Meet Emma Gavenda, ABS’s new Operations Associate

Please join all of us at ABS in welcoming Emma Gavenda. “I am so pleased that Emma is joining the ABS team,” said ABS Executive Director, Don Scott Carpenter, “The minute I met her for lunch to discuss the possibility of her working for us, her charm and charisma, along with her love for ABS came to the forefront, and I knew that I wanted to hire her.” We now turn the reins over to Emma so she can introduce herself:

Emma Gavenda“I’m Emma Gavenda, and I’m so thrilled to be ABS’s new Operations Associate. I’ve been an avid fan of this group for years, and have participated in the Academy twice. I grew up in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Davis for my undergraduate work (I was – as far as I know – the first person to do a B.A. in harpsichord performance there) where I was lucky enough to take classes from both Jeffrey Thomas and Steve Lehning. They were both enormously influential in augmenting both my knowledge and appreciation of Bach and all things Baroque. After Davis, I moved out to Boston to get my masters (also in harpsichord). After I finished school, however, beautiful California called me home, and now I’m lucky enough to work for my very favorite baroque orchestra!

“Some other fun facts: I also sing, and am currently the alto section leader at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley. Although I spend most of my time singing choral music, I occasionally channel Dolly Parton in a country-western cover band, and in 2013 I had the unique opportunity to sing backup for the Rolling Stones in two performances at TD Garden in Boston. My favorite movement of the B Minor Mass is the Dona Nobis Pacem and my favorite cantata is 140 (I know it’s an obvious choice, but I would be lying if I said there was any other piece of music that made me half as giddy as the opening measures of “Wachet Auf”). Come find me and say hi at the next concert!”

New (and older) Publications relating to the ABS season ahead

The upcoming 2014-15 ABS season will be one of ABS’s best yet. Extraordinary works by Handel and Vivaldi will be complimented by a rarely performed yet beautiful violoncello concerto by Neapolitan Baroque composer Leonardo Leo, and, of course, an outstanding representation of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Last year we highlighted some of the Bach-related publications of 2013, so it seemed like a good time to again review new publications that may be of interest or are related to the ABS season ahead. Below is a selection of new, recent, reissued, and essential items related to the master and his contemporaries.

Bach and his Times

2014.10.07_Bach_readings1Related to the study of Bach’s works, look for the paperback edition of Celia Applegate’s 2005 Bach in Berlin: Nation and Culture in Mendelssohn’s Revival of the St. Matthew Passion, which will be published this month. With ABS’s performances of the Passion coming up from Feb 27-Mar 2, this is an especially good time to look into Applegate’s work.

Scheduled for publication just after the turn of the New Year, Martha Feldman’s The Castrato: Reflections on Natures and Kinds, will be worth the wait. With works by Handel, Vivaldi, and Leo coming up in 2015, Feldman’s study will offer excellent background and context for the musical offerings of the subscription season. The notorious practice of castrating boys to prepare them for careers as singers had a profound impact on the music and culture of the Baroque era (though castrati continued as part of the musical scene on into the late nineteenth century).

Several new eBook-only options might be worth pursuing if you have a kindle or iPad and a long commute. Matthew Rye’s JS Bach’s Mass in B Minor looks at Bach’s ultimate masterwork and may offer insights for next summer’s performances of the Mass at the ABS Festival & Academy. Also,Philipp Spitta’s 1899 biography Johann Sebastian Bach: his work and influence on the music of Germany, 1685-1750 is available for kindle.

Don’t forget one of the good old, old ones: Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life, Art, and Work by Johann Nikolaus Forkel. This is, in fact, the very first biography of J.S. Bach written by an enthusiast who was born in 1749, the year before Bach’s death. As an eminent 18th Century musicologist, Forkel was acquainted with Bach’s sons and used his access to them while writing his life of the composer.

Handel, Vivaldi, and Leo

2014.10.07_Bach_readings3To get equipped for the other parts of the ABS season, there are some other readings that you might consider. Handel’s Acis and Galatea is based on a story from Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Different translations of this timeless (and occasionally bawdy work) abound, but consider Charles Martins’s translation of Ovid, which includes an introduction by famed classics professor Bernard Knox. Vivaldi’s famed all-female ensemble at the Ospedale della Pietà is the subject of Barbara Quick’s imaginative work of historical fiction, Vivaldi’s Virgins. Biographical information about Leonardo Leo is not nearly as easy to find as an edition of Ovid. Perhaps the best introduction to this composer is to go right to the his music. Tafelmusik has an excellent CD featuring all 6 of Leo’s violoncello concerti with Dutch cellist Anner Bylsma as soloist and Jeanne Lamon conducting.

An American Bach Soloist abroad, part II: Derek Chester recalls his summer in the land of Bach

Filling in the Gaps: Bach’s Cantatas in Context by Derek Chester

Composed in 1726, we performed it in the same church on the same Sunday 288 years later.

Composed in 1726, we performed it in the same church on the same Sunday 288 years later.

Picture yourself as a 20-year-old boy, waking up in your communal dormitory room in the Thomasschule at 5:30 on Sunday morning, August 11, 1726. Your voice just changed a few months ago because no one put hormones in your milk all of your life and because your diet is comprised mainly of pork and cabbage. You eat a quick breakfast and run to the Thomaskirche to rehearse your cantata aria with the orchestra and prepare for the morning service (there is also a new motet this week). You just got a clean and updated copy of the part-book yesterday, and are quickly running through the new additions in your head. The aria that Herr Kantor Bach has written for you this week is terribly difficult and quite high, but you have been singing difficult repertoire every day and taking voice lessons since you were 10, so you can depend on your technique and sight reading skills to get through it.

Practicing the opening choral fugue of BWV 45: “Es ist dir gesagt Mensch was gut ist”

Practicing the opening choral fugue of BWV 45: “Es ist dir gesagt Mensch was gut ist”

You robe up, line up, and the head boy says a prayer over the choir.  During the opening prelude and hymn, you process into the chancel area where the choir offers the Kyrie and the Gloria (a Praetorius setting in Latin this week) and another congregational hymn.  You recess during the last verse of the hymn and situate yourself in the choir loft to get ready for the cantata.  During the gospel reading you nervously look over your aria one last time.  The cantata begins.  Herr Kantor Bach is a tenor short this morning since one of the boys who sings at the Nikolaikirche threw up all over the organ console during rehearsal and Herr Kantor sent a Thomaskirche ripienist over to fill in for him.  The flustered Herr Kantor asks you to sing more lustily than usual in the opening choruses to make up for it.  Things go pretty well for you in the following recitative and aria, even though you kind of botch one of the high A’s because you over-sang in the opening chorus.  After your aria comes the sermon and it is pretty long this week—about an hour.  After the sermon, you listen to your colleagues sing a few arias and join in for the final chorale.  Now all you have to sing is that new motet for communion and then you have an entire four hours off to rest and finish homework before the vespers service.

Michael Costello directing the Sächsisches Barockorchester.

Michael Costello directing the Sächsisches Barockorchester.

Now lets move ahead in time 288 years to August 10, 2014. The same cantata is being performed and much of the service is exactly the same. But this time, the students are on summer vacation, and a guest choir from Chicago is responsible for the music. The Thomaskirche staff gave our tour group three Bach cantata options written for the 8th Sunday after Trinity Sunday. Michael chose Cantata 45, Est is dir gesagt mensch was gut ist a cantata in two parts, half before the sermon, and half afterward. (HERE is a recording so you can listen as you read!). The cantata has a wonderful opening fugue for chorus followed by a collection of recitatives and arias and a closing choral. Through a wonderfully successful Kickstarter campaign, Grace Lutheran was able to hire the Sächsisches Barockorchester to play the cantata. We only had one quick rehearsal with the orchestra right before the service. I arrived at the church around 8:00 a.m. (after waking nice and early to warm up!). At 8:30 a.m., the doors opened and we made our way to the choir loft to run through recitatives and arias with the orchestra.

Running my aria with the orchestra.

Running my aria with the orchestra.

Even after singing just the first phrase of the recitative before my aria (“Weiss ich Gottes rechte,” scored for tenor, strings and continuo), I knew that this was a fantastic acoustic for this music. After all, the music was created with this space in mind. The continuo organ, which was built for the big Bach celebration and renovation in 2000, had a beautiful, beefy sound that was quite a bit louder than your typical portative. The rehearsal for the aria followed, and due to the competency of the orchestra only required minimal rehearsal. The balance was ideal, even with the larger than expected orchestra. Now, I’ve got to say, Bach’s music is high for the tenor, even at baroque pitch, and especially at 8:30 a.m. Those boys, with newly changed voices had to be up-and-at-em extremely early to be ready to belt Bach’s high and demanding tessitura. It is a task I definitely now appreciate more than ever.

Thomaskirche’s beautiful double manual portative organ, 2000. It was a pleasure doing recits with you!

Thomaskirche’s beautiful double manual portative organ, 2000. It was a pleasure doing recits with you!

After the rehearsal, we had some down time before we had to robe-up and get prepared for the service. For the first part of the service, we were in what they call the “Altarraum” or chancel. We sang a Praetorius Kyrie and Gloria from there, as well as a newly harmonized stanza of the congregational hymn by our director Michael Costello. After the hymn, we recessed to the back to get ready for the cantata. The epistle was read, another hymn, and then the gospel. The readings influence the texts from the cantatas, which are then reinforced a third time by the sermon, every aspect of the service working in harmony to really drive home the point to the congregation. The first 3 movements of the cantata, including my recitative and aria went swimmingly. After all these years of specializing in Bach’s works, I was actually singing in his church, a piece that he wrote for this same Sunday. I was like a pig in slop—nothing could have removed the joy in my heart or the grin on of my face.

The portative organ is adorned with Bach’s crest.

The portative organ is adorned with Bach’s crest.

The sermon followed my aria. It was not terribly long as it would have been in Bach’s day, but it definitely tied in the scripture readings and libretto of Bach’s cantata. The second part of the cantata consisted of a bass aria sung by the director, Michael Costello, an alto aria and recit for flute and continuo, sung by wonderful Chicago area pedagogue and mezzo-soprano, Karen Brunssen, and a closing chorale. As we started to sing the closing chorale, it dawned on me how incredibly special this moment was and how tremendously fortunate I was to experience this music, in this place, in this setting. I wish every Bach lover could experience that feeling. I’ve always been a fairly spiritual person and performing this music in the context of a service reminded me of how Bach composed this music “soli deo Gloria”—only to the glory of God.

Looking eastward from the choir loft.

Looking eastward from the choir loft.

After this experience in Leipzig, it will be hard for me to ignore the functional aspect of Bach’s music, which had so long been pushed to the back burner of my mind in order to concentrate on the technique, the style, the language, and the music itself. It is, after all, the layers of genius and humanity that make us love Bach. Do I think it is possible to remove the religious aspect of the music and still enjoy it? Of course—the music is nearly perfect. But the core of Bach’s original intent is something that I never want to forget as an interpreter of Bach.

Derek Chester, tenor

P.S. If you ever get the chance to visit the church, be sure to stop for a beer or a Bach-torte at the Bachstüb’l across the courtyard. It is wonderful!

Relaxing with a refreshing Pils at the Bachstüb’l across from the Thomaskirche after a long day of travel and rehearsal.

Relaxing with a refreshing Pils at the Bachstüb’l across from the Thomaskirche after a long day of travel and rehearsal.

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I tried to get a discount by showing my tattoo. Instead the waiter gave me a stamp of the same sigil on my other arm.

I tried to get a discount by showing my tattoo. Instead the waiter gave me a stamp of the same sigil on my other arm.

An American Bach Soloist abroad, part I: Derek Chester recalls his summer in the land of Bach

Singing in Bach’s Church: a Major Career Goal Accomplished by Derek Chester

ChesterDerekI have been a super Bach-fan since I was a boy. When I was a Fulbright Scholar and living in Germany in 2006-07, my wife Laura and I made our first Bach pilgrimage. With nothing but a copy of Christoph Wolff’s Bach: The Learned Musician as our guide, we hit Eisenach, Arnstadt, Mühlhausen, Weimar, ending up at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. As most of you know, the Thomaskirche is where Bach served as cantor from 1723 until his death in 1750. It is, of course, the ultimate Bach fan’s Mecca. When I first stepped foot in the doors, I was shaking and overwhelmed with emotion­—I was standing in the church where the majority of Bach’s sacred cantatas premiered as service music! At that moment it became one of my goals to sing a Bach cantata as service music there. This summer, I was able to check that off of my bucket list.

A few years back, church musician, pastor, and choral director Michael Costello hired me to sing arias in the St. Matthew Passion at Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest, just north of Chicago. Grace Lutheran is one of those fortunate congregations that boast a monthly Bach cantata series. Since 1979, the church has presented the sacred cantatas of Bach within the context of congregational worship, as they were originally intended, including hymn singing, scripture, and preaching, all tied into the themes of the cantata. Michael has done wonderful things with this volunteer church choir and does a fantastic job training them to perform Lutheran church music of the highest quality.

Last spring, Michael asked if I would be interested in joining the Bach Cantata Vespers Choir as a soloist and choir ringer for a 16-day tour of Germany, France, and Switzerland, including a performance at Bach’s own Thomaskirche in Leipzig. I was tremendously excited by the possibility. Unfortunately, the tour was in August and conflicted with many family and work related events. Further, I had also been engaged as the Evangelist in a one-voice-per-part St. Matthew Passion at the Staunton Music Festival … meaning I would have to:

  1. Miss my 10 year wedding anniversary
  2. Miss my son’s 7th birthday
  3. Be away from my wife/super-mom and 3 kids for 28 days straight
  4. Miss preplanning and meetings at my university job
  5. Miss my 10-month-old daughter’s first steps (of course, I couldn’t have known, but suspected I would miss).

It was a tough choice for me. Some of you might know that the life of a traveling musician/college professor can introduce strains on family life if not carefully managed. My wife and I talked it over carefully for some time and eventually decided that the opportunity was too good to pass up. We planned our anniversary trip early, worked it out so her parents could be with her to help with the kids for my entire period of travel, pushed forward my son’s birthday celebration, and cleared it with my university colleagues. I couldn’t stop or postpone the walking of the baby, though I teasingly asked my wife to gently push her down any time she started to take that first step.

At the Bach Memorial in the Thomaskirche Courtyard at 8am, just before our orchestra rehearsal

At the Bach Memorial in the Thomaskirche Courtyard at 8am, just before our orchestra rehearsal

I volunteered to join Grace Lutheran on their tour, and Michael sent me a packet of music including Bach Cantata 45 and a collection of motets by Schütz, Hammerschmidt, and Scheidt. We started in Zürich and ended in Hamburg with stops in Strasbourg (France), Nurnberg, Heidelberg, Erfurt, Eisleben, Eisenach (Bach’s birthplace, and home to the Bach Museum), Wolfenbüttel (home of Praetorius’s church), and my personal favorite, Leipzig, Bach’s home for 27 years.

In Bach’s day, life centered around the church. Leipzig’s head church, the Thomaskirche, was founded in the early 13th century along with a Latin school for boys, the Thomasschule, which also still exists. The students undergo a thorough, world-class education focused on music, arts, and languages. The church-school’s world famous boychoir, the Thomanerchor, which has existed since the school’s founding in 1212, provide the service music at the Thomaskirche during the school year. During the summer, the Thomaskirche invites choirs from around the world to perform, which is what brought our tour to Leipzig.

The tower dates back to 1537 but was reconstructed in 1702, reaching its current height of 223 feet.

The tower dates back to 1537 but was reconstructed in 1702, reaching its current height of 223 feet.

I was thrilled to return to the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, this time as a performer. It’s a strikingly beautiful space. Every Bach lover should see it and catch a service there. Until you book that trip, I’ll describe it as best I can and include some pictures (mostly taken with my iPhone). From the courtyard, you can see the famous memorial statue to Bach and the Late Gothic edifice and tower, the oldest parts of the church dating back to 1496. Inside, the ceilings seem amazingly high with beautiful, yet conservative ornamentation. Though I’m not sure it was the builder’s intent, the crimson paint on the ribs of the vaulted ceiling elicit an image of Christ’s blood covering the congregation.

The church is laid out in somewhat cross-like form with the top of the cross facing east. Towards the front of the nave is a pulpit where the sermon is delivered. The pews here face east, but in the rear of the church and the south and north transepts (the arms of the “cross”) they face inward. There is also an upper gallery seating area on both the south and north sides of the church. These are probably the best seats to watch music being performed in the choir loft, as long as you are not stuck behind one of the giant pillars. Bach’s remains (or at least what are believed to be his remains) were moved to the Thomaskirche in 1950 and buried in the chancel area in front of the altar. The choir loft is located in the rear of the church. It is spacious and can hold a rather large choir and orchestra. It houses a famous 19th-century Romantic organ by Wilhelm Sauer; an instrument which makes a tremendous sound, though not ideal for an authentic hearing of Bach’s works. But don’t worry, the north gallery houses the beautiful “Bach Organ,” built in 2000 for the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death. It is a replica of an organ Bach played in the Paulinerkirche, the University Church in Leipzig, beautifully adorned with the Bach crest (an emblem particularly admired by yours truly; it is tattooed on my right arm). The south side of the church boasts beautiful stained glass windows, most importantly the Bach Window, featuring Bach’s portrait, which faces the organ in the opposite gallery.

A westward look of the Thomaskirche interior featuring the choir loft and the organ by Wilhelm Sauer, built from 1885–89.

Looking westward toward the choir loft and Sauer organ.

An eastward view, showing the high altar and quite vaulted, ribbed ceiling.

The Thomaskirche interior, looking eastward toward the altar.

The south gallery.

The south gallery.

The famous “Bach Window” faces the “Bach Organ” on the opposite gallery.

The famous “Bach Window.”

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Chancel, altar, and Bach’s grave

Chancel, altar, and Bach’s grave

The Sauer organ above the choir loft.

The Sauer organ console.

The Sauer organ above the choir loft.

The Sauer organ above the choir loft.

The “Bach Organ” in the north gallery.

The “Bach Organ” console.

The “Bach Organ” in the north gallery.

The “Bach Organ” in the north gallery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read the continuation of Derek’s report about the performance of Cantata 45 in the Thomaskirche here.

Sensational Gala

ABS annual gala, A Red Carpet Evening.

ABS annual gala, A Red Carpet Evening.

Kicking off the 2014-15 season in style, this year’s annual gala, “A Red Carpet Evening,” was an elegant affair which raised tremendous support for the musicians and activities of ABS. In spite of a chilly wind whipping through Belvedere on Saturday night, the friends and supporters of ABS joined the board, staff, and a quartet of ABS artists for an evening of celebration, merriment, and music.

After walking the red carpet and being photographed by our paparazzi photographers from Gas Lamp Productions, many attendees could be seen, with Kir Royale in hand, engaged in lively conversations and looking over silent auction items. Happy bidders claimed all of the items, with a few bottles of wine and some San Francisco Giants memorabilia drawing the most spirited bidding.

Tatiana Chulochnikova playing Bach's Partita no. 3

Tatiana Chulochnikova playing Bach’s Partita no. 3

The musical program was exquisite and a topic of conversation throughout the evening. The ensemble of Tatiana Chulochnikova (violin), Tanya Tomkins (violoncello), Steven Lehning (violone), and Jeffrey Thomas (harpsichord) performed instrumental works by Bach, Vivaldi, Erlebach, and ending with Corelli’s Sonata in D Minor for Violin and Basso Continuo, “La Follia.” The program opened with Chulochnikova dazzling all in attendance with her virtuosic solos on Bach’s Preludio from Violin Partita no. 3 in E Major and an A Minor violin transcription of his famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. A graduate of the first ABS Academy in 2010, Chulochnikova’s blazing performance was a reminder of the fabulous talents that are emerging in the early music world and how they find their place in the ABS ranks.

Following the performance, the guests and musicians filed in for dinner and a live auction. As the word “sold” rang out for each auction item and the bidder paddles flew up in support of ABS throughout the evening, it became clear–once again–how much ABS patrons value and cherish the group’s fine work. Thank you to all who attended and showed their support for ABS at the gala. If you were not able to attend and would like to make a donation on the eve of our exciting 2014-15 season, please visit our website or call (415) 621-7900.

Now … who is ready for Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral?

2014-15 Single Tickets on sale now

Messiah in Grace Cathedral Photo: Ken Howard

Messiah in Grace Cathedral
Photo: Ken Howard

Do you have your tickets for ABS’s 2014-15 season yet? Our concertgoers are as excited about the new season as we are. The season brochure hit mailboxes last week and tickets have been flying out the door ever since! The hottest ticket has been our annual performances of Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral. Don’t wait and be left out of this year’s exciting presentations featuring Jeffrey Thomas leading the period-instrument virtuosos of ABS, the American Bach Choir, and an outstanding quartet of soloists: soprano Mary Wilson, countertenor Eric Jurenas, tenor Wesley Rogers, and baritone Jesse Blumberg.

There are three opportunities to experience this year’s event: December 16 (Tuesday), 18 (Thursday), & 19 (Friday), and prices are $97 (the first five rows), $80, $54, and $27. Single tickets are also now available for our upcoming 2015 concerts: Acis and Galatea (January 23-26), St. Matthew Passion (February 27-March 2), Bach, Vivaldi, & Leo (May 1-4).

Remember, subscribers enjoy the best prices and exclusive benefits including discounts on Messiah tickets. Subscription seats are available in all four venues in Belvedere, Berkeley, San Francisco, and Davis. Please visit our website for more information and a link to buy tickets or call the ABS office at (415) 621-7900.

If you would like to request a copy of the season brochure, you may request one through the website.

Coming up: The annual ABS Gala, September 20

Win great items in the ABS silent auction

Win great items in the ABS silent auction

On Saturday, September 20, the generous supporters of ABS, along with the board, staff, and musicians, will gather at St. Stephen’s Church in Belvedere for a festive night of wine, food, friends, and music. The theme for this year’s gala is “A Red Carpet Evening,” and the glamorous affair will celebrate the dawn of a new quarter-century of ABS presentations.

More than 50 silent auction items are available for viewing on the gala website where you can get acquainted with them and then place your bids at the gala. Choose from a selection of fine wines; music, theater, and sporting event tickets; works of art; jewelry; and other treasures.

Tatiana Chulochnikova, violin

Tatiana Chulochnikova, violin

ABS violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova (Academy, class of 2010) and ABS stalwarts Tanya Tomkins (violoncello), Steven Lehning (viola da gamba), and Music Director Jeffrey Thomas (harpsichord) will present a musical program of popular Baroque delights. Drawing from the works of Bach, Corelli, and Vivaldi, this quartet of artists will perform several favorite melodies, including one with a twist. Everyone knows Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor, but have you ever heard it as a transcription for solo violin in A minor? Chulochnikova will perform the transcription along with Bach’s Violin Partita No. 3 in E major to open the concert.

Casa Piazza in Manzanillo, Mexico.

Auction item 107: A week at Casa Piazza in Manzanillo, Mexico.

This musical program will set the tone for an elegant dinner by Delicious! Catering and a live auction. Who will win the week at Casa Piazza in Manzanillo, Mexico? Who will enjoy the opportunity to make sausages with baritone Mischa Bouvier? Who will step in to conduct the “Hallelujah chorus” during rehearsals for ABS’s performances of Handel’s Messiah in December? And then there is that annual question: who will take home “Hank’s Tie” for the coming year? Come to the gala and find out.

Join fellow ABS supporters as we promenade along the red carpet and raise support for ABS. Black tie dress is encouraged, but not required. Remember, all funds go directly to support the outstanding musicians of ABS. It will be a memorable night; hope to see you there!

“A Red Carpet Evening” tickets are available on the ABS Gala page or by calling the ABS office at (415) 621-7900.

Distinguished Artist Mary Wilson, soprano (Daily Festival log, July 20)

Voice faculty Max van Egmond, Judith Malafronte, and William Sharp (on left) coach soprano Elise Figa in a piece by Clérambault during the public master class on Saturday. Joshua Keller (viola da gamba) is on the right

Voice faculty Max van Egmond, Judith Malafronte, and William Sharp (on left) coach soprano Elise Figa in a piece by Clérambault during the public master class on Saturday. Joshua Keller (viola da gamba) is on the right

Mary Wilson is a beloved favorite with ABS audiences, musicians, and staff. Last night’s Distinguished Artist concert was a perfect case-in-point example of why we all love her: generous, gracious, and charismatic, Ms Wilson is a delight to behold and experience in performance … and she sings beautifully! Whether thrilling the audience with fabulous displays of vocal pyrotechnics or moving us with her expressive and heartfelt presentation, she is an altogether superb artist. The program focused on the Italian side of Bach by way of Vivaldi—an important inspiration for Bach—and Handel—an inspiration for everyone. The concert opened with the gentle, dance-like rhythms of Handel’s Italian secular cantata, Tra le fiamma. Wilson, clearly in her Handelian element, made it all sound so easy. The instrumental works on the program were as impressive and demanding as the vocal selections: Vivaldi’s Concerto in B minor for 4 violins, which ABS violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock has described as a pinnacle work, featured Blumenstock, Robert Mealy, Katherine Kyme, and Noah Strick as the soloists, and Bach’s Concerto in D major for harpsichord solo with Corey Jamason as the soloist. For her final number on the program, Wilson sang Vivaldi’s In furore iustissimae irae with Jeffrey Thomas conducting the orchestra. The crowd roared in appreciation at the end of the performance and Wilson sang two encores, both from the pen of Handel.

Patrons view the ABS photo retrospective outside the concert hall before heading inside to hear   soprano Mary Wilson and the ABS orchestra at last night’s Distinguished Artist concert

Patrons view the ABS photo retrospective outside the concert hall before heading inside to hear soprano Mary Wilson and the ABS orchestra at last night’s Distinguished Artist concert

So that was last night; a great performance to cap off an already terrific day. Earlier on, the Festival featured another well-attended public master class, this time for voice, and a great lecture by Debra Nagy that whetted our appetite for next season’s performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.

There are no master classes or lectures today. It is July 20, the final day of the Festival, and the only order of business is a matinee performance of Bach’s epic Mass in B Minor. Jeffrey Thomas and the ABS Festival Orchestra and soloists are ready, the audience is ready, and I am certainly ready to experience it once again!

Following this year’s Festival, you won’t have to wait too long to hear more outstanding performances by ABS. The ABS gala is coming up on September 20, 5 performances of Messiah in December, and a stellar 2015 season are all coming up soon. If that weren’t enough, there is also the 2015 ABS Festival & Academy in August of next year to look forward to. The theme: Versailles!

Congratulations ABS Academy class of 2014. Thank you for sharing your talent and passion for music with all of us here at ABS. Two weeks went by in a flash, but I hope to see and hear all of you again very soon.

Thank you for reading.

Jeff McMillan

Handel’s L’Allegro! (Daily Festival log, July 19)

Look who stopped by the ABS office! Mary Wilson holds a copy of the new ABS CD, Mary Wilson Sings Handel. She will sign copies of the CD in the Conservatory lobby following tonight’s performance

Look who stopped by the ABS office! Mary Wilson holds a copy of the new ABS CD, Mary Wilson Sings Handel. She will sign copies of the CD in the Conservatory lobby following tonight’s performance

The members of the Academy vocal studio found themselves with another full day of coachings yesterday. Several of the singers took the opportunity to develop their solo repertory in sessions with faculty members Max van Egmond, Judith Malafronte, William Sharp, and Jeffrey Thomas. Master classes with the other studios—strings, low strings, keyboard, winds & brass—occupied the afternoon. The winds & brass master class was open to the public and an attentive audience filled the Osher Salon to watch Sandra Miller, Debra Nagy, and John Thiessen work with the flutes, oboes, and brass, respectively. After working together for almost two straight weeks, the rapport and mutual respect between teacher and student was clear to see.

ABS faculty member Corey Jamason (right) with three Academy harpsichordists: Patrick Parker, John Steven Yeh, and Kyle Collins

ABS faculty member Corey Jamason (right) with three Academy harpsichordists: Patrick Parker, John Steven Yeh, and Kyle Collins

At 5:00 pm, the Osher Salon was packed to the rafters with auditors for Jeffrey Thomas’s lecture about Handel and his librettists. Of course Thomas devoted considerable attention to the literary sources of L’Allegro, by looking closely at the work of Milton and Jennens. This preparation for the evening’s concert gave us all something to think about and discuss over dinner in the remaining hours before the performance at 8:00 pm.

Curtain calls during last night’s triumphant L'Allegro

Curtain calls during last night’s triumphant L’Allegro

In the hour before “curtain,” the lobby of the Conservatory filled with eager concertgoers as well as those hoping to get a ticket to the sold out performance. The mood was festive and reminiscent of the previous Friday when the Festival opened. As with the Bach rehearsals for the Mass in B Minor last week, the preparations for L’Allegro have been intense and led to a splendid performance.

So we have heard exquisite performances of Bach, music by many of his predecessors, an outstanding evening-length work by Handel. What’s next? Mary Wilson with the American Bach Soloists, that’s what!! Tonight’s concert will feature Thomas conducting Wilson and the members of ABS in works by Handel, Vivaldi, and Bach. Following the concert, Ms Wilson will autograph copies of the new ABS CD in the Conservatory lobby. Stick around after the concert and meet this sensational artist.

Continue reading, Day 13.

Master classes and Lectures (Daily Festival log, July 18)

Joshua Keller (viola da gamba, on left) is coached a public master class on Thursday afternoon. On stage are Keller, Kenneth Slowik (ABS Faculty, violoncello), Bryan Anderson (organ), Ben Kazez (baritone), Shawn Alger (contrabass), Sarah Stone (violoncello). Steve Lehning (ABS Faculty, violone) is on the far right

Joshua Keller (viola da gamba, on left) is coached a public master class on Thursday afternoon. On stage are Keller, Kenneth Slowik (ABS Faculty, violoncello), Bryan Anderson (organ), Ben Kazez (baritone), Shawn Alger (contrabass), Sarah Stone (violoncello). Steve Lehning (ABS Faculty, violone) is on the far right

After the Wednesday night Bach Bonanza at the third and last Academy-in-Action concert, it seemed like those ABS Academy participants who were in the Conservatory cafeteria early on Thursday morning were there through sheer will power and perhaps some residual adrenaline. Such devotion, time, and care had been given to their chamber music assignments of the previous three evenings that the morning meant the end of one facet of the Academy experience and the continuation of the others (coachings, master classes, Handel and Bach rehearsals) with the knowledge that Sunday–and the end of the 2014 Academy–was coming. Singers got their coffees and rushed off to voice coachings and orchestral musicians gathered themselves for a full day for L’Allegro rehearsals.

Yesterday’s public master class was devoted to the low strings instruments: Violone, contrabass, violoncello, and viola da gamba. Faculty members Steven Lehning, Kenneth Slowik, and William Skeen worked with a series of Academy participants on matters of interpretation to take their already accomplished performances to the next level. I watched viola da gamba player Joshua Keller perform “Komm süßes Kreuz” from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with a full contingent of players: Ben Kazez (baritone), Sarah Stone (violoncello), Shawn Alger (contrabass), Bryan Anderson (organ).

Between rehearsals, Academy participants drop by the ABS office to pick up ABS CDs, water bottles, and sweatshirts

Between rehearsals, Academy participants drop by the ABS office to pick up ABS CDs, water bottles, and sweatshirts

The aria, which Keller introduced as “the bread and butter of every gamba player” was performed with great skill and assurance. Lehning, Slowik, and Skeen offered suggestions of how to perform the opening section and Lehning discussed the possible reasons why Bach wrote the aria to be accompanied by gamba, an instrument that was already considered archaic in Bach’s day. When Keller and the ensemble played through parts of the aria again, applying some of the faculty’s suggestions, we in the audience were all shaking our heads in affirmation—Keller’s slight adjustments had made the performance even more touching.

 Taking up where Slowik and Robert Mealy left off in their superb lectures about Bach on Tuesday and Wednesday, Corey Jamason explored the composer’s tendency to recreate and develop everything that he inherited from his artistic forebears and antecedents. Tonight at 5:00 pm, Jeffrey Thomas will shift gears slightly in his lecture focusing on Handel and that composer’s literary collaborators. It will surely be an excellent precursor to the evening’s performance of Handel’s L’Allegro at 8:00 pm.

There was no scheduled Thursday evening performance, so Thomas led a tutti rehearsal for Handel’s L’Allegro from 7:00-10:00 in the main concert hall. By now, the ABS Festival Orchestra, American Bach Choir, and all soloists know this work intimately and understand how to pace themselves through a full performance of it. Tonight we have the pleasure of hearing this glorious work!

Continue reading, Day 12.

Academy-In-Action continues (Daily Festival log, July 17)

ABS violin faculty Robert Mealy and Elizabeth Blumenstock (seated center) coach violinist Andrew McIntosh in a French dance piece at yesterday’s public master class

ABS violin faculty Robert Mealy and Elizabeth Blumenstock (seated center) coach violinist Andrew McIntosh in a French dance piece at yesterday’s public master class

Augusta McKay-Lodge performs a Bach violin sonata while Mealy, Blumenstock, and members of the audience listen in

Augusta McKay-Lodge performs a Bach violin sonata while Mealy, Blumenstock, and members of the audience listen in

Last night’s Academy-In-Action concert was a Bach lover’s dream! Arias from Cantatas 8, 9, 30, 32, 43, 79, 80, 86, 93, 97, 109, 168 and Cantata 18, Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel Fällt, in its entirety. This gorgeous music was complemented by musical delights from other composers including an aria from Handel’s Giulio Cesare and instrumental works by Telemann and Blavet. The concert closed with Telemann’s Völker-Ouverture with 24 Academy instrumentalists on the stage playing the series of dances magnificently. I hope everyone was able to hear at least some of the 2014 Academy-in-Action presentations—so much fabulous music played by our 62 Academy participants and, occasionally, members of the faculty. It won’t be long before you’re saying of this emerging artists, “I heard them when …”

Along with A-I-A, this week’s free daytime events have been terrific and well attended. On Tuesday, Kenneth Slowik spoke about Bach as “the greatest musical orator who ever lived” and yesterday Robert Mealy gave a lecture on Bach’s musical antecedents and influences. 10 out of 10 times, these lectures by the faculty add something to how I experience the music ABS performs. They often make connections with earlier and later musical creations that I had neither known nor suspected. Later today ABS keyboard player extraordinaire, Corey Jamason, will present a lecture about postmodern Bach that explores how the composer absorbed, transformed, and reinvented the styles of his predecessors. Tomorrow Jeffrey Thomas will explore Handel’s literary collaborators in preparation for the evening’s performance of L’Allegro. On Saturday, Debra Nagy will discuss pre-Bach musical settings of the Passion narrative which will, undoubtedly, attract many ABS subscribers who will be hearing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in February-March 2015.

Speaking of L’Allegro … the rehearsals for this work have been a revelation and I, for one, am looking forward to Friday with great anticipation. This work truly is Handel at his very best. Each aria stands out from the one that preceded it by introducing a fresh instrumental support, rhythmic feel, and/or mood—it is a buoyant work of joyful variety and, above all, charm. The English text is based on the poems by Milton. I would recommend spending some time with these poems before Friday as the language, while beautiful in its own right, requires focus and a certain kind of Miltonian recalibration to get into the spirit of its 17th Century English. Look ahead in your ABS Festival programs to Friday and you will find that the L’Allegro texts are annotated for easier study.

L’Allegro is just the beginning of an exciting weekend of master classes, lectures, and performances including Mary Wilson’s return on Saturday night and the concluding Festival performance of the Mass in B Minor on Sunday. Stay tuned here for the daily schedules or visit the Festival web site at sfbachfestival.org

Continue reading, Day 11.

Guest Academy blogger: Elise Figa (Daily Festival log, July 16)

Rehearsal for Bach’s BWV 97 no. 8. Left to right: J. Adam Young (violoncello), Elise Figa (soprano), David Dickey and Joel Verkaik (oboes). They will perform the work on Wednesday, July 16

Rehearsal for Bach’s BWV 97 no. 8. Left to right: J. Adam Young (violoncello), Elise Figa (soprano), David Dickey and Joel Verkaik (oboes). They will perform the work on Wednesday, July 16

Since my impressions of the Festival & Academy have dominated these daily missives, I thought it would be fun to temporarily pass the reins to one of our outrageously talented Academy participants, Elise Figa for a new perspective. Take it away, Elise:

“After a full week at ABS, I was ecstatic to perform with my new colleagues at the first Academy in Action concert last night (Monday July 14). The energy in the hall was rich with supportive friends from the program, local early music enthusiasts and our very own ABS faculty. It was especially lovely to see the faculty sitting together and smiling at the success of their students. I also enjoyed our “Social Media” symposium last week and have taken the advice of ABS Executive Director Don Scott Carpenter and have jump started my Twitter account with pictures and updates from the festival. Follow me @elisesoprano if you use Twitter!



“This is my first year being a part of The Academy. As a vocalist who has participated in several other Early Music summer festivals and workshops, I truly believe in the mission of ABS and its dedication to both historically informed and high level performance through education and respect for the talents of young musicians. I have been nothing but impressed with the amount of care and dedication shown by Mr. Thomas and the entire faculty and staff at the American Bach Soloists Academy. I cannot wait to continue with my coachings, lessons, rehearsals and performances this week.”

—Elise Figa, soprano

Soprano Elise Figa and mezzo-soprano Janna Elesia Critz enjoy an ice cream from Smitten Ice Cream near the Conservatory on Tuesday

Soprano Elise Figa and mezzo-soprano Janna Elesia Critz enjoy an ice cream from Smitten Ice Cream near the Conservatory on Tuesday

Another fine night of chamber music was performed by members of the 2014 Academy at last night’s Academy-in-Action concert. The program opened with a major work: Bach’s Concerto in C Major for 3 Harpsichords. The three parts were performed by Patrick Parker, Bryan Anderson, and John Steven Yeh. This was followed by three arias by J.S. Bach performed by countertenor Daniel Cromeenes and tenor Corey Shotwell, flutists Mara Winter and Joshua Romatowski, and continuo by Michael Kaufman (violoncello) and Kyle Collins (harpsichord). Works by Fasch, Telemann, Scarlatti, Janitsch, and Young filled out another impressive program which concluded with Philipp Heinrich Erlebach’s Ouverture V in F Major, a large work that required 24 Academy participants on stage together!

There is only one more chance to hear the outstanding members of the ABS Academy perform these fascinating chamber music programs: tonight’s 8:00 pm Academy-In-Action concert. Don’t miss it!

Continue reading, Day 10.

Academy in Action begins (Daily Festival log, July 15)

Intermission at Sunday’s Mass in B Minor performance (view from Mezzanine seating area). Members of the Academy Festival Orchestra and American Bach Choir

Intermission at Sunday’s Mass in B Minor performance (view from Mezzanine seating area). Members of the Academy Festival Orchestra and American Bach Choir

Monday morning presented an opportunity for Academy participants, faculty, and ABS staff to catch their collective breath after an outstanding opening weekend for the 2014 Festival. Several of the participants took the opportunity to leave the campus, as it were, and get out and explore San Francisco for a few hours. Those who were scheduled to perform in the evening’s Academy in Action concert managed to balance the downtime with some last chamber music rehearsals with their colleagues and even fitting in a coaching or lesson. For all of them, it is a great opportunity to be here and working with ABS so every hour of each day counts and needs to be utilized to the fullest while they are here.

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ABS Faculty members Steven Lehning and William Sharp in the concert hall on Monday afternoon

The Academy-In-Action concerts are the first opportunity that Festivalgoers have to hear these extraordinary musicians in chamber music settings where each participant’s talent and contributions can shine in solo and ensemble contexts. I hope everyone has the chance to attend one, two, or all three of them this year. An added treat of the A-I-A concerts is looking around the concert hall and seeing all the ABS Faculty sitting in the audience listening to each selection with pride and showing their support. Those participants who aren’t on stage performing or who might be awaiting their turn can also be seen in the audience.

Academy-in-Action program I - Joshua Keller (viola da gamba), Melissa Niemeyer (harpsichord), and Glenda Bates (oboe) perform Heinichen’s Sonata in C Minor

Academy-in-Action program I – Joshua Keller (viola da gamba), Melissa Niemeyer (harpsichord), and Glenda Bates (oboe) perform Heinichen’s Sonata in C Minor

Last night’s concert kicked off with a flute extravaganza by Boismortier, the Concerto pour 5 flutes-traversieres sans basse, featuring Kelly Roudabush, Alissa Roedig, Mara Winter, Joshua Romatowski, and Sandra Miller. Soprano Elsa Nicol was the vocal soloist in the next selection, also by Boismortier: Diane et Acteon. Performing along with Elsa were Joel Verkaik (oboe), Sadie Glass (horn), Sarah Stone (violoncello) and John Steven Yeh (keyboard). A group of singers next performed Lotti’s La vita caduca (“The Transitory Life”). There were arias by Bach, a trio sonata by Heinichen, a fascinating series of texts with music by Johann Bach (1604-1673), and settings by Luzzaschi, and Legrenzi. Rather than recount each piece on the program, I would just offer that the evening had a great variety of configurations of singers and instrumentalists in music from the Baroque era and earlier. I always appreciate the chance to hear live performances of Monteverdi’s music and there were two lovely madrigals on the program: “Su, su, su, pastorelli vezzosi” with singers Eliza Bagg, Fiona Gillespie, and Gabriela Estephanie Solis with Paul Holmes Morton (guitar) and “Ardo avvampo” with singers Elise Figa, Molly Netter, Travis Hewitt, Nicholas Burns, Corey Shotwell, Jason Rylander, Ben Kazez, David Rugger, accompanied by Kyle Collins (keyboard), Elizabeth Blumenstock, Robert Mealy (violins), and Steven Lehning (violone).

A-I-A continues tonight at 8:00 pm. Again, I hope everyone can attend at least one of these concerts. They offer a great chance to hear exquisite music performed by some fantastic musicians.

The Mass … the pinnacle! (Daily Festival log, July 14)

Janna Elesia Critz and Fiona Gillespie are the vocal soloists in rehearsal of “Christie elesion” on Sunday afternoon

Janna Elesia Critz and Fiona Gillespie are the vocal soloists in rehearsal of “Christie elesion” on Sunday afternoon

The first week of the Academy saw substantial rehearsal time devoted to the music that was performed with amazing clarity and brilliance last night. In fact, I would add to those virtues two more: purpose and passion. It was clear from the expressive opening bars of the Kyrie that Maestro Thomas and the Festival orchestra were committed to presenting a memorable performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor. All those hours of rehearsal and work and we, the audience, share in the reward: a magnificent realization of Bach’s masterpiece. It was a transporting experience that won’t be forgotten by many of us who were present. There will be one more performance of the Mass on July 20 at 2:00, the final performance of the Festival. That performance is completely sold out.

The American Bach Choir join the orchestra and soloists for final rehearsal before the Sold Out Sunday night performance

The American Bach Choir join the orchestra and soloists for last rehearsal before the Sold Out Sunday night performance

The performance of the Mass ended at 9:30 pm and it was great to see nearly everyone in the concert hall lingering around, socializing, and collectively holding onto the experience—like we had all just been through something extraordinary together and didn’t want to let it end just yet. Though the performance felt like a culmination in many ways of everything that has happened thus far in the Academy, there is still so much more to come! Tonight is the first of the Academy-In-Action concerts. Rehearsals for Handel’s L’Allegro resume on Tuesday. Public lectures and master classes happen each day from tomorrow through Saturday. Mary Wilson returns for a highly anticipated concert on Saturday. And, of course, another chance to hear this fine assemblage perform Bach’s Mass on Sunday. Oh yes … the Festival has just gotten started.

Continue reading, Day 8.

Colloquium and Festival Concert (Daily Festival log, July 13)

Harpsichord builder John Phillips discusses his craft during the Public Colloquium, “Baroque Instruments and Performers, Then and Now"

Harpsichord builder John Phillips discusses his craft during the Public Colloquium, “Baroque Instruments and Performers, Then and Now”

The main activity during the day at the Conservatory was the annual Public Colloquium. This year’s discussion covered instruments and how they have changed over the ages or progressed along differing lines in different regions. Organized by ABS faculty member Steven Lehning, this informative group of sessions included all members of the ABS faculty with the addition of harpsichord maker John Phillips. There wasn’t a chair to be had during the packed event and when it ended the conversations continued between the audience, faculty, and Academy participants. Surely many of those discussions continued on through dinner and up to the beginning of the concert.

After an exhilarating concert on Friday night with Bach’s Inspiration – Part I, a sense of expectation and excitement pervaded the atmosphere at the Conservatory all day and throughout the evening for when Part II would be presented. Another fantastic program of works, many of them rarely heard in live performances, was performed by the outstanding musicians of ABS. One work that made a splendid impression was Georg Melchior Hoffmann’s cantata Meine Seele rühmt und Preist. Tenor Derek Chester was the soloist and narrator of this exquisite work by one of Leipzig’s busiest musical figures in the days before Bach came to town.

Flute studio: ABS faculty member Sandra Miller (left) with Kelly Roudabush

Flute studio: ABS faculty member Sandra Miller (left) with Kelly Roudabush

Along with other amazing works by Reincken, Bruhns, and Buxtehude, the Saturday program had a generous helping of music by none other than Johann Sebastian Bach. The first work by Bach on the program, the trio sonata from “The Musical Offering,” was an exquisite example of challenging music performed with apparent ease and near-telepathic interconnection between the musicians. Next, Corey Jamason and William Sharp gave a wonderful performance of Amore traditore. Sharp, who has performed with ABS since the first concerts, gave an impassioned performance in what must be the most unusual text Bach ever set, while Corey Jamason astonished us all with his keyboard virtuosity in the final movement.

The Brandenburg concertos are some of Bach’s most familiar and beloved instrumental works and my own particular favorite is No. 2, and it was featured on last night’s program. To hear Baroque trumpet wizard John Thiessen perform the music in the first and third movements with such grace and authority was a great thrill to experience live after having become so acquainted with his indelible performance on the ABS recording of the piece. With the Brandenburgs, everyone is a soloist and last night the ABS band played with finish and style, all while clearly having a grand time. Great as the CD is, being in the audience for Brandenburg No. 2 is even better.

So Bach’s Inspiration over two nights was pretty amazing and … well, inspiring! Tonight we hear the culmination of all of his influences and professional experiences: the Mass in B Minor. It will also be the first Festival appearance of several of the fantastic musicians who have been working with ABS all week in the Academy. At present, a few tickets remain in the gallery for the event. If you don’t have a ticket, arrive early at the box office to get one; you won’t want to miss it (and next week’s performance is completely sold out).

Continue with Day 7.

2015 ABS Festival Theme Announced

2015 Festival DatesABS is pleased to announce the dates and theme for next summer’s Festival: “Versailles: Parisian Baroque,” August 7-16. The Festival will feature music from the extravagant court of Versailles with glorious works by Lully, Rameau, and Gluck alongside masterpieces by Bach including the annual tradition of presenting his great Mass in B Minor. The 2015 ABS Festival & Academy will occur at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and will feature the same wonderful concerts and free events that Festivalgoers have come to expect. Save the dates now; tickets go on sale early in 2015.

The 2014 ABS Festival & Academy, “Bach’s Inspiration,” is now officially one for the history books and it will go down as an overwhelming success! Jeffrey Thomas, the musicians of American Bach Soloists, the American Bach Choir, and the 62 members of the Academy presented ten incredible days of concerts and free educational events that constituted a truly memorable Festival. Five of the six Festival concerts were completely sold out and the Academy-In-Action concerts drew large, enthusiastic audiences each night to hear the magnificent playing and singing by the Academy participants.

While it may feel like a long time to wait to hear ABS and a new Academy class explore the Parisian Baroque, the 2015 Festival will be here before you know it. In the meantime, ABS has an outstanding season planned for 2014-15. Do you have your subscription and Messiah seats reserved yet? Information available here.

Festival off to a great start (Daily Festival log, July 12)

Ensembles, coachings, and another rehearsal for the Mass filled the Friday morning schedule. Overheard comments from the rehearsal: Elizabeth Blumenstock on rehearsing the “Laudamus te” aria: “If we were the Supremes then this aria would need two Diana Rosses” (referring to the voice and violin soloists); Jeffrey Thomas moments before beginning the “Domine Deus” aria: “Ah, more magic music!” Along with this packed day of collaboration and study, Friday also marked the beginning of the 2014 Festival.

Bach break. Taking a breather during the morning rehearsal of the Mass in B Minor. Anna Gorbachyova and Kyle Collins are standing at the organ while Laura Gaynon (violoncello) goes over some figures. Shawn Alger and Daniel Turkos discuss the bass parts (in the back)

Bach break. Taking a breather during the morning rehearsal of the Mass in B Minor. Anna Gorbachyova and Kyle Collins are standing at the organ while Laura Gaynon (violoncello) goes over some figures. Shawn Alger and Daniel Turkos discuss the bass parts (in the back)

Before heading to the Conservatory for the opening performance, a merry crew of ABS supporters and members of the ABS staff met at Dobbs Ferry restaurant to kick off the 2014 Festival with a celebratory Opening Night dinner. For those who haven’t been to Dobbs Ferry yet, you simply must go! The congenial atmosphere is the perfect compliment to a fine menu, which offers delicious courses of seafood, meat, and vegetarian delights to please any palate. Oh… and save room for desert!

The festive atmosphere was abuzz in the lobby of the Conservatory. In the moments before the concert, the excitement was palpable as enthusiastic Bach lovers and those who were intrigued to hear the works of Buxtehude, Marcello, and others whose works influenced Bach. After all, the opportunity to hear an exceptionally beautiful work like Johann Christoph Bach’s Es erhub sich ein Streit doesn’t come along often enough. Thank you, ABS!

The photo exhibition “ABS – The First 25 Years” on the wall outside the concert hall attracted lots of attention as festivalgoers recalled some of their favorite ABS moments from the past quarter century before filing into the concert hall to hear ABS.

The room was full and the audience roared with appreciation at the conclusion. What a great program of extraordinary works, many of which were from off the beaten path of baroque repertory. All of the performances were magnificent, but the last work on the program, Bach’s transcription of the Pergolesi Stabat Mater, was the perfect closer to Part I of the two-night Bach’s Inspiration program. Soprano Mary Wilson and countertenor Eric Jurenas were the soloists on this glorious work from the mature Bach’s years in Leipzig. Though its music might have sounded familiar at first, Bach’s additions to Pergolesi’s instrumental textures were lovely to hear and added richness, complexity, and were … well, totally Bach! I think I speak for many who were there last night when I say, “Wow!” Off to a great start.

Continue with Day 6.

Day 4 of the Academy; Festival opens tonight! (Daily Festival log, July 11)

Jeffrey Thomas leads the first full rehearsal for the Mass in B Minor in the main concert hall on Wednesday night

Jeffrey Thomas leads the first full rehearsal for the Mass in B Minor in the main concert hall on Wednesday night

Whereas Wednesday was occupied by rehearsals for Bach’s Mass in B Minor, Thursday featured another big rehearsal for Handel’s L’Allegro, which will open the second weekend of performances on Friday, July 18. Just as Bach’s Inspiration will be explored and celebrated during this summer’s festival, Bach’s exact contemporary, George Frideric Handel, will also receive his due with an eagerly anticipated performance of this gorgeous work (you can read more about L’Allegro here). Many of the soloists from the Academy’s vocal studio will enjoy great opportunities to shine in L’Allegro’s many arias. I dropped in on the rehearsal for only a few minutes and heard four exquisite arias sung with great beauty by Michael Jankosky, Ben Kazez, Hailey Fuqua, and Anna Gorbachyova, each supported by a magnificent ensemble of Academy participants and faculty playing side by side. Due to the great demand for tickets to this performance, a few seats have been made available in the gallery seating behind the stage, but these won’t last long. If you don’t have a ticket yet, get one soon before they’re gone; you don’t want to miss this chance to hear one of Handel’s most entrancing works performed by this outstanding assemblage.

A quartet of Academy singers at Thursday's L’Allegro rehearsal: Ben Kazez, Jason Rylander, Hailey Fuqua, and Anna Gorbachyova

A quartet of Academy singers at Thursday’s L’Allegro rehearsal: Ben Kazez, Jason Rylander, Hailey Fuqua, and Anna Gorbachyova

ABS’s Executive Director Don Scott Carpenter introduced a feature of this year’s Academy curriculum: a lecture on the business side of the early music world that explored how emerging artists can best promote their performances and careers as artists. As many of the Academy participants are in various stages of the transition from Conservatory to career, this session’s emphasis on the uses of social media provided Academy participants with some helpful strategies to put into practice immediately. Look for these Academy participants on Twitter; if they weren’t there before, they are now.

L’Allegro rehearsal: Melissa Niemeyer and Arthur Omura are seated at the harpsichords and theorbo player Paul Morton is on the right

L’Allegro rehearsal: Melissa Niemeyer and Arthur Omura are seated at the harpsichords and theorbo player Paul Morton is on the right

The Academy was a beehive of activity all day. Along with leading their sections and master classes, members of the ABS Faculty rehearsed works they will perform at the opening night concert and at Saturday’s continuation of the Bach’s Inspiration program. Visiting soloists Mary Wilson, Eric Jurenas, and Derek Chester are now here and they immediately hopped aboard the Festival & Academy train. Mary and Eric joined the faculty for a rehearsal of Bach’s version of the Pergolesi Stabat Mater and Derek presented a master class for the Academy participants last night. Stay Calm; Festival On!

Continue with Day 5.

Academy intensifies; Festival approaches (Daily Festival log, July 10)

Bach’s Mass in B Minor rehearsal with trumpets: John Thiessen (standing) and Steven Marquardt

Bach’s Mass in B Minor rehearsal with trumpets: John Thiessen (standing) and Steven Marquardt

By now everyone in the Academy—participants and faculty—have really settled into the Academy groove as they shuttle from coachings to master classes to rehearsals, while also managing to grab a sandwich, some conversation, and some laughs in between. It did not take long for a sense of camaraderie and common purpose to arise within this group.

Along with the many other activities of the day—including another Evangelists forum—Bach’s Mass in B Minor was a focus for many of the participants today. The orchestra players who are performing in the Mass had a rehearsal in the morning and, following an evening American Bach Choir rehearsal for Johann Christoph Bach’s Es Erhub sich ein Streit (which will be performed tomorrow at the opening night concert), everybody got together for a “Tutti” rehearsal of the Mass from 7:00 pm until 10:00 pm. This towering masterpiece presents many challenges, yet Maestro Thomas is preparing the full orchestra, choir, and vocal soloists to give an amazing performance on Sunday. Thomas’s Festival performances of the Mass are always a highlight of the musical calendar and this one is shaping up to be another tremendous occasion.

Bach’s Evangelist forum on Tuesday:  David Rugger, Jason Rylander, Arthur Omura, Corey Jamason, Sarah Stone

Bach’s Evangelist forum on Tuesday:
David Rugger, Jason Rylander, Arthur Omura, Corey Jamason, Sarah Stone

Wow! Tomorrow is Friday and the beginning of the Festival. So much has already happened, yet the public side of the Festival is only about to begin. Time is really flying! I hope you all have your tickets for the Bach’s Inspiration programs tomorrow and Saturday. Red ink “Sold Out” signs have already been printed for next weekend’s performances of Handel’s L’Allegro (July 18) and Bach’s Mass in B Minor (July 20), and available seats for the other concerts are going fast. At present, a limited number of seats remain for this weekend’s concerts.

Continue with Day 4.

Day 2 of the Academy (Daily Festival log, July 9)

Jeffrey Thomas rehearsing the Kyrie section of Bach's Mass in B Minor on Monday

Jeffrey Thomas rehearsing the Kyrie section of Bach’s Mass in B Minor on Monday

Whereas the music-making for Academy participants on the first day extended from the early morning until about 4:30 pm, Day 2 marked the beginning of the more typical Academy day: 9:00 am coachings and rehearsals until the final chamber music rehearsals ending at 9:00 pm!

 

At the opening reception for the Academy: Corey Shotwell (tenor), Fiona Gillespie (soprano), Travis Hewitt (countertenor), and Hailey Fuqua (soprano)

At the opening reception for the Academy: Corey Shotwell (tenor), Fiona Gillespie (soprano), Travis Hewitt (countertenor), and Hailey Fuqua (soprano)

The days are undoubtedly long, but it was amazing to see how charged many of the participants were throughout the day. For many, the Academy is exactly the kind of opportunity they have been looking for. Here they get to spend most of their waking hours working in large orchestral rehearsals, sectional master classes, and chamber music sessions with other talented musicians who share their love for the music of the Baroque. All the while, they get to absorb the teachings of some of the most accomplished musicians in the early music community and bounce ideas off everyone else going through this experience with them. For a musician drawn to performing the music of Bach in historically informed performance practice, there is nothing like the ABS Academy.

Academy harpsichordists Arthur Omura and John Steven Yeh

Academy harpsichordists Arthur Omura and John Steven Yeh

Along with the early morning ensembles and vocal coachings, there was a full orchestra rehearsal for the Mass in B Minor from 10:00 until noon. Chamber music and master classes occupied the afternoon period until 5:00 when Jeffrey Thomas led a special forum for the tenors and continuo players titled “Bach’s Evangelists.” For an aspiring tenor, the Evangelists in Bach’s two great Passions are pinnacle roles requiring endurance, expressiveness, and the ability to deliver the story with great impact. Working on this repertory with Thomas, one of the great Bach Evangelists, is an incredible opportunity and yesterday all the Academy faculty participated in the session. Tenor Jason Rylander and baritone David Rugger were the Evangelist and Christus for the forum while Sarah Stone, William Skeen (violoncello), Arthur Omura, Corey Jamason (organ) Daniel Turkos (contrabass), and Steven Lehning (violone) provided the continuo. At one point Steven said, “Our notes have the same grammar as the words,” suggesting how Bach’s musical logic guides performers–vocalists and instrumentalists–through the text; every mark on the page serves the narrative.

Violinists Cynthia Black, Addi Liu, Suhashini Arulanandam, Alexa Cantalupo

Violinists Cynthia Black, Addi Liu, Suhashini Arulanandam, Alexa Cantalupo

The final rehearsal of the day involved those players who will be performing Bach’s Concerto for Three Harpsichords at the Academy-in-Action concert on Tuesday, July 15. To be sure, lots of notes were played, but what amazing talents these young keyboard players are. Don’t miss this performance!!

Continue with Day 3.