 11, 12), James Maddalena (06, 10)

ABS "Fireworks" Concert in Grace Cathedral

ABS “Fireworks” Concert in Grace Cathedral

Beyond the annual December performances at Grace Cathedral, ABS has offered many special concerts in that space over the years. Some highlights include a full cycle of Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Violoncello, Bach’s Magnificat, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Couperin’s Leçons de Ténèbres Les Apotheoses, Bach’s complete Motets, and music by Buxtehude, Telemann, Corelli, Muffat, Mozart, and Schubert. One extraordinary event in the Cathedral many ABS fans will remember was Handel’s Fireworks Celebration, a festive event celebrating the 325th anniversary of Handel’s birth. This collaboration with the Cathedral opened with Coronation Anthem No. 1 from Zadok, the Priest and Laudate pueri, Dominum (Abigail Haynes Lennox, soprano soloist) and continued with Suites Nos 2 and 3 from Water Music and The Music for the Royal Fireworks. The finale, accompanied by a laser fireworks show all around the inside of the Cathedral, made an unforgettable conclusion to this festive event.

ABS’s 2013 performances of Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral boast a tremendous line-up with Maestro Thomas leading ABS, the American Bach Choir, and four superb soloists: soprano Shawnette Sulker, countertenor Eric Jurenas, tenor Aaron Sheehan, and baritone Mischa Bouvier. See you there!

Messiah in Grace Cathedral – December 11 & 12 2013

New CD: ABS & Mary Wilson!

Mary Wilson sings Handel

Mary Wilson sings Handel

Mark your calendars now! December 10 is the official release date of ABS’s newest CD release: Handel: Laudate pueri Dominum featuring Mary Wilson. This recording celebrates the joyous meetings of American Bach Soloists, under the direction of Jeffrey Thomas, with one of their most cherished collaborators, the sensational American soprano Mary Wilson.

Known for her dazzling technique and beautiful voice, Mary has long been an ABS fan favorite. Since making her ABS debut in the 2003 performances of Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral, she has appeared with ABS on many occasions singing the music of Bach, Pergolesi, Vivaldi, Charpentier, and, most of all, Handel.

Soprano Mary Wilson

Soprano Mary Wilson

The new recording features ABS and Mary performing extraordinary works by Handel: Laudate pueri Dominum, a gorgeous psalm setting which Wilson sang with ABS at the 2012 Christmas concerts at St. Stephens Church in Belvedere and the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis last season; Gloria, an early work from the period of the composer’s Italian sojourn; and one of last season’s great highlights, the virtuoso motet Silete venti (“Silence, ye winds”).

Produced by the same team that recorded ABS’s last CD, 1685 & The Art of Ian Howell, and recorded in the beautiful acoustics of Belvedere’s St. Stephen’s Church, the sound quality is excellent. Pre-order now and help ABS top the iTunes charts!


ABS Recordings

Introducing Carmen Flórez-Mansi

Carmen Flórez-Mansi, Development Associate

Carmen Flórez-Mansi, Development Associate

We are pleased to welcome Carmen Flórez-Mansi to the ABS family, as she will be working with development and donor relations. Carmen joined the team shortly before the Silver Soirée gala and contributed greatly to the success of the event.  She is a native of New Mexico and holds degrees from Immaculata College in Philadelphia with additional study at the University of New Mexico. Carmen lives in Napa with her husband, Tom, and her two sons, Thomasluke and Estevan.

For twenty-eight years, Ms. Flórez-Mansi worked in Catholic parishes in Villanova and Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and in Napa, California. Among myriad tasks as a director of liturgy & music she has overseen the development of programs, committees, staff, and musicians. She has a passion for development and special events and has coordinated a royal visit of the Crown Prince and Princess of Spain to Santa Fe; established and cultivated a fund to purchase musical instruments including a Steinway grand piano; and founded the St. Cecelia Institute for Liturgical Arts.

“I am very excited to assist in making the visionary and strategic future goals of American Bach Soloists a reality.  I look forward to meeting and interacting with donors and patrons and bringing the treasure of musical excellence to those who have not yet experienced the artistry of ABS. Through building relations and establishing special events for donors in the Bay Area and reaching further into the North and South Bay, I hope to broaden the knowledge of ABS and help to serve the audiences that are so important to the ongoing vision of American Bach Soloists.”

Staff Directory

ABS’s “Silver Soirée”

Gala guests eagerly perusing Silent Auction items

Gala guests eagerly perusing Silent Auction items

On September 21, ABS held its Eleventh annual gala, “Silver Soirée” celebrating twenty-five years of American Bach Soloists’ continued presence in the field of early-music across Northern California. This year’s event was co-chaired by former board member Jan Goldberg and Kaneez Munjee, along with Development Consultant Camille Reed, Development & Donor Relations Associate Carmen Flórez-Mansi, and Executive Director Don Scott Carpenter.

Tenor Kyle Stegall & soprano Nola Richardson

Tenor Kyle Stegall & soprano Nola Richardson singing “Happy We!”

That Saturday, the Bay Area welcomed a morning deluge of rain, but it did not hinder the efforts to ensure that our gala was perfect. Delicious! Catering added a few tents to the set-up plan and we were ready to present a very successful dinner and auction. The evening’s musical offering was just that, “A Musical Offering” and featured three ABS Academy alumni: Nola Richardson, Kyle Stegall, and Christopher Matthews, along with violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock, ‘cellist William Skeen, violone player Steven Lehning, harpsichordist Corey Jamason, and Artistic & Music director Jeffrey Thomas at the organ.  The program featured works composed by Handel, Clérambault, Rameau, and J.S. Bach.

Jeffrey Thomas; Paul & Sandra Ogden; Jonathan Dimnock

ABS Founders Jeffrey Thomas, Paul & Sandra Ogden, & Jonathan Dimmock

One of the highlights of the evening was the acknowledgement of several of the original founders who were present: Paul & Sandra Ogden, Jonathan Dimmock, and Artistic & Music Director Jeffrey Thomas.

ABS’s auctioneer Kenn Cunningham piloted both the silent and live auction which comprised: beautiful pieces of art, jewelry, wine, tickets to music, dance, and theater performances, a trip to Florence, Italy, a weekend in Southern California, and tickets to the Metropolitan Opera in NYC.

Flutist Christopher Matthews with tenor Kyle Stegall

Flutist Christopher Matthews with  Corey Jamason, Kyle Stegall, William Skeen, and Steven Lehning

This year’s gala raised more money and had more patrons in attendance than any preceding year. A truly huge success! ABS is particularly thankful to everyone who attended. If you were unable to participate, but would still like to donate to ABS, you can visit our online donor page at

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December with ABS

Messiah in Grace Cathedral

Messiah in Grace Cathedral

December will be a busy month for ABS! On December 11 & 12, ABS presents its annual performances of Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral. On Saturday, December 14, the group returns to St Stephens for An ABS Christmas. Wrapping up the intense schedule of events, ABS will perform Messiah at the Mondavi Center in Davis on the afternoon of December 15. It will be an exciting, music filled time and we look forward to seeing you!

San Francisco Classical Voice wrote, “What stood out above all, in this annual rite that drew a huge crowd, was the sense of being addressed directly, personally, confidingly. Conductor Jeffrey Thomas brought it all together, melding his ABS forces with precision and intuitive responsiveness to Handel’s capacious 1742 masterwork.”

Soprano Shawnette Sulker

Soprano Shawnette Sulker

This year’s quartet of vocal soloists will include soprano Shawnette Sulker, an artist with whom ABS Music Director Jeffrey Thomas has collaborated on a number of occasions. Thomas says, “Shawnette has a gorgeous voice. She has wonderful stage presence and her rendition of the soprano arias in Messiah is superb.” Also featured will be countertenor Eric Jurenas, who came to ABS through the Academy when he sang the role of the villain, Polinesso, in Handel’s Ariodante. Tenor Aaron Sheehan (who sang the role of the Evangelist in last year’s performances of Bach’s St. John Passion) and Mischa Bouvier (one of our audience’s most favorite baritones) also join the combined forces of ABS and the American Bach Choir.

Highlights of An ABS Christmas will include a performance of Bach’s brilliant cantata, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen. Requiring a virtuoso soprano and a virtuoso trumpeter, John Thiessen will join Ms. Sulker in the musical fireworks. The second half of the program will showcase the American Bach Choir in beautiful works appropriate for the holiday season by composers Benjamin Britten, David Conte, Herbert Howells,
John Rutter, Ralph Vaughan Williams, & Eric Whitacre.

More information:
Messiah | An ABS Christmas

Q&A from Early Music Today (UK)

Early Music TodayAdrian Horsewood ( from the UK publication Early Music Today recently sent a few questions my way for an article that was published on September 3 2013 in that superb online and print magazine. Here are my unedited (i.e. pre-edited) responses to his great questions:

Obviously Bach is close to your heart and key to your programming; what first gave you the kick to devoting such a major part of your career to his music?

I was drawn to the music of Bach during my childhood. After studying violin and piano for a number of years, I had the good fortune of living in a city in Pennsylvania that had recently welcomed a performer/scholar to one of its college campuses. He was a Bach specialist, and I had my first significant experiences with listening to and practicing on harpsichords and pipe organs at that time. Of course, that immediately threw me into the wonderful world of Bach, and I have been devoted ever since.

You had an extremely successful international career as a tenor; when did you start directing, and do you miss your life as a singer?

When ABS was founded in 1989, the idea was to bring together the best ensembles of Bach specialists to perform (primarily, at the time) the composer’s rich cantata repertoire. I had been performing and recording that music for some time already, so I carried on as the principal tenor at ABS. Soon, however, the scale of some of our performances grew such that a conductor was necessary. I had been conducting since my teenage years, and had studied quite a bit in conservatory and privately with a mentor, John Miner. So, I was happy to take on the additional responsibilities. What I discovered all too soon, however, is that one must wear many hats when managing an ensemble such as ours. In the first years, especially, when we were focusing so heavily on the production of CD recordings, my days were full and varied, and I never felt that I had quite the advantage of a day’s rest before a performance that my colleagues could enjoy. Bit by bit, I decided – at first, reluctantly – that I would have to focus on one aspect or another, and the musical direction won out. I did miss singing for a while, but when I realized that I never had to clear my throat on the way to the stage, or worry so meticulously about all the details of sleep, hydration, rest, etc. that are always on the minds of singers, I must admit that it was a relief! All singers know that everything must be perfectly aligned for the voice to respond as best as it can, and when anything gets in the way of that, it becomes just a little bit less enjoyable. Ultimately, I felt that I could do more for ABS and for this music that we all love so dearly by focusing on the artistic and musical direction of the ensemble.

Very few musicians could find the time or energy to cover the wide range of activities that you do – directing the ABS in its performance and educational work, teaching at the University of California, and hosting your own weekly radio show! You’re clearly a passionate evangelist for the music you love – how much do these various roles complement each other?

I think that the connection or link between those activities is, in a word, “education.” I have loved my work with ABS since its beginnings, but it was really not until we had established our Academy that our mission and goals really found their fruition. A performing arts organization such as ours provides a dearly cherished part of the musical repertory that can be so important to those who already know quite a bit about it. But Bach’s music – and the music of the Baroque in general (or any other period, for that matter) – can certainly attract new listeners. Before long, they want to know more about what they’re hearing. Arts patrons really do want to be significantly involved in their experiences, and they often measure that sense of ownership by comparing their intuitive reactions to their gained knowledge. So, education in all of its forms about works of art – whether through program notes, informal talks before or after concerts, or at special events – is critical to our enjoyment of that art. By focusing recently on our Academy, we have extended that core mission to the most fantastic generation of emerging artists whose passion and determination to master the early music repertoire is astonishing. They embrace it and its challenges both with the forthrightness of their technical approaches and with a ravenous hunger to understand its underpinnings, rhetoric, and cultural relevance. I can’t express how privileged I feel – as do my Academy faculty colleagues – to work in such an inspiring environment. At the University of California, I direct ensembles and teach a Bach class that I enjoy very much. The class is a great joy, of course, and relates very directly to my work in expressing how much we can learn from the greatest artists, who need not be isolated from our own lives by any elevated sense of distance or elusive relevance. And hosting my radio shows on KDFC, which can be heard streaming there in the UK, also gives me an opportunity to share the same kinds of information, but through yet a different approach: one that is certainly more casual and relaxed, but just as effective if not more so, considering how many listeners really do stop what they’re doing and concentrate on the music

The ABS obviously has a very loyal audience and subscriber base – how have your audiences changed over the last 25 years?

In the beginning, we used to muse about what seemed like the existence of a finite number of patrons who would be there, at every concert, rain or shine, because they were so devoted to Bach’s music. While some audience members would change, the total number seemed to be very consistent. In time, though, despite reasonable concerns, the audience began to grow at a steady and now impressive rate. Over the last year, nearly all of our concerts were sold out, gaining us our highest attendance numbers ever. I think that two aspects of our programming are to be credited with the growth. A decade or so ago, we began our series of performances of Handel’s Messiah in the magnificent setting of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. Those performances are one of the highlights of the year for me: The Cathedral is packed full of people; the excitement about the performance in that beautiful space during the December holidays is palpable; Grace Cathedral couldn’t be more welcoming of our performances there, and the acoustic effects of the Cathedral are spectacular. Then, as part of our 21st season (2009-10), we inaugurated the Festival & Academy in another wonderful space, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The audiences, again filling the concert hall to its capacity, seem to be passionately dedicated to the Festival and to the emerging artists that are each year’s Academy Participants. We open our Academy sessions (master classes, lectures, colloquia) to the public for an entire week, and they are filled with people who greatly value the immersion experience of it all.

The breadth and scope of the ABS’s educational work is very impressive, particularly the summer ACADEMY – there are very few similar events in Europe, where one ensemble spends such a long time with students in such small groups. What do you encourage students to work on during the ACADEMY, and what career paths have they gone on to take after working with you?

One of the most important principles of approach to us is that of multi-disciplinary understandings. We make special efforts to assure that singers and players of all instruments understand the challenges and expressive devices available to each other. Our faculty coach the participants in rotations, so that an ensemble that might consist of a singer, a couple of violins, and basso continuo will be coached not only by members of our singing, violin, and continuo faculty, but also perhaps by faculty members from other disciplines. This is so very important. Music-making in all of its forms is by definition collaborative, and we want our Academy Participants to take with them a much heightened awareness about how all the pieces fit together. I also believe that we, as performers, are granted the incomprehensible honor of rendering what we see on the page into an audible analog that can be understood by listeners who might have little or no experience at all with the details, tools, and devices of composition. A composer such as Bach, along with hundreds more, never put a note on a manuscript page without thinking about it. Those notes, and all the elements of composed music, have specific purposes founded in the meaning and rhetoric that the composer has chosen to put forward. Why did a composer choose a particular note value or length, or pitch, or melodic contour? Why is one phrase or portion of text repeated at a specific time and place in the movement? We must decipher that, and almost innumerable other aspects, tirelessly, as best as we can, and bring those realizations to our performances rather than take the approach of “What can we do with (or, “to”) this piece of music?” Instead, the question to ask is: “How can we best reveal what is already here on the score?” Those are two radically different approaches, and the decision to follow one course or the other defines a performance career. Our participants also establish important and budding professional relationships with each other during their time with us. Many have formed new ensembles on their own, and a good number have become new members of American Bach Soloists.

The ABS’s discography is refreshingly varied – what recording plans do you have in the pipeline?

On the immediate forefront, a new release of works by Handel will be available before the end of 2013. The recording will feature the sensational soprano, Mary Wilson, whose mastery of the Handel repertoire is phenomenal. I think that this new recording will make a great impression on anyone who hears it. We recorded the (relatively) recently discovered Gloria in D Major, the Laudate, Pueri, Dominum from the “Carmelite Vespers,” and Silete venti, which is, to me, one of Handel’s finest works.

A few photos from the Academy

The 'Cellos

The ‘Cellos

Rehearsing the Mass in B Minor

Rehearsing the Mass in B Minor

Kyle Stegall, Isaac Pastor-Chermak, Elizabeth Blumenstock

Kyle Stegall, Isaac Pastor-Chermak, Elizabeth Blumenstock

Derek Tam

Derek Tam

Valerie Gordon & Mishkar Núñez-Mejía

Valerie Gordon & Mishkar Núñez-Mejía

Justin Bland, Leigh Anne Hunsaker, Patrice Boileau

Justin Bland, Leigh Anne Hunsaker, Patrice Boileau

Adam Young, William Skeen, Gretchen Claassen, Jane Leggiero

Adam Young, William Skeen, Gretchen Claassen, Jane Leggiero

Jason Rylander, Travis Hewitt, and Andrew Padgett

Jason Rylander, Travis Hewitt, and Andrew Padgett

Noemy Gagnon-Lafrenais, Valerie Gordon, Karin Cuellar

Noemy Gagnon-Lafrenais, Valerie Gordon, Karin Cuellar

Joseph Monticello & Alissa Roedig

Joseph Monticello & Alissa Roedig

Isaac Pastor-Chermak, Vijay Chalasani, Arthur Omura, & Rachel Van Amburgh

Isaac Pastor-Chermak, Vijay Chalasani, Arthur Omura, & Rachel Van Amburgh

Tanya Tomkins - CD signing

Tanya Tomkins – CD signing

Approaching the cadence…

In a few hours, we’ll return to Bach’s masterpiece as the closing work for our ABS Festival. It is like enjoying a wonderful visit with a close friend: there is always something new to talk about and there are always familiar and cherished memories to revisit. Conversations with our best friends are easy and rich, and so are the musical conversations that we have with Bach through this great work that we are privileged to know so well.

Then we must say farewell to our dear new colleagues, the Academy Participants, who have made these two weeks the wonderful adventures that they were. I trust that we’ll see them and hear them again. I’m sure of that.

Yesterday’s master class (voice) and Max van Egmond’s lecture on the special techniques used by singers who specialize in music of the Baroque era (and beyond) were offered to capacity crowds. Those free public events are one of the defining aspects of our Festival, and many spend the entire week with us, enjoying those and evening concerts for six or so days in a row.

Last night, in the grand Concert Hall of the Conservatory, we were fortunate to hear the Distinguished Artist Series performance by Tanya Tomkins. She was, of course, superb. Beginning with one of the most complex of Bach Suites for Solo Violoncello, and ending with a concerto by Bach’s son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, the colors of sonorities during the concert were beautiful. The Sonata No. 6 in C Minor by Jean-Baptiste Barrière, scored for two ‘cellos and harpsichord was the big “surprise” on the program, revealing a deep blend of sounds and a sensational allegro movement. Afterwards, Tanya signed copies of her new CD recording of the Bach suites. Here’s a photo showing some happy audience members (who also appear to be young Giants fans).


So, it’s off to put the finishing touches on the Bach for our 2pm matinee. This should probably be the last installment of these blogs from the Festival. But I’m sure that we’ll send along a wrap-up of some sort.

Thanks for reading!

Esther triumphs.

There was a palpable buzz around the Conservatory yesterday. The excitement that led up to our Festival/Academy performance of Esther was as great as that which preceded the great Biber Salzburg Mass last weekend. People arrived hours early in hopes of finding a seat for the sold-out performance. The folks on our wonderful box office staff (led by Lisa May) were able to eke out about a half-dozen extras in the gallery above the stage. But that was it, and the crowd that did have tickets knew how lucky they were to have made their reservations in advance. I met music-lovers from all sorts of locations, even some who had driven for hours and hours just to hear this early masterpiece by Handel.

Without any exaggeration, the performance was stunning. The Academy string players are phenomenal. Under the mentorship of Elizabeth Blumenstock, Robert Mealy (who was the leader and concertmaster for Esther), William Skeen, Elisabeth Reed, and Steven Lehning, those exceptionally talented Academy members in the violin, viola, ‘cello, and bass sections played with a polish and finesse that I have rarely heard anywhere. A fine continuo band, excellent playing by horns, trumpet, oboes, and bassoon, and the colorful combo of triple harp and baroque flute provided the color and excitement that Handel had intended. The singers were glorious, as was the American Bach Choir, nearly bringing the house down with the great chorus “He comes to end our woes,” a heroic and powerful romp of joy near the end of the work.

The day started with our final preparations for the performance, followed by another great public master class (Winds & Brass) and a lecture presentation on Handel’s English Oratorios, offered by “yours truly.”

The buzz this morning is all about today’s public offerings—Voice Master Class and the lecture by early music superstar baritone, Max van Egmond—and this evening’s concert by the justly renowned violoncellist Tanya Tomkins.

It nearly breaks my heart to know that in barely more than another day, the splendid Academy Participants will be moving on to their next triumphs elsewhere. When I say that I wish we could find a way to keep them all here, I mean it! They’re simply wonderful, and it has been the deepest pleasure of their mentor colleagues to work with them over the course of this two-week program. I will be so sorry to see them leave what has been our nest for a short while. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned in all these years of producing concerts of early music, we will see them again here, there, somewhere, and that is consoling and promising!

Tomorrow, the final performance of the work that we started at the first minute of rehearsals on day one of the Academy: Bach’s Mass in B Minor.

More tomorrow…

Radiant music during a dark night in the concert hall.

This one will be quick, as I’m running out the door to an early morning rehearsal. We have a big day ahead of us, mostly because it will result in a concert of some of Handel’s most glorious music. That’s a big statement, I know, but it’s true. In Esther, Handel composed a couple of the most tremendous choruses you’ll ever hear. This little “masque” composed for a private performance in the extravagant settings of the Cannons estate in 1718 contains choruses of the grandest proportions. And the colors that Handel elicited from a very efficiently sized orchestra seem to be innumerable just by the addition of some horns, and a triple harp. Gorgeous arias, a wonderful story… we had a great time at our dress rehearsal last night in the concert hall, the only evening of the Festival without a public performance.

This afternoon our wind and brass participants will be featured in the public master class and I’ll present a short talk about Handel’s English Oratorios. This is going to be fun.

More tomorrow…