In Memoriam: Robert Commanday

Mary and Robert Commanday at the 2014 ABS Gala. Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

Mary and Robert Commanday at the 2014 ABS Gala. Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

ABS mourns the loss of choral conductor, long-time Classical Music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, founding editor of San Francisco Classical Voice, and unofficial Dean of the Bay Area’s music press corps, Robert Commanday (1922-2015). A regular attendee at ABS concerts—from the very first ones at St. Stephen’s Church in 1990 (after the April concert he wrote, “A major Bach ensemble has started up in the Bay Area and soon will be a festival feature that people will travel distances to hear”) until last season’s St. Matthew Passion—Mr. Commanday was a great friend and a staunch advocate for the highest standards in musical performance. In 2012, Mr. Commanday made an indelible contribution to the ABS Festival & Academy when he presented an illuminating lecture, “A Millennium in 50 years … The Discovery of Early Music.” He will be greatly missed.

Obituaries for Robert Commanday are available at SFGate and SFCV (don’t miss the Comments section) and further testimonials can be found at the following: SFCV tribute page, Iron Tongue of MidnightKalimac LiveJournal, Musicology Now. Earlier this year Mr. Commanday finished an oral history for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music where he was interviewed by ABS harpsichordist Corey Jamason. Audio excerpts from the oral history interview are available here.

“Sparkle” with ABS at the Annual Gala

Sparkle

We sincerely hope you will join us on September 26 to celebrate and support ABS at our annual fundraising gala. This year’s event, “Sparkle,” will be held at the James Leary Flood Mansion in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. Enjoy stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz while sipping delicious wines, bidding on items in our silent auction, and meeting with other arts lovers who admire the music of J.S. Bach and support its preservation through the performances of American Bach Soloists.

Dinner will be served and a special live auction will offer opportunities to bid on fabulous trips to Peru, Paris, the U.S. Open, and other wonderful packages [browse auction items here]. Hosting the auction will be Liam Mayclem, host of the Travel Channel’s “World Access” and KCBS’s “Foodie Chap.” All proceeds from the auction go directly to supporting the performances and educational initiatives of ABS.

Gala_Silent_auction_GasLamp

Also, there will be a special musical program featuring mezzo-soprano Agnes Vojtko singing arias by Bach & Handel with Elizabeth Blumenstock, Katherine Kyme, Noah Strick (violins), William Skeen (violoncello), Steven Lehning (violone), and Corey Jamason (harpsichord) all conducted by Jeffrey Thomas. Ms. Vojtko, an alumna of the ABS Academy (2014), will be heard again in December as a soloist with ABS in Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” at St. Ignatius Church and Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral.

The Honorary chair of “Sparkle” is the Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, Bishop of California, whose seat is at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

Black Tie is requested

Complimentary shuttles will be offered from Larkspur and Strawberry Village in Marin and the Rockridge BART station in the East Bay. Valet parking at the Flood Mansion is also available.

Tickets to Sparkle are $250, which include a $150 fully tax-deductible donation. Please mark September 26 on your calendar, reserve a spot online or by calling the office, and join us to celebrate American Bach Soloists and launch an exciting new season.

Make your reservation for “Sparkle” today

Save the Date: 2016 ABS Festival & Academy Announced

“An Italian Journey” is the theme for the 2016 ABS Festival & Academy, which will be held at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music from August 5-14, 2016, and will feature music from Baroque Italy. The flourishing cities of Florence, Venice, and Rome—the primary destinations of the Grand Tour excursions taken by British nobility and wealthy landed gentry, and the meeting places for the most celebrated composers and performers of the era—offered some of the most glorious art, architecture, and music to be found anywhere during the Baroque era.Piazza_San_Marco_with_the_Basilica,_by_Canaletto,_1730._Fogg_Art_Museum,_Cambridge

Festival concerts will present music from Handel’s early years in Rome, when he composed music for the “Carmelite Vespers” services, including the tour-de-force “Dixit Dominus” for chorus and orchestra. Works by Italian composers including Scarlatti, Tartini, Torelli, and Vivaldi will be performed by members of the ABS Academy Faculty, and the Academy Festival Orchestra will present Corelli’s 1714 Concerti Grossi using the enormous and rarely heard forces used in Corelli’s day.

ABS’s annual performances of Bach’s great Mass in B Minor, featuring the American Bach Choir and the Academy Orchestra, will be presented at the end of each Festival weekend.

The 2015 Festival, “Versailles & The Parisian Baroque,” was an extraordinary and memorable 10-day event. Save the dates now for the 2016 Festival when ABS will bring the brilliance of sunbaked Baroque Italy to San Francisco next August.

Tickets for “An Italian Journey” will go on sale early in 2016.

Organist Jonathan Dimmock to perform Bach Birthday Concert in 2016

Jonathan Dimmock, organ

Jonathan Dimmock, organ

On Friday, March 18, ABS will celebrate the birthday of our namesake, Johann Sebastian Bach, with a special concert featuring internationally acclaimed organ recitalist and ABS co-founder, Jonathan Dimmock. Currently the organist for the San Francisco Symphony and Principal Organist at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Mr. Dimmock also holds the unique distinction of having been the only American Organ Scholar of Westminster Abbey and is one of the few organists in the world to tour on six continents. Mr. Dimmock has created an all-Bach program that celebrates the master’s genius as composer for “the king of instruments,” performing on one of the Bay Area’s most treasured tracker organs at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church (1111 O’Farrell Street, San Francisco). Favorite gems and a few lesser known yet brilliant works will add up to a sensational event.

Add this special concert to your 2015-16 ABS subscription today! Tickets for the event are $25 and seating at St. Mark’s will be general admission. Order online or call (415) 621-7900.

Subscribe to the 2015-16 Season

Tickets to Bach’s Birthday Concert

ABS Voted “Best of the Bay” – Thank You!

Best_of_the_BayThank you to all who voted for ABS in the San Francisco Classical Voice “Best of the Bay” reader’s poll! To be nominated in the “Best Early Music/Baroque Performance” and “Best Choral Performers” categories along with so many great musical organizations was exciting. To be awarded the “Best of the Bay” distinction in each of those categories by the readers of SFCV is an honor. Thank you!

We are grateful to the readers of SFCV and fans of ABS for all of your generous support and for the enthusiasm you have for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries performed at the highest level by the musicians ABS. We count on you and, in return, are devoted to bringing you unforgettable musical and educational experiences that thrill, elevate, and delight. With a fantastic season just completed and another one about to begin, we at ABS would like to thank you and renew our pledge to bring you the very best during the 2015-16 season and beyond.

Jeffrey Thomas conducting ABS performance of Handel's Messiah in Grace Cathedral. Voted "Best in the Bay" for Early Music/Baroque Performance, 2015

Jeffrey Thomas conducting ABS performance of Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral. Voted “Best in the Bay” for Early Music/Baroque Performance, 2015.

American Bach Choir. Voted "Best of the Bay" for Choral Performers, 2015.

American Bach Choir. Voted “Best of the Bay” for Choral Performers, 2015.

 

ABS Festival & Academy wrap-up

2015 Festival DatesThe 2015 ABS Festival & Academy concluded on the afternoon of August 16 with a sold-out performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor. After ten days of lectures, master classes, and performances exploring the Festival theme, “Versailles & The Parisian Baroque,” closing with Bach’s all-encompassing masterpiece was the perfect way to conclude the full Baroque immersion. The theme for the 2016 Festival will be announced very soon (we know you will be excited about this one!), but if you would like to look back to eighteenth-century Paris, the court at Versailles, and the 2015 Academy, the daily Festival blog (along with the entries by our guest bloggers from the Academy) is below.

August 4, 2015

ABS faculty members Max van Egmond (voice), Robert Mealy (violin & viola), and Kenneth Slowik (viola da gamba & violoncello) at the Alliance Française for Mr. Mealy’s pre-Festival Lecture.

ABS faculty members Max van Egmond (voice), Robert Mealy (violin & viola), and Kenneth Slowik (viola da gamba & violoncello) at the Alliance Française for Mr. Mealy’s pre-Festival Lecture.

Welcome to the 2015 Festival – It’s finally here! ABS kicked things off a little early this year with a special pre-Festival lecture on July 31 at the Alliance Française by violinist & ABS Faculty member Robert Mealy. After a very warm welcome by Alliance Française Executive Director Pascal Ledermann and his staff, Mr. Mealy gave an engaging presentation about the music of Lully, Marais, Rebel, Rameau, and Couperin, sharing insights about the French vs. Italian Styles and generally getting everyone excited to hear the music that will be performed at the opening weekend concerts, Versailles & The Parisian Baroque – Parts I & II (August 7 & 8).

That was Friday; it is now Tuesday morning and we are fully into Festival & Academy mode. We have been excited to welcome this year’s Academy class for quite awhile and now they are all finally here! Each participant arrived at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music yesterday morning ready to study and perform with the faculty of ABS for the next two weeks. With 73 accomplished musicians in this summer’s Academy studios, the 2015 class is the largest in the six-year history of the program. This is my third Academy with ABS and I always look forward to Day 1 and meeting the participants in person for the first time (after months of email and phone correspondence). Now we are underway and each of them has embarked on this new adventure; they have met their Academy colleagues and all of the ABS faculty, had their first coachings, master classes, and many had their first Mass in B Minor rehearsal yesterday morning at 9:30 a.m. In fact, they are all hard at work on Day 2 and another packed schedule!

Welcome reception at the end of first day.

Welcome reception at the end of first day.

After an exciting first day of music making, an Academy welcome reception was held at the Conservatory on Monday evening. This event is always an excellent opportunity for the Academy participants to get together again as a large group, socialize, and talk about what is to come. So much to look forward to in the weeks ahead.

August 7, 2015

Tonight is the night! After a week of beehive-like activity at the Conservatory, the 6th annual ABS Festival & Academy kicks off tonight at 8:00 PM with Versailles & The Parisian Baroque – Part I. The musicians of ABS will take the stage to perform three fantastic works by French composers while a capacity crowd, including all of the musicians of our Academy, will fill the concert hall to take it in. At last count we had only 24 seats remaining for this opening night performance (which will be on sale at the box office beginning at 7:00 PM). A little advance information: those who arrive early tonight will enjoy a special treat beginning at 7:45 PM. Here’s a hint: it is a celebratory musical delicacy fit for a king… and was once enjoyed by Louis XIV!

Violinist Robert Mealy leads Academy musicians from Chamber Ensemble I in the dance suite from Marais’ Sémélé.

Violinist Robert Mealy leads Academy musicians from Chamber Ensemble I in rehearsal for the dance suite from Marais’ Sémélé.

Since the opening of the Academy on Monday the days have whirled by. It’s been great getting to know our Academy participants better and to watch them bond and develop partnerships in their various activities together. I have heard the entire group make some amazing sounds together in large ensemble rehearsals for two big works that will be performed next week at the Baroque Marathon: Schmierer’s Zodiaci musici and Marais’ dances from the opera Sémélé. Have you heard Schmierer’s suite? Few have! It’s an exciting piece and the ABS Academy ensemble are preparing a performance of this work you won’t soon forget. The Baroque Marathon begins on Monday, August 10 at 3:00 and continues on the evening of August 11 at 8:00.

ABS voice faculty William Sharp, Judith Malafronte, and Max van Egmond address Academy participants about the relationship of music and language.

ABS voice faculty William Sharp, Judith Malafronte, and Max van Egmond address Academy participants about the relationship of music and language.

Along with chamber ensemble rehearsals, studio master classes, and orchestra rehearsals for the opera Sémélé and Bach’s Mass in B Minor, another valuable element of the first week has been a series of Academy forums. On Tuesday, Steven Lehning gave an illuminating presentation on the history and practical considerations of tuning for the contemporary performer of early music. Wednesday’s forum featured a probing discussion of language and music by the faculty of the vocal studio—Max van Egmond, Judith Malafronte, and William Sharp—with added food for thought contributed by Jeffrey Thomas. On Thursday evening, the Academy forum titled “What next?” was a presentation covering strategies for building a successful career in early music. The Academy participants were particularly engaged with this topic and it was nice to see several ask questions and join in the discussion. These talented and enterprising musicians will surely be strong ambassadors for the music of Bach and his contemporaries in the future.

It has been an intense week already, but in a very real way things are only just getting started! I hope to see you all at the opening night concert tonight. More tomorrow…

August 8, 2015

What a night! Louis XIV and Louis XV would have both been right at home in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on Friday night as Jeffrey Thomas led the American Bach Soloists in a fantastic orchestral program to open the ABS Festival & Academy. The sounds of Rebel, Aubert, & Rameau–composers who were affiliated with the Opéra in Paris and favorites of the court at Versailles–filled the air. Thomas oriented the audience to the key themes of Rebel’s Les élémens which were demonstrated by the orchestra. He then directed his forces in a musical depiction of the creation of the world out of chaos, which is Rebel’s narrative conveyed in this imaginative work. The program closed with a thrilling performance of the Ouverture and a suite of dances from Rameau’s opera Naïs. Published in 1749 with the subtitle Opéra Pour la Paix, the opera was composed to honor the long-awaited peace after the War of the Austrian Succession (just like Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks). It was a delight to hear Rameau’s celebratory music played with such precision and fiery spirit.

ABS ensemble conducted by John Thiessen performs a de Lalande fanfare in the lobby of the Conservatory before last night’s performance.

ABS ensemble conducted by John Thiessen performs a de Lalande fanfare in the lobby of the Conservatory before last night’s performance.

The evening began with an Academy ensemble performing de Lalande’s Concert de Trompettes in the lobby for all of the attendees to enjoy. The ensemble consisted of Louie Eckhardt, Dominic Favia, Steven Marquardt (trumpets), Cameron Kirkpatrick, Anke Nichol (oboes), Georgeanne Banker, Neil Chen, Joseph Jones, Leah Kohn (bassoons), Paul Holmes Morton, Tatiana Senderowitz (guitars), and Benjamin Rechel, Matthew Girolami, Daniel Turkos (basses), and ABS percussionist Kent Reed, all conducted by ABS brass faculty and baroque trumpeter John Thiessen. The de Lalande ensemble will return tonight for more fanfares before the evening concert, Versailles & The Parisian Baroque – Part II.

Sémélé rehearsal: Christopher Besch (bass), Steven Brennfleck (tenor), Rebecca Myers Hoke (Soprano), Frédéric Rosselet (violoncello), Gabriel Benton (harpsichord), Paul Holmes Morton (theorbo) with Jeffrey Thomas.

Sémélé rehearsal: Christopher Besch (bass), Steven Brennfleck (tenor), Rebecca Myers Hoke (Soprano), Frédéric Rosselet (violoncello), Gabriel Benton (harpsichord), Paul Holmes Morton (theorbo) with Jeffrey Thomas.

Lots of rehearsing filled the practice rooms and performance spaces of the Conservatory throughout the day yesterday. The Academy participants continue to prepare their chamber works for the Baroque Marathon on August 10 & 11, while also rehearsing in larger groups for the opera Sémélé and Bach’s Mass in B Minor. A staple of the Academy voice studio participants’ day is to begin with vocal coachings and then slipping away into their various rehearsals. The instrumentalists work on large ensemble works in the early morning before they combine with the singers in mid-morning chamber rehearsals. After a break for lunch, there are more rehearsals and also studio master classes. It’s a rigorous schedule for all of the Academy participants, but everyone I see is excited to be making so much music together!

I hope you are planning to attend tonight’s Versailles & The Parisian Baroque Part II. It’s going to be a great showcase of the wonderful musicians of ABS performing great music of the French Baroque. Last night, ABS showed the grandeur and elegance of the French style in three splendid orchestra pieces; tonight’s concert features smaller combinations of instrumentalists and vocalists in a wide range of chamber works by Marais, Philidor, Campra, van Blankenburg, Couperin, and others that show other aspects of the tradition, especially wit, charm, and intimacy. Also, don’t forget the Public Colloquium, “The Culture of Versailles,” begins shortly… at 2:30 p.m.! See you there.

August 9, 2015

For a change of pace, I thought it would be refreshing to turn the blog over to one of our Academy participants for a different perspective. Soprano Julianna Emanksi hails from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. She will be participating in both tonight’s Mass in B Minor performance (singing the duet “Domine Deus, Rex coelestis”) and in the opera Sémélé on August 13 & 14 (as The Grand Priestess of Bacchus). Take it away, Julianna:

Julianna Emanski, soprano

Julianna Emanski, soprano

This past week the ABS Academy voice studio has been exploring the delicacy and nuance of the french language and ornamentation in preparation for the Thursday and Friday performances of Marais’ Sémélé. The ABS voice faculty have provided many musical and rhetorical tools to help each of us further develop our character in the opera. I am very much looking forward to putting it all together with the full orchestra next week! 

The soloists for B-minor mass rehearsed with the full orchestra this week. Each of us were able to run our pieces a few times. Let me just say, the orchestra really sounds amazing! Plus, this concert is really unique in the variety of soloists performing throughout the work. This weekend and next the audience will be able to enjoy so many beautiful voices in one evening. Both performances will surely be a baroque treat for all! 

What do you get when you are in San Francisco, have a short break from scheduled obligations, and have a SF local (fellow academy participant, Sara LeMesh) to show you around?? You guessed it!!! We drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, took some awesome photos at Vista Point, drove through a forest of beautiful Redwoods (those were my favorite!), explored the little town of Point Reyes, and ate lunch at In & Out Burger. Sara made sure we made the most of the few hours of free time we had on Saturday morning. It was really wonderful to see the other parts north of San Francisco and to have such a great tour guide (Maybe next weekend we will have time to see the famous Lombard Street!!).

Julianna Emanski

August 10, 2015

Mass in B Minor rehearsal with Jeffrey Thomas conducting.

Jeffrey Thomas leads rehearsal of Bach’s Mass in B Minor.

After two evenings of exquisite works by French composers performed by ABS, the first of two performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor concluded the opening weekend on Sunday night. It was a tremendous performance with Jeffrey Thomas leading the ABS Festival Orchestra and American Bach Choir. I was blown away by the sweep, the power, and the brilliance of the work as performed by this impressive aggregation of ABS artists and Academy participants. One of the many Academy participants who played a key role in the performance was trumpeter Louie Eckhardt from Hastings, Nebraska and who is now based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As Julianna Emanski offered her snapshot of life in the Academy yesterday, I would like to turn the blog over to Louie for his perspective on how things have been going during the first week of the Academy. The floor is yours, Louie:

Louie Eckhardt, trumpet

Louie Eckhardt, trumpet

The brass studio (trumpet and horn) has been diligently preparing for performances of Bach’s B Minor Mass over the past week, which came to fruition last night. ABS trumpeter John Thiessen had the three trumpets rotate on parts throughout the Mass, so we each had the experience of playing some 1st trumpet, while also getting experience playing the other parts. We also have spent time preparing a set of fanfares by Versailles composer Michel-Richard Delalande, which we opened the ABS concerts on Friday and Saturday night with, and will be playing at the Academy-in-Action performance on Tuesday night.

Members of the ABS Academy brass studio with Faculty member John Thiessen. Left to right: Dominic Favia, Thiessen, Steven Marquardt, Sadie Glass, Louie Eckhardt

Members of the ABS Academy brass studio with Faculty member John Thiessen. Left to right: Dominic Favia, Thiessen, Steven Marquardt, Sadie Glass, Louie Eckhardt

John has been a wonderful coach to us. We’ve spent a lot of time going through precise details in every movement of the Bach, and also have dined and spent some social time together as well. He has invested his time in us and we’ve all benefited greatly from his “war stories.”

We’ve also been busy participating in our chamber ensembles. I’m playing a lovely, short cantata, “Frohlocket mit Händen” by Dieterich Buxtehude, scored for 5 voices, 2 violins, 2 violas, 2 trumpets and continuo. Our amazing coach, Steven Lehning, spent time with us discussing phrasing and how it’s related to the text. We’ve also spent time exploring tempo relations between the sections of the piece.

The experience has been, and continues to be exciting. We are making music at a high level and building relationships not only between Academy participants and faculty, but among all of the participants. It seems like every day I hear people talking about collaborating in the future. Possibilities abound!

Louie Eckhardt
August 13, 2015

Greetings, ABS Festival-goers! I sincerely hope you are all enjoying the concerts, master classes, and lectures of this year’s Festival. It sure has been an immersion in the Parisian Baroque and the music of Bach since the Festival opened last Friday night. This week’s free master classes and lectures are off to a great start! Be sure to arrive a little early to get seats for these free daytime events today, Friday, and Saturday – they’re fun, informative, and have been drawing significant audiences all week!

Steven Lehning, Corey Jamason, Kenneth Slowik, and William Skeen performing Marin Marais’ Suite in D Major.

Steven Lehning, Corey Jamason, Kenneth Slowik, and William Skeen performing Marin Marais’ Suite in D Major.

I thoroughly enjoyed the harpsichord master class on Tuesday afternoon. ABS Academy faculty member Corey Jamason worked with four Academy participants on a broad range of pieces. Hee-Seung Lee performed two works from Couperin’s Pièces de Clavecin, Tatiana Senderowicz played a guitar prelude by Santiago de Murcia, John Yeh performed the Allemande from Rameau’s Suite for Harpsichord in A Minor, and Jacqueline Nappi performed the Chromatic Fantasy of J.S. Bach. All four works were performed beautifully and it was great to watch Jamason work with each musician on ways to take their performances to the next level, whether it be a specific rhythmic emphasis for an ornament or a more general interpretive idea to explore. Jamason also said something that I have heard other faculty members say since the Academy opened last week: the participants may be getting inspiration from them, but the faculty are also finding inspiration in the approaches and enthusiasm exhibited by the Academy musicians. The study and engagement is genuinely collaborative and faculty and participants have become, in many ways, colleagues at this point. That evening, Kenneth Slowik presented an informative lecture about the Grand Siècle, or “Grand Century” of French Art and musical institutions of the era with an emphasis on the Monarchs leading up to and including Louis XIV.

Yesterday, I spent most of the day speaking with Academy participants about their experiences and I must say that I, too, find these young musicians very inspiring! Many of them made great sacrifices to be here and they are all working hard to learn everything they possibly can during the two weeks of the program so they can take their experience back to their homes. Some already have their sights set on applying for next year!

More master classes and lectures to come today. Oh, and there is also the little detail that Jeffrey Thomas, the American Bach Choir, and the ABS Festival Orchestra are presenting the North American premiere of Marais’ gorgeous 1709 opera Sémélé tonight! This is going to be quite an event; hope to see you there! Tomorrow’s performance of Sémélé is sold out, so if you don’t have a ticket yet, tonight will be your only chance to hear this magnificent work live—the 30 remaining tickets will be on sale at the box office tonight beginning at 7:00 p.m.

August 15, 2015

Making history: the U.S. premiere of Marais' Sémélé.

Making history: the U.S. premiere of Marais’ Sémélé.

We are arriving at the home stretch of the 2015 ABS Festival & Academy and it has already been an exhilarating ride. Over the last two nights, we have heard the first performances outside of Europe of Marais’ Sémélé in all of its grand splendor. Jeffrey Thomas conducted masterful performances on Thursday and Friday nights and ABS Faculty members Robert Mealy, Elizabeth Blumenstock (violins), Kenneth Slowik (violoncello), and Steven Lehning (bass) along with two ABS percussionists anchored the massive ensemble. Around them were 47 more players of the ABS Academy Orchestra, 17 singers from the American Bach Choir, and 10 vocal soloists from the ABS Academy. It was an awesome ensemble and they performed the nearly three-hour opera with complete concentration and commitment. There was a huge standing ovation and roar of appreciation last night that just might have been louder than the impressive earthquake music of Act V!

One of the stars of the show was soprano Grace Srinivasan. Stepping in to sing for a colleague who was ill and unable to perform on Thursday night, Grace sang the part of the Grand Priestess of Bacchus and her originally scheduled role of the Shepherdess with great poise. I asked Grace (pictured below, on the right, with friends during a few free hours last week) to write a little for the blog about her week at the Academy. Take it away Grace:

Grace Srinivasan, soprano (and friends)

Grace Srinivasan, soprano (and friends)

After a week of being immersed in Bach, I took full advantage of my Sunday off with a trip across the bay to Sausalito with some college friends. We ferried across, taking way too many photos of the beautiful scenery and famous landmarks before landing in a sunny and tourist-filled Sausalito for lunch on the water and some window shopping. Filled with ice cream and gifts, and a little sunburned, we made our way back to the city where I settled in to watch my magnificent colleagues in Bach’s Mass in B minor. I’ve long adored many of the solo movements of the piece but never gotten the chance to hear the mass in its entirety, so it was an incredible experience from start to finish with many chill-inducing moments [Note: Grace Srinivasan will sing the duet “Et in unum Dominum” in the performance on August 16]

After a wonderful end to week one, we dove right back in with three marathon concerts showcasing the work we Academy participants have been working on. I took part in the Monday afternoon concert, performing two gorgeous Bach duets with my superb ensemble class before singing a series of Clérambault motets for continuo, two sopranos and alto. They are stunningly beautiful and rarely performed, so it was a pleasure to get to present them and attempt to do them justice. I became an audience member on Monday and Tuesday nights, hearing my colleagues sing and play a range of pieces, from an orchestral set of dances by Schmierer to more Bach cantata arias and ensembles. After a long but rewarding couple days of music we all dive into our final rehearsals for Sémélé and another performance of the B Minor Mass. I can’t wait!

Grace Srinivasan

As in year’s past, it was difficult to say goodbye (or bid adieu) to the 73 musicians of the 2015 Academy. For two weeks they shared their enthusiasm and talent with all of us and now they are off to new adventures. It was a joy to witness them diligently working at their craft and also enjoying the community that took hold on that very first day. When will we see and hear them again? Something tellls me it won’t be long: these stellar instrumentalists and singers have so much to offer and I, for one, can’t wait to hear them again.Academy2015

Interview with ABS soprano, Kathryn Mueller

Kathryn Mueller, soprano

Kathryn Mueller, soprano

On Saturday, August 15, soprano Kathryn Mueller will sing soprano–trumpet duets with 2015 ABS Festival & Academy Distinguished Artist, trumpeter John Thiessen. We asked Ms. Mueller about her activities since ABS audiences last heard her in February 2015 and her preparations for the Distinguished Artist concert on August 15.

Many ABS fans last heard you as a soloist in the 2014 program “Bach’s Hercules.”   Where have your musical journeys taken you since?

Since that great program with ABS, I’ve been busy. I’ve sung with Santa Fe Pro Musica, the Grand Rapids Symphony and Mobile Symphony, in Boston with Musicians of the Old Post Road, Miami with Seraphic Fire, and in Ann Arbor on tour with Wayward Sisters. Locally here in North Carolina I’ve performed at the Eastern Music Festival with Gerard Schwarz, and at East Carolina University where I teach. I also just had my Carnegie Hall debut in April, singing the Mozart Vespers; that was a thrill.

What are the particular challenges and rewards of Scarlatti’s Su le sponde del Tebro?

I’ve always wanted to sing Scarlatti’s soprano–trumpet duets, and I’m excited to have my first performance of Su le sponde del Tebro with John [Thiessen] and ABS. It’s a multi-movement cantata, so part of the challenge is creating a dramatic arc through the work to portray the changing emotions of the poor lonely shepherd of the story. Having several contrasting arias (from bombastic to poignant) and recitative sections in one work makes it very interesting for me as the performer. My most intense preparation goes into making sure the text flows off my tongue smoothly and articulately. The first and final arias have quite trumpet-y vocal lines, yet I still have to get in a lot of Italian, sometimes with multiple syllables on a quick sixteenth note!

Handel’s “Let the bright seraphim” is also on the program. How does it differ from the Scarlatti cantata? Do they require different preparation?

The main difference with “Let the bright seraphim” is that it’s an oratorio aria, excerpted from the end of Handel’s Samson. It’s a famous showpiece, and it makes audiences and performers smile. Also, it’s in English and there’s always something more direct about singing to an audience in our native language. There is fun interplay between the soprano and the trumpet, and like Scarlatti’s cantata, it’s a true duet between soprano and trumpet.

Are there any composers or pieces you would like to explore further?  Any favorite pieces you would love to perform?

I adore singing Purcell, Handel and Bach. Recently I’ve had the great fortune to perform some of the pieces long on my wish list – the Handel Gloria, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater – and now it’s time to add some new things to the list. I’ve sung Bach’s Cantata 51 “Jauchzet Gott” a couple times with modern trumpet, and I’d love a chance to sing it with baroque trumpet. I think it is a completely different experience with the instruments that Bach had in his ear and mind.

What are some of your favorite things to do when visiting San Francisco?

I was born in San Francisco but moved away when I was 18 months old. It’s always fun to return and make memories since I don’t have any from back then! I love to walk through the different neighborhoods and to see the water. The main way I tourist around any city is by eating, and oh does San Francisco have some great food! I’m an ice cream fanatic; when ABS is in Berkeley, I cross my fingers that the line isn’t too long for custom-made ice cream sandwiches at Cream.

A few tickets remain for the August 15 Distinguished Artist concert with John Thiessen, Kathryn Mueller, and musicians of ABS. Please visit the Festival website or call the ABS office at (415) 621-7900.

Interview with ABS Festival & Academy Distinguished Artist: John Thiessen, Baroque Trumpet

Baroque trumpeter John Thiessen

Baroque trumpeter John Thiessen

On Saturday, August 15, the Distinguished Artist for the 2015 ABS Festival & Academy, baroque trumpeter John Thiessen, will present a special recital. 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. Performing a diverse program of Italian chamber music and cantatas, English music for the theater and oratorio, he will demonstrate his instrumental mastery in an astonishing variety of styles and settings in music by Corelli, Jeremiah Clarke, Handel, and Alessandro Scarlatti. He will be joined by members of ABS and guest soloists, including soprano Kathryn Mueller. ABS intern Erin Nishimori, a trumpet player herself, asked Mr. Thiessen about the August 15 program and his preparations.

While you’re no stranger to the ABS stage, this year you are performing as our Distinguished Artist. Will this repertoire show our audience a different side to the baroque trumpet?

I hope the audience will enjoy this overview of interesting 17th – 18th century music for the instrument. Some of the pieces I’ll present will be very familiar, especially “Let the bright seraphim” from Handel’s Samson, while the Sonata detta del Nero by Girolamo Fantini and Scarlatti’s cantata Su le sponde del Tebro will be less so.

Your program will open with Fantini’s Sonata detta del Nero. Can you offer some insight into this composer and his work?

Girolamo Fantini was a 17th century court trumpeter active in Italy as well as Germany, who published the first complete method book for the instrument in 1638, a good place to start when learning to master the baroque trumpet. Fantini is said to have performed as a soloist in Rome with Frescobaldi sometime around 1634. As an homage to the possible occasion, I’ll open with his music.

There are two pieces featuring soprano Kathryn Mueller on the program. What drew you to those pieces?

The pairing of soprano and trumpet throughout the baroque, especially in Italian or—in the case of Handel—Italian-style compositions was very successful, and I like how it gives the trumpeter opportunities to be true to the fanfare origins of the instrument, while also exploring a more lyrical side, reflecting and accompanying the high treble voice.

John Thiessen with ABS. Photo: Gene Kosoy

John Thiessen with ABS. Photo: Gene Kosoy

How do Italian compositions compare to English compositions for the baroque trumpet?

The Italian baroque trumpet sonata as developed principally in Bologna most often features short rhythmic motifs treated fugally. The English repertoire is modeled for the most part on this style, though with an idiosyncratic British sound. Purcell was a master at this, and I think Handel furthered his London predecessor’s approach beautifully. The most famous English trumpet tunes by Jeremiah Clarke, however, are fully French: brief binary pieces with catchy melodies and very fun to play.

How do you approach preparing for a solo recital versus an orchestral setting?

My physical preparation can be very similar, but musically of course, a recital poses higher individual artistic challenges and responsibilities. The two important questions that come to my mind are: How does one hold the listener’s interest throughout the course of an evening when they are hearing the same solo instrument? What is special and different about each work, and how do you express this?

Can you explain the difference between a modern trumpet and a baroque trumpet, both in appearance and performance?

The modern trumpet has valves—invented around 1825—while the baroque trumpet is essentially a long coiled piece of tubing with a mouthpiece at one end and a bell at the other. Because the baroque trumpet has no moveable parts, its range is restricted to notes in the natural overtone series, while the modern valved instrument is fully chromatic. As a result, 17th and 18th century composers primarily wrote for the trumpet in the tonic and dominant keys, although Heinrich Biber and later J.S. Bach and Handel occasionally used the 7th (Bb) and 11th (F#) harmonics to compose extraordinary pieces in the minor mode. In general, I find the baroque trumpet more demanding to play, somewhat like walking a tightrope without a pole.

As an accomplished baroque trumpet player, what are your favorite pieces to perform?

I never tire of playing Bach, Handel and Purcell, ever. With Bach, however, you never quite “get there,” the music is too challenging. With Handel and Purcell, sometimes, if I’m lucky, there can be moments where I feel I’ve played something really well.

Tickets are available for the August 15 Distinguished Artist concert with John Thiessen, but with fewer than 40 seats left they won’t last long! Visit our website or call (415) 621-7900 and reserve your tickets today.

Few subscriptions left for 2015 ABS Festival & Academy

ABS-logo-2012-2013-color-darkgold-72dpiRGB-WEB-ONLYThere are a limited number of Festival Passes remaining for the 2015 ABS Festival & Academy, but they must be reserved by calling the ABS office. If you would like to subscribe to the entire ABS Festival & Academy (August 7-16), please call (415) 621-7900 between 10:00 am and 5:00 pm, Monday – Friday, and we will be happy to arrange your Festival Pass by phone.

Prices of Festival Passes (5 concerts) are as follows:

Section AA – $296 Sold Out

Section A – $275

Section B – $210

Section C – $115 Sold Out

Single tickets to Festival concerts are available online, though availability is running low on some events. For a full 2015 ABS Festival & Academy schedule, including 14 free events, visit sfbachfestival.org.

ABS Festival & Academy Highlight: Bach’s Mass in B Minor, August 9 & 16

Johann Sebastian Bach by Haussmann

Johann Sebastian Bach by Haussmann

One of the highlights of the 2015 ABS Festival & Academy (August 7-16) is a highlight every year: Bach’s monumental Mass in B Minor. The ABS Festival Orchestra, American Bach Choir, and soloists from the Academy, all under the direction of Jeffrey Thomas, perform this pinnacle work to capacity audiences year after year in what has become a beloved annual tradition. This summer the Mass in B Minor will be performed at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on both Festival Sundays, August 9 & 16.

The composition that many consider the greatest musical work of all time was never, in fact, performed during Bach’s lifetime. Comprised of movements hand-picked from over 35 years of composing, Bach compiled the Mass toward the end of his life to document the diverse techniques and compositional styles that he utilized and perfected throughout his career. As a testament to the artistic and humanistic ideals of the time, there is nothing like it. As a musical experience to be enjoyed 265 years after Bach’s death, it continues to reward deep engagement and multiple hearings.

Whether you are new to the work or revisiting it for the 50th time, the 30-minute ABS documentary, “Bach’s Mass in B Minor: Anatomy of a Masterwork” is a wonderful, free resource to visit. In the film, the musicians of ABS (Jeffrey Thomas, Debra Nagy, Elizabeth Blumenstock, John Thiessen, Steven Lehning, Sandra Miller, and others) describe the work and their experiences of performing it each year.

With an outstanding new group of Academy participants arriving to study and perform the Mass alongside their ABS Faculty mentors, we hope you do not miss this year’s performances: August 9 at 7:00 p.m. and August 16 at 2:00 p.m.  Tickets are still available for both dates (best availability on August 9). You can read more about Bach’s masterwork, including the 1900 United States Premiere of the Mass in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1900, on the ABS blog here.

FULL ABS FESTIVAL & ACADEMY SCHEDULE AND TICKETS

ABS collaboration with Alliance Française begins July 21

afsf-adABS will collaborate with Alliance Française de San Francisco in three exciting, French-themed programs this month leading up to the ABS Festival & Academy “Versailles & The Parisian Baroque” (August 7-16). We hope to see you at the Alliance Française (1345 Bush Street, San Francisco) for this pre-Festival celebration of French culture, cinema, and music. Save the dates and arrive early to get a good seat!

July 21, 7:00 pm: Movie Night: Molière (Laurent Tirard, 2007). In the tradition of the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love, this delightful French portrait of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, a.k.a. Molière, shows the man as both artist and lovable rascal.

July 28, 7:00 pm: Movie Night: Ridicule (Patrice Leconte, 1996). A way with words and a quick wit are necessary to navigate the court of Louis XVI in this critically acclaimed tale.

Mealy2July 31, 7:00 pm: Pre-Festival Lecture: Robert Mealy. Using illustrations and music examples, violinist and ABS Academy Faculty member Robert Mealy will explore the theme of the ABS Festival, Versailles & The Parisian Baroque. A renowned authority on the music of the period, Mealy is well-known to ABS concertgoers for his stellar performances and engaging pre-concert lectures. You won’t want to miss this: Mr. Mealy’s lecture which will surely be an ideal preparation for the ABS Festival & Academy, opening a week later on August 7 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

All events will take place in the theater of the Alliance Française. Both films and the lecture are free and open to the public; donations to the Alliance Française are appreciated. Read more about the collaboration with AFdSF here.

“Baroque Marathon” opens second week of ABS Festival & Academy

Academy Chamber Ensemble perform a work by Telemann in 2014 Academy in Action concert.

Academy Chamber Ensemble performing a work by Telemann in 2014 Academy in Action concert.

Are you excited about this summer’s ABS Festival & Academy, August 7-16? We are, too! This year, the Academy-In-Action Series, which traditionally opens the second week of Festival activities, will undergo an exciting metamorphosis into a “Baroque Marathon.” Featuring instrumental and vocal soloists from the ABS Academy, this two-day event will be held on August 10 & 11. Altogether, the Marathon will include three sessions: two on Monday (3:00 p.m. & 8:00 p.m.) and a concluding one on Tuesday (8:00 p.m.). The August 11 session will include a complete performance of Bach’s Cantata 131 (Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir) conducted by ABS Music Director Jeffrey Thomas.

2014 Academy participants Michael Kaufman, Kyle Collins, Ben Kazez, and Mara Winter perform an aria by Bach at Academy in Action concert.

2014 Academy participants Michael Kaufman, Kyle Collins, Ben Kazez, and Mara Winter perform an aria by Bach at Academy in Action concert.

Whether you want to hear a few different works or experience the entire Marathon, we encourage all to drop in and stay as long as you like. All three sessions are free, and seating in the concert hall for each is open. Note: there will be a dinner break between sessions I & II on Monday, so there will be time to rest and refresh. Food and drink will be available at Café Crème within the Conservatory or at any of the fine eateries in nearby Hayes Valley.

Session I begins Monday, August 10 at 3:00 p.m. and includes about three hours of music. Following the dinner break, Session II will begin at 8:00 p.m. Some of the music which will be performed over the course of the Marathon will include:

— Intimate French motets by Mouliné

— Music composed by Clérambault for the nuns at the Royal Convent School at Saint-Cyr

— A cantata for 5 voices, trumpets, and strings by Buxtehude

— High Baroque chamber works with uncommon instrumentation from the Court of Dresden by Zelenka, Fasch, and Graun

— Quartets and trios by Telemann

— Arias from cantatas by J.S. Bach

— Music from Johann Abraham Schmierer’s Zodiaci musici

— Bach’s Cantata 131 Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir conducted by ABS Music Director Jeffrey Thomas (August 11)

— A Suite of buoyant and kinetic dances from Marais’ Sémélé

Immerse yourself in these sessions of musical exploration and discovery. Admission to the Baroque Marathon is free (Suggested donation for each night is $10). Remember, Tuesday August 11 also marks the first of the free master classes and lectures during the Festival; come by at 3:00 p.m. for the harpsichord master class and at 5:00 p.m. for Kenneth Slowik’s lecture on “Musical Institutions of the Grand Siècle.” For more information and a full Festival schedule, please visit sfbachfestival.org, email info@americanbach.org, or call (415) 621-7900.

Jeffrey Thomas addresses Pacific Boychoir Academy graduates

Jeffrey Thomas speaking to graduating class of Pacific Boychoir Academy.

Jeffrey Thomas speaking to graduating class of Pacific Boychoir Academy.

ABS Music Director Jeffrey Thomas recently addressed the Pacific Boychoir Academy in Oakland at their annual commencement ceremony. The PBA and Maestro Thomas have shared the stage in musical collaboration on several occasions over the years. ABS audiences will surely remember the powerful impact the PBA choristers made in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion this past season. They also joined ABS for performances of an early version of the St. Matthew Passion in 2012 and a program of Bach cantatas back in 2007. At UC Davis, Thomas has directed large ensembles incorporating choristers from the Pacific Boychoir in a stunning array of works including Britten’s Saint Nicolas, Howells’ Hymnus Paradisi, Vaughan Williams’ Song of Thanksgiving, Orff’s Carmina Burana and Berlioz’s Te Deum.

Under the direction of founder and Music Director Kevin Fox, the PBA has created an impressive musical legacy that includes multiple Grammy Awards, international tours, and important appearances such as the memorial services of Nelson Mandela in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.

Addressing the graduating class, Thomas emphasized the importance of applying the habits and standards they developed while at PBA. He also encouraged them to keep singing. “That invaluable knowledge and experience of mutual support that you have learned here at PBA is something that you can carry along with you wherever you go,” he said, “If your generation is going to change the world, and repair the planet and our communities, through whatever work and career you take on, you’re going to have to do it together, as a team, as an ensemble.”

ABS, with choristers from the Pacific Boychoir, performing Bach's St. Matthew Passion in Berkeley, 2015.

Choristers from the Pacific Boychoir with ABS performing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion last season. Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

Thomas also praised the singers for their work with ABS in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion last February and March: “That was certainly not the most difficult music that’s been handed to you, but you sang it with a depth of expression and sincerity and involvement that was overwhelming to the audiences and to your fellow musicians in ABS. I have so greatly enjoyed not only your beautiful and heartfelt singing but also the remarkable professionalism that you have brought to each of those rehearsal and concert experiences.”

Congratulations to all of the graduates of the PBA!

Festival Primer: Versailles, The Parisian Baroque, and Bach!

The upcoming ABS Festival & Academy, Versailles & The Parisian Baroque, will take place at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music from August 7-16. While the concerts, lectures, and public colloquium will emphasize the French composers who established a style and tradition all their own during the 17th and 18th Centuries, the great J.S. Bach will also get his due during the two-week festival, namely during the Academy-In-Action concerts (August 10 & 11) and the beloved annual performances of the Mass in B Minor (August 9 & 16).

With only a few weeks left until the Festival begins, it is a great time to begin looking forward. Below are some listening, viewing, and reading recommendations to get you in the spirit before the two-week immersion in the Parisian Baroque begins!

READINGS

French OperaFrench Opera: A Short History by Vincent Giroud (Yale University Press, 2010). This overview of a fascinating musical tradition explores the characteristics that make French operas so, well … French. Giroud’s summary of the Baroque period composers, namely Lully, Marais, Charpentier, Campra, and Rameau, is excellent and concise. Explanations of the French treatment of recitative and arias, emphasis on dance, and the working lives of musicians in Paris and Versailles reveal key differences with Italian and German opera and the history behind those differences.

GardenerVersaillesThe Gardener of Versailles: My Life in the World’s Grandest Garden by Alain Baraton (Rizzoli, 2014). An eccentric and charming memoir by the gardener-in-chief of Versailles who has dedicated his life to the care of the park’s plants, fountains, and history for over 40 years. Whether your interest is in the history of the Chateau and its grounds or the fascinating daily grind of its modern day caretaker, this book is great preparation for the public colloquium at the Festival on August 8, The Culture of Versailles.

Saint SimonMemoirs of Duc de Saint-Simon 1691-1709. These writings of day-to-day life in the court of Louis XIV are available in several editions and can often be found in used books stores or free downloads online. The rules and protocols of courtiers are covered in great detail, as are the scandals and intrigues of ambitious individuals seeking to raise their station and gain more influence with the king.

 

FILMS

TousLesMatinsTous les matins du monde (Alain Corneau, 1991). Highly influential and memorable film about the life of Marin Marais and his viola da gamba studies with the legendary Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe. The soundtrack, organized by master gambist Jordi Savall, gave tremendous boosts to the rediscovery of Marais, the viola da gamba, and to historically informed performance practice in early music.

Le Roi Danse (Gérard Corbiau, 2000). Rich in period detail, this gorgeous film takes the viewer into the world of Versailles and the court of Louis XIV through its main protagonist, Jean-Baptiste Lully, the most important composer in early French music history (who was actually, by birth, Italian). There are many excellent scenes of musical life and performance, including a ballet du cour featuring Louis XIV as the principal dancer. Read more about the film here and look for it on YouTube.

Moliére (Laruent Tirard, 2007). Fun biopic about the great French playwright and occasional librettist for Lully. The film will be shown at the Alliance Française (1345 Bush Street) on July 21 at 7:00 p.m. as part of ABS’s summer collaboration with the Alliance Française de San Francisco. Read more about the film on the ABS blog.

Ridicule (Patrice Leconte, 1996). Set in France before the Revolution, Ridicule explores the decadent court culture at Versailles during the reign of Louis XVI. The film will be shown on July 28 at 7:00 p.m. as the second film screening of the ABS collaboration with the Alliance Française. Check the ABS blog for more about this film.

Anatomy of a MasterpieceBach’s Mass in B Minor: Anatomy of a Masterwork (ABS, 2015). No ABS Festival & Academy would be complete without the annual performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor by the ABS Festival Orchestra conducted by Jeffrey Thomas. No matter if this August will be your first hearing of the work or your 100th, this 30-minute documentary provides insights into Bach’s Mass and offers extended musical selections recorded live at the 2014 Festival. Let Jeffrey Thomas, Elizabeth Blumenstock, John Thiessen, and the other interviewed ABS musicians be your guides through this pinnacle work of artistry, creativity, and expressive achievement. View the film free on our YouTube channel.

LISTENING

Where to start? Since the mid-1990s, lots of great French Baroque music has been recorded by fantastic period-instrument ensembles. Here are just a few:

LesDelices Myths & Allegories (Les Délices, 2012). ABS oboist Debra Nagy’s Cleveland-based chamber group performs music from Jean-Féry Rebel’s 1703 opera Ulysses and music by Thomas-Louis Bourgeois, Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, and Michel Pignolet de Montéclair. ABS soprano Clara Rottsolk is the featured vocal soloist.

Charpentier: La descent d’Orfée aus Enfers (Boston Early Music Festival, 2014). Outstanding performance that won the GRAMMY for Best Opera Recording earlier this year and features several ABS musicians [read more here].

Cadmus et HermioneLully: Cadmus et Hermione. For those who appreciate attention to period detail, this meticulous presentation from 2009 of one of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s early stage works is a revelation. Using only the stage technology of Lully’s day, including candles for lighting instead of electricity, the performance transports the viewer back to the 1670s. Also, since Cadmus is the mythological father of Semele, this opera by Marais’ esteemed predecessor is ideal preparation for the Festival performances of Sémélé on August 13 & 14. Highly recommended!

Tickets for the 2015 ABS Festival & Academy, full schedule, and other information are available at sfbachfestival.org.

ABS in Boston for Early Music Exhibition

ABS Flutist Sandra Miller spent time at the ABS exhibition table.

ABS Flutist Sandra Miller spent time at the ABS exhibition table.

From June 9-13, ABS took part in the world famous exhibition at the 2015 Boston Early Music Festival (known as BEMF). Emma Gavenda and I spent our days chatting with Festival-goers, instrument makers, and dozens of musicians. In addition to speaking with music lovers about the upcoming ABS Festival & Academy, it was a pleasure to see so many ABS Academy alumni come by the ABS exhibition table between concerts. What an inspiration to see these outstanding musicians performing at such a high level and for appreciative audiences at this event. As an added bonus, ABS flutist and Academy faculty member Sandra Miller spent some time at the table talking with visitors about ABS and the Academy. Thanks, Sandy!

McGill University performance during BEMF.

McGill University performance during BEMF.

Outside of the exhibition hall, there were dozens of early music concerts happening all around downtown Boston. As it was impossible to see and hear everything, difficult choices had to be made. I was delighted to catch a few excellent “fringe” concerts, especially soprano Molly Netter (Academy 2014) singing with Les Canards Chantant (“The Singing Ducks” – look for them on Facebook!) in a program of Italian Madrigals and an ensemble from McGill University (part of Early Music America’s Young Performers Festival) performing a balanced program of French, Italian, and German music, including Telemann’s Trietto no. 3 in D Minor with stunning playing by oboist Joel Verkaik (Academy 2014). Joel also wrote the program notes.

Tenors Zachary Wilder and Aaron Sheehan during curtain call of Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea.

Tenors Zachary Wilder (third from right) and Aaron Sheehan (second from right) taking a bow after Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea.

The centerpiece of this year’s BEMF was a series of major works by Monteverdi, with fully staged performances of Orfeo, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria, and L’incoronazione di Poppea, along with a concert performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610. The opportunity to hear these early operas in such close proximity to one another attracted an international audience who filled the Boston University Theatre night after night. Several musicians from recent ABS concerts distinguished themselves in the superb Monteverdi cycle. Tenors Zachary Wilder (who made his ABS debut last January as Damon in Handel’s Acis and Galatea), Aaron Sheehan (Grammy Award winner who recently sang in ABS performances of Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s St. John Passion), and Charles Blandy (who was a soloists in last season’s St. Matthew Passion) all played key roles in the operas and ABS violinist and Academy faculty member Robert Mealy was concertmaster for every performance.

Within just a few days, we had spoken with hundreds of people about the exciting events that are coming up for ABS. Several of our new friends decided to make the trip to San Francisco for this year’s ABS Festival & Academy, Versailles & The Parisian Baroque (August 7-16 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music) or apply to next year’s Academy. We look forward to seeing you all soon!

ABS Academy Awards: Scholarships, Contests, and Other Good News

Academy alumni who performed in last year's Messiah.

Academy alumni who performed in last year’s Messiah.

Not only does the ABS Academy attract some of the best and brightest musicians to San Francisco every summer, but we all get to watch and listen to them both during the Festival and in the years to come as their activities take them all around the world and, occasionally, back to the Bay Area. With recent awards and honors announced for some of the Academy’s incoming participants and our distinguished alumni, ABS is extremely proud to play an important role in the musical journeys of these talented artists. Every year Early Music America awards Summer Workshop Scholarships to gifted musicians in the early music field, and ABS Academy participants have benefited from this financial assistance in the past. This year, an amazing 5 out of 9 scholarships were awarded to incoming Academy musicians! Congratulations are due to the following recipients of EMA’s 2015 Summer Workshop Scholarship:

Daniel Mireles, viola
Jonathan Slade, flute
Alice Culin-Ellison, violin
David Dickey, oboe
Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, countertenor

There is more good news! Early Music America has awarded flutist and 2014 Academy alumna Mara Winter the prestigious Barbara Thornton Memorial Scholarship. This award, offered every other year to an outstanding and highly motivated young performer in medieval music, will allow Mara the opportunity to widen her experience through more advanced study. Congratulations, Mara!

Also, the semifinalists for the Baroque Flute Artist Competition held by the National Flute Association in Washington, D.C. have just been announced. Of the six semifinalists, two are Academy alums–Christopher Matthews and Joshua Romatowski–and one will be attending the Academy for the first time this summer–Mili Chang–before heading to the Nation’s capital to compete. Good luck to all and congratulations!

ABS is excited to welcome its largest Academy class to date in August 2015: 74 musicians from the United States, Germany, Canada, and England. We sincerely hope you will join us at the Festival, Versailles & The Parisian Baroque (August 7-16), to hear this exceptional group of musicians perform. Tickets to the Academy-In-Action concerts, Bach’s Mass in B Minor and Marais’ Sémélé (all events that will feature soloists from the Academy) are available on the Festival website: sfbachfestival.org.

Festival Performance Added: Marais’ Sémélé on August 13

Jupiter and Semele (1894-95), by Gustave Moreau

Jupiter and Semele (1894-95), by Gustave Moreau

Due to the early and exceptionally high demand for tickets to the Friday, August 14 performance of Marin Marais’ opera Sémélé, a second performance of the work has been added to the ABS Festival & Academy schedule on Thursday, August 13. Among the most highly anticipated events of the 2015 festival, these performances of Sémélé will be the first complete performances of the opera outside of Europe. Do you have your tickets to Sémélé?

TICKETS: Marais’ Sémélé

The ABS Festival & Academy will take place at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music from August 7-16, 2015. The theme for the Festival is Versailles & The Parisian Baroque. To request a brochure or view the full schedule of concerts, free lectures & master classes, and public colloquia, please visit sfbachfestival.org.

ABS Festival & Academy Highlight: Marin Marais’ Sémélé

Marin Marais

Marin Marais

The operas of Marin Marais are rarely performed today in contemporary opera houses, though not for lack of musical and dramatic value. His final opera, Sémélé, had not been heard in nearly 300 years when the French ensemble Le Concert Spiritual, under the baton of Hervé Niquet, presented the work at the Festival International d’Opéra Baroque in Beaune, France in 2006—the 350th anniversary year of the composer’s birth. The following year, the same ensemble presented Sémélé (minus Marais’ 30-minute prologue, which was cut) in a fully staged production directed by Olivier Simonnet in Montpellier. Despite its rediscovery nine years ago, Marais’s final work for the lyric stage has only been performed in Europe—until now! Jeffrey Thomas and the ABS Festival Orchestra will present the U.S. Premiere of Sémélé at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music during the ABS Festival & Academy on Thursday & Friday, August 13 & 14.

Semele scoreMarais’ Sémélé is a work of beauty and verve (it has an exciting earthquake scene in Act V), but few actually heard the opera when it premiered on April 9, 1709 at the Palais Royal in Paris. Due to an extraordinarily cold European winter (often referred to as “The Great Frost”), the 1708-09 season was a terrible one for opera in France as the country was hit particularly hard: food shortages crippled its urban centers and revolts broke out in the streets. Amid this turmoil, turnouts for revivals of old operas by Lully or the new one by Marais were modest, to say the least. By the time conditions had improved in Paris, Marais had retired from his stressful position at the Opéra and returned to composing smaller-scale works for viola da gamba.

With the exception of occasional 18th-century revivals of his first successful stage work, Alcyone (1706), Marais’ tragedies en musique went mostly unperformed for hundreds of years. Thanks to the 1991 film Tous les matins du monde (“All the World’s Mornings”), an evocative treatment of the composer’s life with a stirring, viola da gamba-focused soundtrack, a renewed interest in Marais took off during the 1990s and 2000s. With the simultaneous reappraisal of French Baroque operas by Charpentier, Lully, Rameau, and others, a new appreciation of this grand tradition blossomed and yielded many thrilling musical (re) discoveries. Sémélé IS one of these great discoveries!

San Francisco, in all likelihood, will not be struck by a “great frost” this August, so the ABS Festival & Academy presents a perfect, not to mention rare, opportunity to experience this remarkable work live. As one of the highly anticipated early music events of the summer, tickets for Sémélé are already going fast. Reserve your seats for Sémélé today.

TICKETS: Marais’ Sémélé, August 13 & 14, 2015, 8:00 pm

All Festival & Academy performances take place San Francisco Conservatory of Music, (50 Oak Street) from August 7-16. To request a Festival brochure, please visit americanbach.org or call (415) 621-7900.

In Memorium: James Weaver, bass baritone

James Weaver

James Weaver

ABS is saddened to learn of the death of bass baritone James Weaver on May 3, 2015. Weaver was a soloist on many ABS recordings and a featured artist with the ensemble between 1990 and 2006. Often appearing with the group on programs comprised entirely of Bach cantatas, including the inaugural concert at St. Stephen’s Church in Belvedere on February 2, 1990, Weaver also appeared with the ensemble in Bach’s St. John Passion, Magnificat, Mass in B Minor, St. Matthew Passion, and in Handel’s Messiah.

A native of Detroit, Weaver studied at Amsterdam’s Sweelinck Conservatory with Max van Egmond (who is a member of the ABS Academy Faculty). He enjoyed a distinguished international career, appearing with many of the finest orchestras and chamber ensembles in North America and Europe. He made numerous recordings with ABS and can also be heard on recordings for the Dorian, Smithsonian, Channel Classics, Ricercar, and Newport Classics labels.

ABS Recordings featuring bass baritone James Weaver:

Bach Cantata Series II: Trauerode
Bach Cantata Series IV: Cantatas for Easter
Bach Cantata Series V: Weimar Cantatas
Bach: Mass in B Minor
Bach: St. Matthew Passion
Schütz: Choral & Vocal Works

Listen: James Weaver on ABS recordings

An Obituary for Mr. Weaver appeared in the Williamsburg Daily Press.

ABS Partnership with Alliance Française

ABS is pleased to announce an upcoming partnership with the Alliance Française de San Francisco during the weeks leading up the ABS Festival & Academy, August 7-16. To celebrate and further explore the Festival theme of “Versailles & The Parisian Baroque,” the partnership will feature a film series and a pre-Festival lecture by ABS violinist Robert Mealy.

AF_Logo_TextThe Alliance Française de San Francisco is an educational institution that is dedicated to the promotion of French culture and language. They offer language courses, exhibitions, library services, and education resources to the French speaking community and students of the language within San Francisco. One of their most popular programs is French cinema night, held every Tuesday evening in their theater at 1345 Bush Street. As part of the collaboration with ABS, the films schedule in mid-late July will explore the theme of the French Baroque with two films set during the period when France was the seat of European glamor, splendor, invention, and political might. Through the creations of Jean-Baptiste Lully, Marin Marais, and Jean-Philippe Rameau it was clearly an extraordinary center of music, opera, and theater, as well.

Free Film Series

MoliereOn July 21 at 7:00 p.m., the Alliance Française will screen Laurent Tirard’s 2007 film, Molière. Profiling Lully’s favored librettist for the comédie-ballet performed for (and occasionally featuring the dancing of) King Louis XIV, the film is a visual feast of period detail and French wit. Set during the 1660s before Molière became the country’s leading (and most controversial) comedian and playwright, the film follows Molière, played by Romain Duris, through a series of amusing and romantic adventures to his inspiration. In the tradition of the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love, this French film is a delightful portrait of a man as a artist, lover, and lovable rascal.

RidiculeOn July 28 at 7:00 p.m., Patrice Leconte’s Ridicule will be shown. The wit and naughtiness of the French court of Louis XVI are the focus in this film. The stunning cinematography and, again, exquisite period detail of Ridicule provide a gorgeous backdrop for the lively banter and clever take-downs of a group of privileged aristocrats. The extravagance that took root a century earlier during the reign of the Louis XIV reaches its decadent extreme in the Versailles of the 1780s. Fatally removed from the lives of average French men and women of Paris and the surrounding country, the cruel games of the privileged classes end abruptly when a new social order topples the French aristocracy in revolution.

Providing excellent bookends for the music, lectures, and colloquia that will be featured during the ABS Festival & Academy, Molière and Ridicule span the emergence of France as the dominant power in Europe until its inevitable fall; together they provide a perfect double-feature for getting into the spirit of the era!

Free Pre-Festival Lecture on the Parisian Baroque

MealyAs a special treat for Alliance Française members and fans of ABS, violinist Robert Mealy will present a pre-Festival lecture at the Alliance Française on Friday, July 31 at 7:00 p.m. A renowned authority on the music of the period, Mealy is well-known to ABS concertgoers from his engaging pre-concert lectures and stellar performances with the ensemble. Mealy is the Director of Juilliard’s Historical Performance Program, a member of the ABS Academy Faculty, and an accomplished musician who appears on more than 80 recordings. Save the date for Mr. Mealy’s lecture which will surely be an ideal preparation for the ABS Festival & Academy, opening a week later on August 7 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Both films and the lecture are free and open to the public, though donations to the Alliance Française are appreciated.

Single tickets and Festival passes for the 2015 ABS Festival & Academy, along with a full schedule, are available at sfbachfestival.org. If you would like to receive a free Festival brochure, you may request one from our website or call the ABS Office at (415) 621-7900.