Free Master Class with oboist Debra Nagy, Feb. 22

Debra Nagy, oboe. Photo: Brandon Labadie

Debra Nagy, oboe. Photo: Brandon Labadie

Each season, ABS collaborates with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to present free public master classes. At each master class, students from the Conservatory’s Historical Performance program work with a musician from ABS on matters of technique, interpretation, and applying a historically informed approach to Baroque repertory. Master classes allow audiences to witness the artistic transformations that occur as talented young musicians discover new paths toward deeper engagement and expression in their music. On Monday, February 22 at 7:30 p.m., ABS oboist Debra Nagy will coach a group of baroque oboe students through selected works from the Baroque Era.

Debra Nagy has been hailed for her “dazzling technique and soulful expressiveness” (Rocky Mountain News), and recognized as “a Baroque oboist of consummate taste and expressivity” (Cleveland Plain Dealer). Since winning an ABS young artist competition in 2002, Nagy has emerged as one of the country’s leading exponents on her instrument. She appears regularly with ABS and many other period-instrument ensembles and is the director of the acclaimed Cleveland-based ensemble, Les Délices. Nagy is also the oboe & flute faculty member each summer at the ABS Academy.

The February 22 master class is free, open to the public, and begins at 7:30 pm. The San Francisco Conservatory of Music is located at 50 Oak Street, close to BART and MUNI stops. For more information about this and other upcoming free public master classes by the musicians of American Bach Soloists, please visit our website here.

ABS celebrates “Early Music Month” in March


Looking ahead, next month is officially “Early Music Month,” a new, grassroots initiative sponsored by Early Music America to raise awareness for this vital musical tradition and the artists, scholars, and artisans who devote themselves to it. To honor the occasion and the March birthday of our namesake, American Bach Soloists is proud to present a concert showcasing the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, the greatest of all early music composers. On Friday, March 18, San Francisco Symphony organist and ABS co-founder Jonathan Dimmock will perform an all-Bach organ concert at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco on one of the Bay Area’s most treasured tracker organs.

Jonathan Dimmock, organ

Jonathan Dimmock, organ

Opportunities to experience J.S. Bach’s works for “the king of instruments” in a live setting are rare; don’t miss this one-night-only event! For social media-minded attendees, be sure to use the hashtag: #EarlyMusicMonth2016.

Bach the Vote

BachVoteAs another observance of “Early Music Month,” ABS will publish the results of our “Bach Favorites” poll throughout the month of March. Did you vote for your favorite work by J.S. Bach during the intermission of the January concert? If not, you have another chance to exercise your right to vote for your favorite aria, chorus, cantata, concerto, partita, passion, mass, or other, at our February 26-29 performances of “Alexander’s Feast.” Look for the “Bach Favorites” poster in the lobby at the concerts later this month. Early leaders after the “January Caucus” are St. Matthew Passion, the Mass in B Minor, and the Concerto for two Harpsichords in C Minor. Remember, you can also vote for arias and choruses within the large-scale works!

Early Music America (EMA)

EMA_logoAlong with sponsoring “Early Music Month,” EMA is a year-round supporter of the fine work of American musicians, ensembles, educators, scholars, and instrument makers who specialize in the music of the eighteenth century and earlier. EMA members receive the organization’s excellent quarterly magazine EMAg, access to exclusive online resources, and numerous other benefits. If you would like to consider becoming a member of EMA, please visit their website:

Tickets for the ABS Bach Birthday Concert on March 18 are only $25. To order, please visit or call the ABS office at (415) 621-7900.


Application Deadline for 2016 Academy is February 15

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The deadline for applying to the 2016 ABS Academy is fast approaching—all applications are due Monday, February 15, 2016 by 11:59 p.m. PST. The Academy is a unique opportunity for study, training, and performance of Baroque music and historically informed performance practice at the highest level. This year’s Academy will be held August 1-14, 2016, at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.


Admission to the Academy is through competitive application. Candidates must submit materials including 2 letters of recommendation, audio recordings (audition repertory guidelines here), and pay a $35 application fee. All application materials are submitted online. For more information, visit our Academy page or contact Academy Administrator Jeff McMillan ( or 415-621-7900, ext. 204).

Begun in 2010, the ABS Academy has prepared between 50 and 75 musicians each summer for professions in Early Music. Our graduates have gone on to lead extraordinary careers all over the world and many have performed with elite Early Music ensembles, including American Bach Soloists, since completing the program.

In December 2015, 13 Academy graduates performed as members of the orchestra, choir, and as vocal soloists in ABS’s performances of Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” and 24 performed in ABS’s annual performances of Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral.


Former Academy participants at Grace Cathedral after performing Handel's Messiah: Lindsay Strand-Polyak (violin, 2013, 2014), Tatiana Chulochnikova (violin, 2010), Vijay Chalasani (viola, 2014)

Former Academy participants at Grace Cathedral after performing Handel’s Messiah in December 2015: Lindsay Strand-Polyak (violin, 2013, 2014), Tatiana Chulochnikova (violin, 2010), Vijay Chalasani (viola, 2013)

Justin Bland (trumpet, 2013, 2014) and Ramón Negrón (viola, 2014, 2015)

Justin Bland (trumpet, 2012, 2013) and Ramón Negrón (viola, 2014, 2015)


Shawn Alger (bass, 2014, 2015), soprano Cheryl Sumsion (American Bach Choir), and Daniel Turkos (bass, 2014, 2015)

Shawn Alger (bass, 2014, 2015), soprano Cheryl Sumsion (American Bach Choir), and Daniel Turkos (bass, 2014, 2015)


What’s Your Favorite Bach?

BachVoteDo you have a favorite composition by J.S. Bach? Is there a particular aria, chorus, cantata, or concerto that you hold dear? Before each performance of “Bach Favorites” from January 22-25 and during the intermissions, we would love to hear about your favorites! Look for the sign in the lobby that says “My Favorite Bach” and fill out a card with the name of the work you admire most, your name, and a way to contact you. There will be space on the cards to express why you enjoy the piece or what you like most about it, if you would like to share. On March 1, ABS will draw one entry from the box and that lucky Bach fan will win a pair of tickets to one of this summer’s performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor during the ABS Festival & Academy, August 5-14.

The top 31 favorites will be published on the ABS blog, Facebook, and Twitter during March as part of our celebrations for Bach’s Birthday and “Early Music Month.” Make it personal or just cast your vote, but let us know your favorite (four entries per person). Bach the Vote!

A few great seats for the ABS presentations of “Bach Favorites” remain. Purchase online, call (415) 621-7900, or purchase at the door of each venue one hour before the performance.

ABS presents “Bach Favorites,” January 22-25

Happy New Year! For many, the beginning of a new year presents the opportunity for a fresh start and perhaps a new set of goals. One common resolution is, of course, to focus on fitness. Joining a gym or exercise class is certainly worthwhile, but how about giving Bach a spin? Adding more J.S. Bach to your life during 2016 just might be the recipe for a “new you” in the year ahead. ABS is here to help! We have a wonderful season of works by J.S. Bach ahead, beginning January 22-25 with “Bach Favorites,” a balanced program of two extraordinary cantatas from the composer’s first year in Leipzig and two virtuosic works for violin featuring the 2016 Jeffrey Thomas Award recipient, Tatiana Chulochnikova.

Jeffrey Thomas and American Bach Soloists. Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

Jeffrey Thomas and American Bach Soloists. Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

The program will open with Cantata 70, Wachet! betet! betet! wachet! The text of the cantata is about the Day of Judgment, and the opening words, “Watch, pray, pray, watch!”, communicate with urgency that the listener must remain vigilant and prepared because the Second Coming will happen swiftly. Cantata 70 was a featured work at the very first ABS concert and now, 27 years later, Jeffrey Thomas and ABS return to this masterpiece, one of Bach’s most dramatic and moving sacred works from his first Cantata Cycle in Leipzig.

Mary Wilson, soprano

Mary Wilson, soprano

Four brilliant vocal soloists will join ABS for “Bach Favorites.” Soprano Mary Wilson needs little introduction as she has been a featured artist with ABS on many memorable occasions. Following each performance of “Bach Favorites,” Wilson will appear in the lobby of each venue to sign Blu-ray and DVD copies of the new ABS film, “Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral,” and the CD “Mary Wilson Sings Handel.” Countertenor Jay Carter, who appeared with great distinction in last season’s performances of St. Matthew Passion, will perform Bach’s alto solos on the program. Tenor Derek Chester, the outstanding Evangelist in last season’s St. Matthew Passion performances, and baritone Mischa Bouvier, a standout as the giant Polyphemus in Handel’s Acis and Galatea last year, round out the quartet. Along with the American Bach Choir and instrumentalists of ABS, all under the baton of Jeffrey Thomas, this program brings together a grand assemblage of leading Bach interpreters and is THE place to start your year off with more Bach!

Next, violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova will hold the spotlight in a performance of the famous Toccata & Fugue in D Minor, in her transcription for solo violin. A thrilling performer with outstanding technique and extroverted style, Chulochnikova’s performance will surely exhibit some fireworks. Do not miss this opportunity to hear why this young artist was awarded the Jeffrey Thomas Award this year and why she is one of the most exciting young violinists to emerge in the Early Music community in recent years.

Tatiana Chulochnikova. Photo: Alexander Kagan

Tatiana Chulochnikova. Photo: Alexander Kagan

Chulochnikova will open the second half of “Bach Favorites” with a performance of the composer’s beloved Violin Concerto in E Major. From its familiar opening measures to its moving and expressive second movement and exhilarating finale, there are many reasons why this concerto is a favorite of music lovers everywhere. Read our interview with Chulochnikova where she discusses her personal connection with the work and how the performances with ABS will be the realization of a long-held dream.

The closing work on the program is Bach’s Cantata 147, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben. As with Cantata 70, this work has its moments of drama and intensity, but Cantata 147 is notable for the sheer beauty of its music. The work opens with a solo trumpet, which is soon joined by the orchestra to form a richly textured ensemble sound that moves along with typical Bachian complexity and buoyancy. Then, as if that were not enough to grab the listener’s attention, the voices begin to enter, first sopranos, then altos, tenors, and finally basses, in a brilliant vocal fugue. Each group of singers executes elaborate runs on the word “Leben” (or “Life”) within this framework, as if to communicate that the faithful must pledge themselves to God with their hearts, mouths, and deeds, but most of all with their lives. The work has many stunning arias and musical highlights, but it is the chorus “Jesu bleibet meine Freude” (frequently translated as “Jesus, joy of man’s desiring”) that is perhaps most cherished by Bach’s admirers. The gentle, floating character of the melody, along with its forward-leaning momentum, can be heard in our video announcement (below) for “Bach Favorites.”

Tickets are available to the four performances of “Bach Favorites” around the Bay Area and in Davis. Reserve your seats today and begin 2016 with Bach and ABS!


The ABS Academy: A Unique Opportunity

Paul Vanderwal

Paul Vanderwal outside the San Francisco Conservatory of Music before a performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, August 2015

You might remember Paul Vanderwal, a violoncellist from New Jersey who participated in last summer’s ABS Academy. At this time last year, Paul was pursuing one very important goal: attending the ABS Academy. Some years earlier, he had put aside his modern instrument for a time before his passion for playing music was rekindled when he discovered the joy of playing works from the Baroque Era. His drive and talent made his Academy application highly competitive and Paul was accepted into the program. Being accepted was only part of realizing his goal; he still had to get to San Francisco! Through a wonderful video testimonial, Paul raised the funds that enabled his participation and he spent two music-filled weeks in San Francisco in the ABS Academy. Here is his video appeal for support:

Several generous sponsors came to his aid and Paul participated in the 2015 Festival & Academy, “Versailles & The Parisian Baroque,” where he enjoyed two weeks of intense study and performed in several Festival performances. He played violoncello in the U.S. premiere of Marin Marais’ opera Sémélé, Bach’s Mass in B Minor, and several arias by J.S. Bach during the “Baroque Marathon” sessions. Along with the 73 other Academy participants, Paul studied and worked his way through fourteen days of lessons, master classes, rehearsals, and evening performances. I caught up with him four months after his Academy experience and asked him how things have been going.

How did you first learn about the ABS Academy?

“At Montclair State University, where I am currently studying, we have a small Baroque ensemble led by violinist Theresa Solomon and harpsichordist Gwendolyn Toth. As my dedication to the group grew stronger, Theresa mentioned the possibility of studying at the ABS Academy. A former student of Theresa’s, Karin Cuéllar, who was one of the first people I met at MSU and had introduced me to the Baroque ensemble, had attended the previous year and encouraged me to pursue it.”

Were you already familiar with the work of the ABS Academy’s violoncello faculty members William Skeen and Kenneth Slowik?

“I was familiar with them, but I didn’t know it yet. I had been listening to recordings and watching performances of theirs for quite some time. It was only after doing some research into the Academy that I made the connection. My first introduction to Bill was from searching for videos of performances with 5-string cellos. I continued thereafter to watch just about every Voices of Music video on YouTube. With Ken, it was The Castle Trio recordings of the Beethoven Piano Trios. They are my favorite.”

Your video about attending the Academy is terrific. Did it help raise funds for your participation?

“Thanks. The plan was to make a video that was fun, entertaining, and represented a little bit of myself. The amount of love, support, and encouragement I received from both inside and out of my community was far beyond what I expected. Although I was quite determined to attend, without raising the funds, I’m not quite sure if I would have made it to the Academy, and I would like to extend my appreciation to everyone who helped me in reaching that goal.”

Describe your Academy experience. Did attending the program help you achieve any of your personal or musical goals?

“Attending the Academy was a profoundly positive experience. Being surrounded by amazing mentors, who are so knowledgeable and supportive, and having the opportunity to see how they work and to work with them is invaluable and has had a long-lasting effect. Additionally, becoming friends with the other participants, who are learning and working towards the same goals as yourself, is something I will cherish for many years. Performing Marais’ Sémélé and Bach’s Mass in B minor were certainly highlights of my experience, with the last performance of the Bach a truly emotional one. Both the faculty and students have opened my eyes to the fact that there is so much more music to discover and explore, and that is something I’m looking forward to with eager eyes.”

How have things been going since the ABS Academy?

“Things have been going quite well since attending the Academy. I’m about halfway through my performance degree and it has been my busiest semester yet. I’ve taken on a few more students, played a few recitals, and have tried to take every opportunity to play that is presented to me. We are trying to expand our Baroque ensemble at MSU, and this year we’ve had our largest participation.”

Have you stayed in contact with friends that you made in San Francisco during the program?

“A few of us have definitely kept in touch. It is great to see how many opportunities they’ve been presented with, how busy they are, and how they’re all excelling at what they do.”

What are your plans for 2016?

“Overall, my hope is that our ensemble at school continues to grow. I plan to continue with my studies towards my degree, to grow my student base, to continue to play as much as possible, and I hope to raise enough funds to attend the Academy again in 2016.”

The ABS Academy is a unique opportunity for emerging Baroque specialists to study and perform with a stellar faculty of ABS musicians who are all leaders within the early music community. The 2016 Academy will be held at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music from August 1-14, and applications for the program are now being accepted. The deadline to apply is February 15. If you would like to dedicate your life to performing this music at the highest level, apply today! If you know someone who might want to apply, please forward this message or contact Academy Administrator Jeff McMillan at (415) 621-7900, ext. 204.

If you would like to support a talented young musician like Paul who is pursuing a career performing the works of Bach at the highest level, please consider becoming a Sponsor of the ABS Academy. For more information, please contact Development Director Garrett Shatzer at (415) 621-7900, ext. 207.

Interview with violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova, the 2016 Jeffrey Thomas Award recipient

Jeffrey Thomas and Tatiana Chulochnikova

Jeffrey Thomas and Tatiana Chulochnikova. Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

American Bach Soloists created the Jeffrey Thomas Award in 2013 to honor, recognize, and encourage exceptionally gifted emerging professionals in the field of early music. In tandem with a cash prize, recipients are invited to perform with American Bach Soloists and ABS audiences have enjoyed the opportunity to hear previous recipients tenor Guy Cutting in Bach’s Magnificat and violoncellist Gretchen Claassen in a concerto by Leonardo Leo. This month the 2016 recipient of the award, violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova, will hold the spotlight in two thrilling showcases for her dazzling technique and bravura style: Bach’s beloved Violin Concerto in E Major and her own violin transcription of the famous “Toccata & Fugue in D Minor.” We asked Chulochnikova about her violin, her love of playing the music of Bach, and the upcoming program, “Bach Favorites.”

You were a participant in the inaugural ABS Academy in 2010. What impact did that experience have on your career?

“It was, without exaggeration, a life-changing experience for me. Not only did I learn a lot during that inspiring workshop, but I also met Maestro Jeffrey Thomas and other ABS musicians for the first time; it also turned out to be the beginning of my collaboration with this renowned ensemble which I consider one of my top career achievements so far.”

What was your reaction upon learning that you would be the recipient of the 2016 Jeffrey Thomas Award

“I felt privileged but also surprised and flattered, especially knowing how many exceptional young musicians attend the ABS Academy every year. It is a real honor to be acknowledged among them, and moreover, to be remembered after 5 years!”

Tell us a little about the works you will be performing with ABS at the “Bach Favorites” concerts, January 22-25.

“I will be performing two works by J.S. Bach: the Violin Concerto in E major and my transcription of the famous “Toccata & Fugue in D Minor” for organ. The violin concerto is a delightful piece with a very special 2nd movement. I remember hearing this particular movement performed at a lesson by one of my classmates back in Moscow many years ago. The music was so unbearably beautiful I could not stop the tears. Since then it has been my dream to play it one day. Well, dreams come true.”

Tatiana Chulochnikova

Tatiana Chulochnikova. Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

As a composer and performer, you are engaged with music representing many different styles and eras. What attracts you to the works of the Baroque?

“I think music history of the 20th century shows us that modern and contemporary composers are very much interested in the Baroque style and its aesthetics. There are hundreds of pieces by Modernist and Postmodernist composers that are inspired by the Baroque genres and forms, such as passacaglias, chaconnes, and fugues. It is, of course, a different musical language and treatment of harmony but in my opinion, the expression is similar in many ways. In fact, that was exactly the concept which gave me the idea for a solo recital program I am putting together where works from Baroque and contemporary eras will be juxtaposed to demonstrate the arc between the styles, which seem so far apart and yet have so much in common.”

What about the works of J.S. Bach? Is there anything different about your preparation or enthusiasm for performing his music?

“I believe J.S. Bach is one of the most difficult composers to play for a violinist. In sonatas and partitas his writing for violin is extremely complex and polyphonic. That’s why I think it’s impossible to understand everything in these pieces at the first exposure to them. But that is the fun part; every time one revisits this repertoire there is always something new and exciting to hear and to learn!”

Are there any areas of Bach’s music that you feel deserve greater attention? Any specific works you would like to perform more?

“It may seem that Bach’s music is regularly performed and recorded, but there is still room for discovery. Recently, I led the Washington Bach Consort in a performance of Bach’s Latin church music from his Leipzig period. We performed two of his “Short Masses” (in G and A major). Both are stunning works which are not performed often enough. Also, I must confess that I simply cannot resist programming the Chaconne [from Partita No. 2, BWV 1004] whenever possible. I think it’s impossible to get tired of this piece, …ever.

What Bay Area activities do you enjoy when you have free time between rehearsals and performances?

“I love exploring the city and its vibe, often with my camera—taking pictures is my hobby. San Francisco is a lovely place to be. I particularly enjoy running by the Bay while listening to Philip Glass who by the way, recently composed a Partita for Solo Violin which is clearly modeled after Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas, and even has a Chaconne. Pure Neo-Baroque!”

After your January performances with ABS, what is next for Tatiana Chulochnikova in 2016 and beyond?

“I am looking forward to a very busy spring. I am excited to be back for two more projects with ABS [Alexander’s Feast,” February 26-29; Easter & Ascension Oratorios,” April 22-25]. Also the Four Nations Ensemble, of which I am a member, will be presenting three concerts at the NYC’s Merkin Hall. This group is famous for its innovative programing, and this season will not be an exception! I will also be leading the Washington Bach Consort on several occasions for our “Bach Cantatas” and “Chamber Series” in downtown D.C., as well as other projects. Also, I am beyond excited to share the news that I have just finished recording my debut solo album. It will be the first recording of violin works by a very special, late 19th-century composer who happens to be from my hometown in Ukraine. Happy to share more details soon!”

The ABS audience loves The Musicians page in our programs because they also list the musicians’ instruments. Would you say a little bit about your violin?

“Interestingly, all my instruments and bows come to me when I’m not looking very actively, …and it’s always love at first sight. My Baroque violin was made in the 18th century by the German builder Joseph Hollmayr. It was converted back to its Baroque set-up by the previous owner. The violin I use for modern repertoire is a Stradivari model made by an anonymous builder from the early 20th-century.”

Hear Tatiana Chulochnikova perform at Bach Favorites, from January 22-25 in Belvedere, Berkeley, San Francisco, and Davis. After each performance you will have the opportunity to meet the violinist in the lobby of each venue. To purchase tickets for “Bach Favorites,” please visit or call (415) 621-7900.

A Bach & Handel December with ABS

Thank you to all who attended the ABS performances of Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” at St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco and the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis as well as Handel’s Messiah in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. Five performances in seven days of two major works made for an intense, yet musically rewarding week. We hope you enjoyed the performances! Below are a few images by Gas Lamp Productions to accompany your memories of the extraordinary music of Bach & Handel as it was performed by Jeffrey Thomas and American Bach Soloists.

Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” at St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco



Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco

Handel_Messiah1 Handel_Messiah2


For information about the 2016 subscription series of concerts, please check our website. To order the new ABS film, Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral, please visit

See you in 2016!

Garrett Shatzer named ABS Development Director

Garrett Shatzer, ABS Development Director

Garrett Shatzer, ABS Development Director

ABS is pleased to announce the appointment of Garrett Shatzer as the organization’s Development Director effective January 1, 2016. Mr. Shatzer joins the San Francisco­–based staff after engagements as the Annual Fund & Institutional Giving Manager at the Oakland Symphony and the Annual Fund Manager at Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. “I am deeply honored to be joining the staff of the American Bach Soloists. I’ve greatly admired the group since I first heard of them when I moved to Davis in 2008. Their musicianship is extraordinary, and I’ve had the pleasure of attending many of their concerts over the years. ABS has made great strides recently, and I very much look forward to contributing my efforts to ensure its continued success” stated Shatzer. Executive Director Don Scott Carpenter added, “I am very pleased that Garrett is joining us and I look forward to working with him as we enhance a development plan that continues to support the artistic excellence created by artistic director Jeffrey Thomas; this is an important step for the future of ABS.”

Mr. Shatzer will work closely with Mr. Carpenter, as well as the development committee and the board in cultivating and soliciting individual donations, as well as corporate, foundation, and government gifts.

#Giving Tuesday at ABS

A message from ABS Executive Director Don Scott Carpenter:


Did you know that #GivingTuesday started in 2012 to support giving in our community? Observed on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving. It’s the perfect way to support your favorite non-profit as the calendar year draws to a close. We know that we are among many organizations who are asking you for financial support, and we are hoping that you will choose American Bach Soloists as one of the recipients of your charity.

There are myriad ways to support ABS. Whether you would like to sponsor an entire program, a single concert, the soprano section, a soloist, or would simply prefer to make a contribution, your generosity will make a difference.

Our year-end goal is $150,000 and every dollar raised will go directly to support the music and musicians of ABS. Help us make #GivingTuesday a success. To make your contribution, please donate HERE. Or if you prefer, please feel free to contact me and we can receive your donation in any method you choose.

Thank you in advance for your support!

Don Scott Carpenter
Executive Director
(415) 621-7900, ext. 203

ABS Film “Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral” to be released on Blu-ray™ and DVD

ABS Messiah Blu-ray™

ABS Messiah on Blu-ray™

American Bach Soloists are proud to announce the limited, pre-release availability at our December 2015 holiday concerts of our highly anticipated film “Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral.” Recorded in HD video with DTS High Definition™ 5.1 Surround Sound, the film will be available on Blu-ray Disc™. Standard Definition video with Dolby Stereo sound will also be available on DVD. Blu-ray™ and DVD copies will be available at the same price of $25. The national and international release date for this film is March 1, 2016, whereupon disc copies will be available through the ABS website and other vendors, or via streaming or download through iTunes, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Google Play.

Capturing a scintillating December 2014 performance of the 1753 Foundling Hospital Version of Handel’s masterpiece by American Bach Soloists under the direction of Music Director Jeffrey Thomas, Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral also presents the beautiful artwork and majestic interior and exterior architecture of San Francisco’s singular landmark, Grace Cathedral. Vocal soloists Mary Wilson (soprano), Eric Jurenas (countertenor), Kyle Stegall (tenor), and Jesse Blumberg (baritone) sing Handel’s great arias and ensembles, and are joined by ABS musician John Thiessen on trumpet.

Voted “Best of the Bay” for Early Music Performance 2014-2015 by the readers of San Francisco Classical Voice, this memorable performance of Handel’s Messiah, which played to a sold out crowd last year, will now be available worldwide through this film

Available at these performances:

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in St. Ignatius Church, December 12 2015 7:30 p.m.

Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral, December 16-18 2015 7:30 p.m.

Agnes Vojtko, mezzo-soprano

Agnes Vojtko, mezzo-soprano

Agnes Vojtko, mezzo-soprano

Since attending the ABS Academy in 2014, mezzo-soprano Agnes Vojtko has been making memorable and lasting impressions on Bay Area audiences and critics with her “exceptionally even, modestly plush, and heart-touching sound” (Bay Area Reporter). After appearances as an Academy participant in Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato and Bach’s Mass in B Minor (she sings the aria “Laudamus te” in the ABS Documentary Anatomy of A Masterwork; at the 7:02 second mark), she made her ABS debut last season in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and was the featured soloist in September at the annual gala where she sang arias by Bach and Handel. ABS is delighted to present this exceptional young artist in two full-scale oratorios by those two Baroque masters this month.

Born in Hungary, Agnes completed a bachelor degree in music at the prestigious Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. Later, she moved to the United States as a Fulbright fellow to attend the Butler School of Music of The University of Texas at Austin, where she obtained the degree of Doctor in Musical Arts. Her vocal flexibility and magnetic dramatic presence are infused with the best from the Austro-Hungarian tradition and her American music training. To read more about Agnes, visit her website:

Agnes Vojtko at ABS annual gala, September 2015

Agnes Vojtko at ABS annual gala, September 2015. Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

To purchase tickets for Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” at St. Ignatius Church (December 12) or Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral (December 16-18), please visit the ABS website or call (415) 621-7900.

Hélène Brunet, soprano

Hélène Brunet, soprano

Hélène Brunet, soprano

A participant in the inaugural ABS Academy in 2010, soprano Hélène Brunet made her first impression on Bay Area audiences with her portrayal of Mary Magdalene in the ABS Festival performance of Handel’s La Resurrezione. The Montreal native has since earned acclaim for her “vocally alluring and musical in conception” (Calgary Herald) performances around Canada, Europe, and the United States. She has been praised for her interpretations of the works of Bach, Handel, and Mozart, and has also performed in a diverse array of stage work including Lully’s Persée and Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Last season, Hélène made her ABS debut in the sold-out performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. This December, ABS is pleased to present this outstanding soprano in two of the greatest oratorios ever written: Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” and Handel’s Messiah.

Hélène Brunet performs in Bach's St. Matthew Passion with ABS, February 2015.

Hélène Brunet (fourth from left) performs in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with ABS, February 2015. Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

A graduate of the University of Montreal in 2010 and the Montreal Conservatory of Music in 2011, she has studied under the direction of soprano Suzie LeBlanc and the countertenor Daniel Taylor as well as participated in several master classes, most notably with Dame Emma Kirkby, Charles Daniels, and June Anderson. Hélène has also performed with several renowned ensembles and orchestras including the Orchestre Métropolitain conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal. Hélène is featured in several recordings, including: Adagio: A Consideration of a Serious Matter (Analekta, 2013), Ave Maria (Analekta 2012), Vivaldi, Le Retour des Anges (Analekta, 2011), Messiah by Sven-David Sanström (Carus Records, 2010), and War Requiem (Hänssler Classic, 2008). To read more about Hélène, visit her website:

To purchase tickets for Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” at St. Ignatius Church (December 12) or Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral (December 16-18), please visit the ABS website or call (415) 621-7900.

Read about alto soloist Agnes Vojtko…

Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio”: An Introduction, Part III

Our examination of Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” concludes with a look at the work’s final two cantatas. To read the previous installments, click here: Parts I & II, Parts III & IV.

Part V: Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen (“Glory to thee, God, be sung now”). First performed: January 2, 1735

Members of American Bach Soloists

Musicians of American Bach Soloists

The fifth cantata of the “Christmas Oratorio” was originally performed on the first Sunday after New Year’s Day, so in the timeline of the story the news about Jesus’ birth has had some time to spread. In this cantata we meet the Wise Men of the Christmas narrative and also have our first introduction to an antagonist in the story, King Herod. The Wise Men, sung by the choir, inquire about the whereabouts of the newborn baby in alternation with a recitative sung by the alto soloist who declares, “Seek him within my breast, he dwells here, mine and his the joy!” Their touching exchange communicates that the baby is, in fact, in a manger in Bethlehem, but that he has also already taken up residence in the hearts of the people. The Evangelist then describes how Herod hears of the news and trembles with fear. He commands the high priests and scribes to tell him what the prophecies say about the child and where he might find this threat to his power. Amid all this plot development, the cantata has some thrilling musical moments to listen for. Near the midpoint, the bass soloist sings the great aria “Erleucht’ auch meine finstre Sinnen” (“Illumine, too, my gloomy spirit”). A favorite of many basses and baritones, this aria (along with “Großer Herr, o starker König” from Part I) is one of the most frequently recorded of all of Bach’s arias for low voices. Also, near the end of the cantata is another superb highlight, “Ach, wann wird die Zeit erscheinen?” (“Ah, when will that time appear then?”). Scored for vocal trio (soprano, alto, and tenor soloists), solo violin, and continuo, this Terzetto weaves each of the vocal lines together with each other and with the violin to create a constantly shifting sonic tapestry of colors and textures. It is fascinating to hear how Bach requires these different voices and instruments to work together to form a cohesive unit that proceeds along with all of the elegant complexity of one of the composer’s organ fugues. Part V closes with the impressive chorus, “Zwar ist solche Herzensstube” (“Though in truth my heart’s poor lodging”). Musically, this chorus would be a fitting climax for almost any concert and send the audiences (like Bach’s congregation) out into the rest of their day, evening, and year with a tapping foot. Bach, however, has something more in store for us. Of course he must finish the story (we are still waiting to find out if Herod will find the child), but his conclusion for the oratorio has implications for all humanity. So, on to Part VI!

Part VI: Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde Schnauben (“Lord, when our boastful foes blow fury”). First performed: January 6, 1735

Members of the American Bach Choir

Members of the American Bach Choir

The conclusion of the “Christmas Oratorio” celebrates Epiphany, the church festival that commemorates the coming of the Magi to the Christ child. The Evangelist describes how the Wise Men follow the star in the East to the baby in Bethlehem. King Herod asks them to report on the location of the child so that he too might pay his respects, but the Wise Men suspect his motives and defy the king. Through a recitative and aria that is accompanied by two oboes d’amore, the tenor soloist, again departing from the role of Evangelist, declares, “Now may ye boastful foes be frightened / what fear can ye in me awaken?” This defiant tone, along with the rousing and triumphant final chorale (“… Death, devil, hell, and error / to nothing are reduced”), amplify the work’s message: through the coming of this child, humanity will triumph over death. Bach’s music here is extraordinary; a thrilling conclusion to the work! Listen for the high-flying work of the trumpets and the exhilarating energy of the entire ensemble playing together with the choir singing on top of it all.

With the triumphant conclusion of the “Oratorio Cycle,” Bach’s musical accomplishment sent the Leipzig congregation of 1735 out into the new year with the invulnerable armor of belief. For the modern listener, there are a multitude of ways in which we experience this conclusion. Some might find solace in the original message of the text. Others may walk out into the night air with that feeling of fulfillment at having heard a work of musical and cultural significance. Still others might emerge with a sense of wonderment and astonishment, having just experienced something that will nourish their inner lives. How will Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” affect you? Come find out!


We hope that these brief guides about the six cantatas of Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” will add to your experience of the work and give you some key moments to listen for in this vast masterpiece.

To purchase tickets for the December 12 performance at St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco, please visit our website or call the ABS office at (415) 621-7900.

Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio”: An Introduction, Part II

We continue our exploration of Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” with a closer look at the third and fourth cantatas. To review the first two parts of the oratorio, please click here. The last installment of this series of posts about the “Christmas Oratorio” will be posted next week.

ABS musicians William Skeen (violoncello) and Corey Jamason (harpsichord)

ABS musicians William Skeen (violoncello) and Corey Jamason (harpsichord)

Part III: Herrscher des Himmels, erhöre das Lallen (“Ruler of heaven, give ear to our stammer”). First performed: December 27, 1734

With the beginning of the third cantata, the pastoral repose of Part II is succeeded by the return of an extroverted, all-out celebratory feel. In fact, the chorus, trumpets, and timpani might give you a bit of a jolt when they get going! The text in this part of the oratorio describes the shepherds making their way to Bethlehem and finding Mary, Joseph, and the child in the manger. The music for the duet near the midpoint will likely sound familiar to anyone who attended ABS’s February 2014 performances of Bach’s Cantata 213, “Hercules at the Crossroads,” but there are significant differences between these works. In the secular cantata, the alto (Hercules) and tenor (virtue) are accompanied by two violas and continuo in what is essentially a love duet where they promise to remain faithful to one another. In the oratorio, the text describes the blessings of divine favor and it is sung by the soprano and bass soloists with the accompaniment by 2 oboes d’amore. This airy, bright texture allows the two vocalists, still enjoying the pastoral accompaniment of oboes, to sing one of Bach’s most easily remembered melodies amid a musical space that recalls a clear, blue sky.

Next, the Evangelist describes how the shepherds’ visit leaves Mary pondering how her private life has suddenly become the very public good news being spread by the shepherds. Bach seizes on this situation to amplify Mary’s contemplative mood with a beautiful aria, “Schließe, mein Herze, dies sledge Wunder” (“Keep thou, my heart now, this most blessed wonder”), for the alto soloist accompanied by only solo violin and continuo. The piece is in both the key of D Major and its relative minor key of B Minor, but its quiet melancholy betrays no turbulence or alternation between emotional extremes. Poignantly, Bach’s score then calls for a chorale, which in Bach’s day would have been sung by the congregation and, effectively, engages them in Mary’s meditation as if to provide her with support and encouragement. After a statement by the Evangelist about the testimony of the departing shepherds about what they have seen, Bach inserts another chorale for the congregation who are, presumably, all warmed up now. The cantata then closes in exactly the way it opened, with the joyous chorus, “Herrscher des Himmels, erhöre das Lallen.”

Part IV: Fallt mit Danken, fallt mit Loben (“Fall and thank him, fall and praise him”). First performed: January 1, 1735

ABS violone player Steven Lehning

ABS musician Steven Lehning playing viola da gamba

This section of the Oratorio, originally performed on New Year’s Day, commemorates the circumcision and naming of the baby. Interestingly, during the bass recitatives in the interior of the cantata, Bach inserts the Passiontide chorale, “Jesu, du mein liebstes Leben,” sung by the sopranos of the chorus. This melody, which would have been familiar to his congregation in 1735 as an Easter chorale, not only enhances the complexity of the vocal lines but creates a subtle connection between the shedding of Christ’s blood at his circumcision with the final, redemptive sacrifice of the passion narrative. The bass’s dramatic recitatives surround an aria for soprano and oboe with continuo, “Flößt, mein Heiland, flößt dein Namen” (“Doth, my Savior, doth thy name have”). Both the vocalist and oboe soloist enjoy an echo effect throughout the aria, with voice mirroring voice, oboe mirroring voice, and all other combinations thereof. This rhetorical device underscores a theme in the text that occurs in much of Bach’s church music, that of Christ’s interjection on behalf of all humankind to defeat death. The soprano, in effect, asks, “should I fear death?” and she is answered “No!” Then she asks, “Rather, ought I greet it gladly?” and receives the answer, “Yes!” These echoes, perhaps emanating from the Christ child, provide a comforting assurance. Bach brilliantly treats the whole aria with a modern approach that sheds textural complexity for the more gallant style that we associate with later composers like his sons, Haydn, or Mozart. Again, those who remember ABS’s performances of the  “Hercules at the Crossroads” cantata (BWV 213) in February 2014, might recognize this echo aria which also occurs in that work.

Following the second recitative section for bass soloist and choral sopranos, the tenor soloist sings his bravura aria, “Ich will nur dir zu Ehren leben” (“I would but for thine honor live now”). The aria opens with a spirited duet for two solo violins that has all of the flash and energy of the opening movement of Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor. The moderately rapid tempo and long stretches of individually articulated (staccato) sixteenth notes establish a formidable challenge for the violins, which the tenor then takes up with his entrance in an extraordinary, four-measure opening phrase that includes 42 notes on just the word “leben”! The text of this thrilling aria implores the Savior to give the singer strength so that his zeal might do honor to the divine. Indeed! This is another brilliant example of Bach’s ability to musically communicate the meaning of the text. It is also another highlight in a work with lots of them.

Continued with a third, and final, installment.

To purchase tickets for the December 12 performance of Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” at St. Ignatius Church, please visit our website or call the ABS office at (415) 621-7900.

Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio”: An Introduction, Part I

Any opportunity to experience Bach’s magnificent “Christmas Oratorio” should be seized and savored. Containing some of the composer’s most joyous music, the “Christmas Oratorio” relates the nativity story with exuberant choruses, brilliant instrumental textures, and gorgeous arias. On Saturday December 12, Jeffrey Thomas will direct ABS and the American Bach Choir in a complete performance of this masterwork within the magnificent setting of St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco.


Bach composed his Weihnachts-Oratorium, BWV 248, for the Christmas season of 1734 in Leipzig, where its 6 parts were performed over several days between December 25 and January 6. Repurposing music from cantatas he had composed for secular occasions and a previously existing but now lost church cantata, the oratorio also required a significant amount of new music from the composer along with new Christmas texts and a plan to unify all of these elements into a compelling series of short works that make up a grand, larger one. Opera fans might see parallels to Bach’s ambitious plan in Richard Wagner’s towering achievement of 142 years later, Der Ring des Nibelungen, which tells one story over the course of 4 full-length operas (Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung). Bach approached his multi-part sacred oratorio with the industriousness and brilliance that characterizes so much of his work and, in the face of a tight deadline, created a cohesive masterpiece.

St. Thomas Church, Leipzig

St. Thomas Church, Leipzig

Rather than hear the work over the course of the six different days it took to complete the first Bach “Oratorio Cycle,” or even the more typical practice of dividing the oratorio into two separate performances, ABS will present the “Christmas Oratorio,” in its entirety, on one night. A little longer than the Mass in B Minor, but shorter than either of Bach’s great settings of the Passion, the “Christmas Oratorio,” like those other masterworks, carries the listener across a broad narrative arc and through an astonishing diversity of musical forms to a deeply satisfying conclusion. Like the Passions, Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” utilizes a tenor soloist Evangelist to narrate the story using only words from scripture.

Perhaps the best approach for gaining a grasp on the “Christmas Oratorio” is to examine its six parts individually before encountering the whole. Below is a brief outline of the work’s structure and some important points to know and listen for in each of the six parts.

Part I: Jauchzet, frohlocket! Auf, preiset die Tage (“Triumph, rejoicing, rise, praising these days now”). First performed: December 25, 1734

ABS_TrumpetsThe work opens with a rousing fanfare of timpani, trumpets, and full chorus. This opening will sound familiar to those who know Bach’s secular Cantata 214, Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet Trompetten! (“Sound the drums! Ring out ye trumpets”), which ABS last performed in January 2014. The two works have different texts, but they are musically identical. As Bach scholar and performer John Butt has pointed out, Bach’s repurposing of music from a secular celebration to a church cantata in no way implies laziness or anything sacrilegious. That assumption overlooks significant differences between Bach’s time and our own. In 18th century Germany, members of the ruling class, especially monarchs, were accorded God-given authority and Bach, like most everyone else, did not question this hierarchical system. Bach composed Cantata 214 for the 34th birthday celebrations of the Queen of Poland and Electress of Saxony, so he found the music to also be suitable for the opening of his “Christmas Oratorio”; they are both noble occasions. As this opening chorus is among the most jubilant and celebratory music Bach ever composed, it is fitting that his congregation would get to hear it, too! After this grand opening, the Evangelist presents some of the useful backstory about the Roman census being collected in Galilee and how Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary, unable to find accommodations, must rest in a manger. After the birth of the baby Jesus, Bach has the sopranos of the chorus and the bass soloist take turns describing the child in a tender fashion to the accompaniment of two oboes d’amore and continuo. This section is followed by the bass aria, “Großer Herr, o starker König” (“Mighty Lord, O strongest sovereign”), which changes the mood considerably as the soloist makes it clear who this child actually is. Note: “Goßer Herr” is one of Bach’s most glorious arias; be sure to arrive on time so you don’t miss this standout piece in Part I!

Part II: Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegend (“And there were shepherds in that very region”). First performed: December 26, 1734

ABS oboist Debra Nagy playing an Oboe da Caccia

ABS oboist Debra Nagy playing an oboe da caccia

The second cantata opens with a gentle sinfonia that features the strings and flutes alternating with two oboes da caccia (curved instrument that is named for and resembles a hunting horn) and two oboes d’amore (larger oboe with a rich, warm sound). Bach uses the sonorities of this oboe quartet to establish a pastoral setting for this part of the story, which is filled with shepherds receiving the good news about the child’s birth from an angel. At different parts in the cantata, the angel’s words are sung by the soprano soloist or the entire chorus. The tenor soloist takes a momentary break from Evangelizing to sing the aria “Frohe Hirten, eilt, ach eilet” (“Joyful shepherds, haste, ah hasten”) which describes the shepherds leaving their fields to follow the angel to the manger. Here, the tenor is accompanied by flute and continuo, but the character of the aria is quite different from that other famous Bach aria for tenor and flute: “Benedictus” from the end of the Mass in B Minor. Next, the alto soloist sings an aria, “Schlafe, mein Liebster” (“Sleep now, my dearest”) which is a gorgeous lullaby to the sleeping child. This aria presents great opportunities for the soloist to sing with gentle tenderness, but it also makes great demands on his/her breath control; the words “Schlafe” and “Liebster” require four measures each, leaving only tiny chances to sneak in a breath. Hearing how performers manage to sing this aria expressively is one of the work’s many delights, and also an example of Bach’s ability to create thrilling effects within the calmest of settings. The absence of trumpets and tympani in this cantata distinguish it from the overall celebratory tone of the rest of the work. It is also the only part of the Oratorio to open with a sinfonia rather than a chorus. Note: If you love the adagio movements in classical symphonies, you will love the peaceful, pastoral mood of Part II.

Continued in a second installment.

To purchase tickets for the December 12 performance of Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” at St. Ignatius Church, please visit our website or call the ABS office at (415) 621-7900.

ABS Annual Report for the 2014-15 Season

The Annual Report for ABS’s 2014-15 season is now available online. Thank you to everyone in the ABS community for making our 26th season such a successful one!


Have you reviewed the brochure for the upcoming 2015-16 season? An online version is available at the link below. If you would like a brochure mailed to you, please let us know at or call (415) 621-7900.




Are you ready for the ABS 2015-16 Season?

Jeffrey Thomas and American Bach Soloists

Jeffrey Thomas and American Bach Soloists. Photo: Brandon Labadie

A new ABS concert season is nearly upon us. Are you ready? With a focus on the music of Bach and Handel, ABS will present multiple opportunities in 2015-16 to explore the musical richness and beauty achieved by these masters. Few get to experience each of J.S. Bach’s three oratorios in live performance, but ABS will present this trio of exuberant works during the same season (“Christmas Oratorio” on December 12; “Easter Oratorio” and “Ascension Oratorio” in April 2016)! Another great oratorio, by Bach’s contemporary George Frideric Handel, will be performed in Grace Cathedral on three evenings in December (Messiah, December 16-18). There will also be cantatas and works for violin by Bach in January, a wonderful Handel program featuring his great choral ode, Alexander’s Feast, in February, an organ recital by Jonathan Dimmock to celebrate Bach’s Birthday in March, and Easter and Feast of the Ascension works by Buxtehude and Kuhnau to complement the Bach oratorios for those occasions in April.

With so much great music to come, we compiled a list of new, recent, and recommended resources for you to enjoy before the season gets rolling. If you have Bach or Handel books that you would like to recommend, please let us know on Facebook or on Twitter.


Bach_GardinerMusic in the Castle of Heaven by John Eliot Gardiner. This was on the list two years ago when it was first released, but this impressive book is now available in paperback for under $20. It is a fascinating look at the life and work of J.S. Bach with a decided emphasis on the sacred vocal works; his cantatas, passions, and masses. While Maestro Gardiner’s close connection with the music of Bach as a performer comes across, the scholarship and readability of this book are really what make it so rewarding. Highly recommended!


Handel_HarrisGeorge Frideric Handel: A Life with Friends by Ellen T. Harris. This 2014 book examines the composer through a trail of documents from his lifetime including his will, letters, diaries, and other sources left by his intimates. The author’s focus on Handel’s private life and her synthesis of the details found in the existing primary sources provide a bold approach to relating his biography. Also recommended (and much harder to find) is Handel: A Documentary Biography by Otto Erich Deutsch. From 1955, this book is an invaluable resource for any Handelian as it provides contemporary newspaper reviews and criticism, extracts from letters, a chronological arrangement, and a useful index. Long out of print, this book should be reissued, but until then it must be tracked down in used book stores or at online sites like Abebooks (I found mine at the San Francisco Public Library books sale at Fort Mason Center).

ModernCastratoThe Modern Castrato by Patricia Howard. A new study about the famous castrati singers with an emphasis on superstar opera singer Gaetano Guadagni. A favorite artist of Handel, the composer rewrote parts of Messiah to feature Guadagni’s singular abilities. The famous castrato went on to create roles in many important operatic works including Gluck’s revolutationary Orfeo ed Euridice.

John Dryden: The Major Works edited by Keith Walker. The poetry, plays, and essays of John Dryden are no longer part of the core English curriculum in schools, but they continue to be a rich and rewarding body of work. For several decades now, Dryden has been hiding in plain site; the time is ripe for a new biography of England’s highly accomplished man of letters. Before attending ABS’s February presentations of Handel’s setting of the Dryden ode Alexander’s Feast, it is worth reading the original poem. While you’re at it, why not dive a little further into the man’s writings? Like the works of Alexander Pope, Dryden’s razor-sharp wit and elegant style reward those who seeks him out.


Capturing Music: The Story of Notation by Thomas Forrest Kelly. For those who are curious about musical innovation, Mr. Kelly’s book is an erudite exploration of this most basic element of the musical art: the system for transferring an aural phenomena into a permanent and visual one so that it might be reproduced and “heard” by later generations.

Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. This is a classic work by the author of The Man Who Mistook his Wife For a Hat and Awakenings who will long be remembered for his writings about the human mind. Sacks had a gift for examining a specific subject with strange, humorous, or eccentric examples that often lead to a deeper understanding of broad, underlying truth. Like biologist Stephen Jay Gould, Sacks is both enlightening and fun to read. In light of his recent passing (August 2015), there is no better time to revisit this work about music and the mind by the great Oliver Sacks.

Subscribe to the 2015-16 ABS season and hear all of this great music performed by ABS. Remember, subscribers enjoy access to the best seats at the best prices.


ABS Academy Alumni Impress in New York

St. Paul's Chapel (with the Freedom Tower in the background).

St. Paul’s Chapel (with One World Trade Center in the background).

ABS Academy alumni are fanning out and sharing their talents around the country and the rest of the world. It’s one thing to know this, but it is another altogether to experience it first-hand while taking in a concert in a different city that is 3,000 miles from home! I was recently in New York and attended the well known Bach@One series presented by Trinity Wall Street in the heart of downtown Manhattan and heard three Bach cantatas with a period instrument orchestra and fine group of singers. Amid the sound of squealing brakes, emergency sirens, and the hustle-bustle you would expect on the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street, the ensemble performed Es ist nichts Gesundes an meinem Leibe (BWV 25), Gottlob! nun geht das Jahr zu Ende (BWV 28), and Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn (BWV 23) for a diverse, appreciative audience. Looking around, I saw business people on their lunch breaks, tourists with big backpacks, devoted locals who probably come every week, and many others who were there to experience Bach’s music in the best way: live!

Bach@One by the Trinity Baroque Orchestra and Choir of Trinity Wall Street, October 7, 2015

Bach@One: the Trinity Baroque Orchestra and Choir of Trinity Wall Street, October 7, 2015

The concert was superb and it was fun to spy a few familiar faces from past ABS Academy classes in the ensemble: violinist Maureen Murchie (Academy 2012), oboist Kristin Olson (Academy 2012) and soprano Molly Netter (Academy 2014). In fact, Ms. Netter was making her debut with the group at this particular performance (October 7, 2015), singing in both the choir and as a soloist in the beautiful duet that opens Cantata 23. Her partner in the duet was American Bach Choir countertenor Clifton Massey, who performed in Bach’s Mass in B Minor and Marin Marais’ Sémélé during the ABS Festival in August.

It was a delight to unexpectedly encounter these musicians in a different environment and to experience the value they are bringing to another vibrant musical community. Several other ABS Academy alumni now based in New York also participate in Bach@One throughout the year and appear with their own groups around the city. In fact, audiences in several regions around the country and world are enjoying the talents of the exceptional musicians who studied and trained right here in San Francisco at the ABS Academy. Bravi; keep up the great work!Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 11.28.15 AM

Applications for the 2016 ABS Academy are now open and the deadline to apply is February 15, 2016. Year after year, this amazing program continues to train the next generation of early music virtuosi. Do you know someone who might want to apply? Please spread the word! For more information about the ABS Academy, check our website or call the ABS office at (415) 621-7900 and ask for me (Jeff McMillan, ext. 204).

ABS Gala “Sparkle”: A Night to Remember

The 27th consecutive season of American Bach Soloists is off to a great start! “Sparkle,” the ensemble’s annual gala, kicked off the new season with a glamorous affair that more than lived up to its name.

"Sparkle" silent Auction. Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

“Sparkle” silent Auction.
Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

We could not have asked for a better evening for this fabulous event. The clear blue skies yielded gorgeous views of the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and a lovely sunset. At the end of the evening, a luminous full moon lit up the night sky. The James Leary Flood Mansion proved an ideal setting for this festive gathering of music lovers, elegantly attired in their finery, to celebrate ABS and raise funds to support the ensemble’s programming and educational outreach initiatives. The generosity of the guests was nothing short of tremendous and it was an inspiration to see so many support the future of musical performances of the highest quality right here in the Bay Area.

Jeffrey Thomas leads a Bach & Handel program at the gala. Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

Jeffrey Thomas leads the Bach & Handel program.
Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

The silent auction was held in one of the Flood Mansion’s observatory rooms, so all had the chance to chat with fellow ABS supporters, bid on items, and take in the views while sipping their Bellinis, Kir Royales, and glasses of sparkling wine. Guests with the winning bids took home works of art, concert tickets, bottles of wine, and fun adventures. After the auction, Jeffrey Thomas led a program of arias by Bach and Handel in the Mansion’s chapel with mezzo-soprano Agnes Vojtko singing excerpts from Handel’s Hercules, Serse, and Ariodante, Bach’s “Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust” from Cantata 170, and “Et exultavit” from Magnificat in D Major. The ensemble of Elizabeth Blumenstock, Noah Strick (violins), Katherine Kyme (viola), William Skeen (violoncello), Steven Lehning (violone), Corey Jamason (harpsichord), and Jeffrey Thomas (conductor), also performed a Suite in D Major which was adapted in the manner of a French Overture from Bach’s Partita in D Major and dances taken from the Orchestral Suites.

The room is set for dinner Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

The room is set for dinner
Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

During dinner, the live auction found guests winning trips to Paris, New York, and Machu Picchu, as well as a private concert to be held in the chapel at Grace Cathedral. One lucky guest will even be conducting the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah during rehearsals for ABS’s performances of the entire work at Grace Cathedral in December. It was quite a night!

If you were not able to join us for “Sparkle,” but would like to make a contribution to ABS, you may do so at anytime through our website or by calling the ABS office at (415) 621-7900. Thank you for supporting American Bach Soloists!

Highlights from the 2015 ABS gala: