ABS Berkeley Concerts Moved Across the Street to First Presbyterian Church for 2017

As you may know, our Berkeley home, First Congregational Church, suffered extensive fire damage last fall and the groups who use the facility to perform concerts have been looking for temporary homes for the 2017 season. Many people, including the staff of First Congregational, had hoped to be back in the facilities by now, but that is not the case. So, for the 2017 winter and spring season, American Bach Soloists have moved their performances across the street to First Presbyterian Church (2407 Dana Street, Berkeley, CA). We have every hope that we will return to First Congregational in 2018!

We are grateful to First Presbyterian Church for opening their doors to us; we are especially supportive of the congregation and staff of First Congregational Church during this difficult period, and we are grateful to you for your understanding in this endeavor.

First Presbyterian Church Berkeley, across the street from First Congregational Church

Map of First Presbyterian Church relative to First Congregational Church


We are beginning the process of moving your seats into the new location and you will receive replacement tickets in the mail very soon. Upon receipt of these tickets, please destroy your current set as they will no longer be valid. If you have questions about this, please feel free to contact the ABS office (415-621-7900).


If you don’t yet have seats for our Berkeley concerts, you may visit americanbach.org/tickets and reserve your seats in First Presbyterian Church now. Seats are available for our performances in Belvedere, Davis, and San Francisco, as well.


Subscriptions for our Winter and Spring 2017 concerts in the new venue are on sale now, and will be available online or by phone until February 9th, 2017. Visit americanbach.org/subscribe for more information and to obtain subscription savings and benefits.


Work was begun on repairing the damage to the sanctuary in October, 2016. Although there are many steps to safely and carefully restore the building, latest estimates by the staff at First Congregational (published on fccb.org) point to June 2017 as the target date for their congregation to return.

First Congregational Church Berkeley on Friday September 30 2016

Scaffolding to secure the sanctuary ceiling


Please contact the ABS office with any questions you may have.

We look forward to welcoming you to our new venue for 2017!


The Florence Gould Foundation Awards $20,000 Grant To ABS

Florence Gould on board SS Normandie circa 1935

American Bach Soloists has been awarded a grant of $20,000 from The Florence Gould Foundation in support of our February 2017 concert set, “A Weekend in Paris.” The Florence Gould Foundation, which was founded in 1957 by Florence Gould, daughter-in-law of the railway magnate Jay Gould, aims to support French-American relations, especially via the arts.

In response to the generous gift, ABS Artistic Director Jeffrey Thomas said, “We are so humbled to receive the support of such a prestigious foundation. It’s an honor to have the Foundation’s confidence in ABS, especially in what will be an unforgettable night of French Baroque music.”

In February, “A Weekend in Paris” will offer a tour to the Opéra, the Ballet, and the Chapelle through the elegant music of masters of the French Baroque. When Jean-Baptiste Lully’s monopoly on music in France ended at the end of the 17th century, an explosion of musical creativity erupted in Paris from a new generation of composers including Marais, Rebel, Corrette, Mondonville, and the great master of the age, Jean-Philippe Rameau. Featuring a selection of enchanting works for the Opéra, Ballet, and Chapelle, Thomas and ABS explore the vibrant Parisian spirit of invention, including its incorporation of new, cosmopolitan influences from abroad. The Italian style, especially, is evident in these works, as evidenced by Corrette’s Laudate Dominum, which includes an interpolation of Vivaldi’s “Spring” from The Four Seasons arranged for choir, vocal soloists, and orchestra.

Read more about the concerts.

A Message from our Executive Director

Don Scott CarpenterMerry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanza, and Happy New Year! Whether you celebrate some, all, or none of these, we at American Bach Soloists want you to know that we celebrate you this holiday season and beyond. That’s because over the last twelve months, your support has enabled us to share our music through our annual subscription concert season, the ABS Festival & Academy, our annual gala, our just completed performances of Messiah, and a multitude of other ways.

2016 saw ABS and Jeffrey Thomas at their finest. Our subscription concerts included “Bach Favorites” which featured ABS Academy alumna and 2016 Jeffrey Thomas Award recipient Tatiana Chulochnikova; performances of Handel’s Alexander’s Feast; and a collection of works celebrating Easter and Ascension by Bach, Buxtehude, and Kuhnau. We celebrated Bach’s 331st birthday with an organ recital at St. Mark’s Church in San Francisco by ABS co-founder Jonathan Dimmock. The seventh annual ABS Festival & Academy held at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, with additional performances at St. Mark’s, was based around the theme, “An Italian Journey” and featured music by Scarlatti, Tartini, Torelli, and Vivaldi, and included our annual performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor and the North American premiere of Handel’s Parnasso in festa. Our fall fundraising gala, Sparkle 2016, was held at the James Leary Flood Mansion in San Francisco and was a huge success, not to mention a lot of fun. And in December, we presented Handel’s Messiah for the 18th consecutive year in Grace Cathedral.

We can’t do any of this without you!

As we begin a new calendar year, we need your financial support to ensure that we keep this strong musical legacy alive.

Your gift makes a difference! You experience the music, but we see the costs of bringing these incredible musicians to San Francisco, the cost of scores, the cost of marketing, and all things that it takes to ensure wonderful performances season after season.

Customize Your Giving

You asked, and we heard you. With this e-mail, you can now make a one-time gift, or make weekly and/or monthly gifts, which will automatically be deducted from your bank account or charged to your credit card. We hope that this will make the donation process simpler and will ensure you that your support is ongoing. Will you help?

Customize Your Giving

Please join all of us in supporting our musicians, Maestro Jeffrey Thomas, and all of American Bach Soloists by sending your gift today.

Wishing you all the best,

Don Scott Carpenter
Executive Director

Interview with Jeffrey Thomas about performing Messiah

We posed a few questions to ABS Music Director Jeffrey Thomas about the joys and challenges of his annual preparations and performances of Handel’s Messiah. Here are a few of his very interesting illuminations:

1. Given the opportunity to perform this annually, what do you look forward to each year?

In most cases, a conductor and musicians have only occasional opportunities to prepare and perform some of the greatest works of musical art. But in the case of an annual tradition—whether that be yearly presentations of Bach’s monumental Mass in B Minor at our Summer Festivals, or annual holiday concerts of Handel’s Messiah—my colleagues and I know that the work we have done previously becomes the foundation for the next year’s new efforts to polish to an even brighter shine that handful of masterpieces that so many thousands, and millions worldwide, want to hear at least once a year. The fact that listeners, our audience members, wait in such eager anticipation of hearing this timeless music once again is an inspiration to us as performers to exceed their expectations year after year. And I have heard many say that this year especially their need to experience the transformative music of Messiah is at an all-time high.

2. What’s it like to perform this work in Grace Cathedral as opposed to a concert hall?

We are very fortunate to perform in some fantastic concert halls. Last night, for example, we performed Messiah in one of the greatest in the country, Jackson Hall in the Robert & Margrit Mondavi Center for the Arts at UC Davis. And next weekend we’ll be performing in another jewel among California concert halls, the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park. Although Grace Cathedral was certainly not built to be a concert hall, it offers a very special dimension to ABS’s Messiah presentations. It is, simply put, a sacred and spiritual space, one that offers palpable serenity and awe-inspiring magnificence. Handel composed Messiah to be performed as a benefit for prisoners, a hospital, and an infirmary. And in later years, still under his direction, it was offered to benefit London’s largest orphanage. A space like Grace Cathedral reminds us of our interaction with community, and perhaps in that way we can connect to the original purpose of Handel’s work.

3. Why has Messiah stood the test of time?

It’s not easy to come up with the explanation, although we know that there are a handful of masterpieces that have survived splendidly over the centuries. In fact, some have truly thrived as much due to their transformations to other styles as to their original forms. Think about how often we hear the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony or the opening of Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus in TV commercials. Those snippets are quoted because the music has gained a status of timelessness. So, back to the question: What has created that timelessness? Surely it has to do with the fact that those works have been performed without a hiatus since their premieres. What caused that? I believe it can be traced to the context of the work within its moment of creation. London needed a work such as Messiah to work out its societal difficulties, as a means to focus attention on benevolence and charity. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony came at a time when the structure and formats of music itself needed a new and perhaps brave trajectory. Beethoven propelled the philosophy of music in a new direction by composing three absolutely perfect movements—pristine and flawless in conception and realization—that honored the traditions of what had come before, then thrust the entirety of that toward a new cause represented by the fourth movement “Ode to Joy” finale. It is the synergy of a work perfectly fitting into the needs of its own time that ensures its immediate success and eventual recognition as a timeless historical achievement. And that is exactly the genesis of Messiah.

4. How has your performance of Messiah as a tenor soloist guided your conducting of the work and how has it changed over the years?

Any of the best singers understand that when a composer is guided by text the resulting music is a direct expression of that composer’s perception of the meaning of that text. This is how rhetoric fits in. The composer decides what words will be repeated, when a repetition takes place, why a word deserves a long note, or a run of fast notes (a melisma), and even why one pitch should be higher or lower according to the words at that point within the piece. With 99% certainty, we can decode the notes to understand what the composer was putting forth for us to understand, for us to feel during every single moment of his or her music. So, I think it is the perspective that I gained as a singer that has enabled me to consider these aspects of a composition so seriously and thoroughly. In the hands of a great composer such as Handel we can be guided to a poetic or philosophical or even spiritual experience. Perhaps that is one reason why we seek out great art in all of its forms: We want to have unmistakeable representations of our world presented to us in ways that transform our existence to something perhaps better or at least more fully illuminated.

© 2016, Jeffrey Thomas

Charitable IRA Rollovers

Did you know that you can make a tax-free charitable gift to ABS directly from your IRA?

That’s right – since you don’t report this as income, there is no tax! The amount goes against your taxable income, so you can use this gift to stay in a lower tax bracket.

To Qualify:

  • You must be 70 ½ years old or older by the end of the year.
  • Your gift must go directly from your IRA to ABS.
  • Your gift must be less than or equal to $100,000 for individuals or $200,000 for a married couple.
  • The transfer must be executed by December 31, 2016.

To make a gift, simply contact your IRA provider and use ABS’s tax-ID number: 68-0211969.

Thank you for your consideration, and if you have any questions, please reach out to Garrett Shatzer, Development Director, at (415) 621-7900 ext. 207 or send an email message.


Soloist Cherishes Her Messiah Debut with American Bach Soloists

emily-marvosh-2American contralto Emily Marvosh—recognized for her “sterling voice” and “graceful allure”—will make her debut appearance with American Bach Soloists in Handel’s Messiah this December in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.

The Boston-based contralto is no stranger to Handel’s magnum opus:

Messiah is one of my favorite pieces of all time,” says Marvosh. “It is always a delight to perform such a familiar and well-loved masterpiece with a completely new team.”

Emily’s vibrant and engaging voice is effortlessly synchronized with her poised and charismatic stage presence. As a radiant soloist and a virtuoso chamber musician, her elegant fusion of a warm, smooth tone with colorful and penetrating characterization promises to leave a distinct and lasting impression.

“I often say I could perform this piece every other week for the rest of my life and be completely happy,” affirms Marvosh. “There’s always something new to hear – in the orchestra, choir, or the soloists’ parts—and each conductor, soloist, and audience can change the energy and effect of this protean piece, even from night to night! I’m excited to mold my interpretation with Maestro Thomas and the orchestra.”

emily-marvosh-1Deeply personal, Emily’s performances reveal a connection to her own life journey, amplifying the intensity, transparency, and meaning of the piece.

“Every performance of a masterwork like Messiah (or the Passions, for example) carries with it the layered memories from previous performances. My first Messiah, my first professional Messiah, my first period performance Messiah, my first solo Messiah, the Messiah when my partner was on stage with me, the Messiah when I was going through a breakup, Messiah with colleagues who have passed away … ALL of those have influenced my performance experience.”

Intricate and heartfelt, Marvosh believes that both the music and the narrative of Messiah are capable of unearthing and transporting us through the full range of raw human feelings.

“We, the musicians and the audience, traverse many emotions in the course of the evening: expectation, joy, horror, tragedy, consolation, assurance, etc.” Marvosh further explains: “Every year, a different emotion—or one piece of text—resonates a little more with me than the others, and I’m sure everyone in the audience can relate to that experience.”

“As a chamber musician who enjoys ensemble singing, I LOVE having a front row seat for the choral music, which is really the best stuff in the whole piece! That Amen fugue! I die. If you look closely, you will probably see me singing along in more than one place. I’m also very excited to perform in these beautiful venues! Wow!”

Emily Marvosh will join three other soloists Hélène Brunet (soprano), Derek Chester (tenor), and Mischa Bouvier (baritone) for Messiah performances by American Bach Soloists and the renowned American Bach Choir under the direction of Jeffrey Thomas.

To learn more about American Bach Soloists please visit www.americanbach.org
To learn more about Emily Marvosh please visit www.emilymarvosh.com

Tickets are on sale now:

American Bach Soloists Messiah Performances:


To reserve your seat please call 415-621-7900 or purchase online.

Additional Performances:

Photo credit Tatiana Daubek

Fanfare Magazine Interviews Jeffrey Thomas and Praises Messiah Film

Fanfare Magazine, a publication for serious record collectors and music enthusiasts, recently interviewed our own Jeffrey Thomas and reviewed our Blu-ray™ and DVD video recording of “Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral.” To read the article in its entirety, followed by a review of the film, click on the link below.  In the meantime, here are a few of Jeffrey Thomas’s responses to the interviewer’s questions:


“Bringing together Handel’s understanding of how our emotions are moved through music … and the spiritually charged space of Grace Cathedral is an experience that has been shared by countless thousands over the years. We wanted to bring that opportunity to many more individuals around the world.”

“… One of our primary goals was carefully to weave the beauty of Grace Cathedral into the performance footage, showing relevant depictions of scenes at the most appropriate moments. All in all, we hoped to create a film that was a feast for the eyes, the ears, the mind, and the soul.”

“A great composer chose every aspect, every pitch, every note value, etc., deliberately. We must figure out why he or she made a particular decision at a particular place, and then determine how best, how most efficiently we can indicate that rhetoric to the listener.”

“… There is always something to polish to a brighter sheen. That is why, when approaching great works of art, we never grow tired of them. There is always something more to observe, to understand, and to admire.”

ABS Messiah Blu-ray™

From the Review:

“I would have missed something valuable and important had I not seen and heard this release.  [I] found this an extremely gratifying and rewarding experience.”

Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral” is currently available on Blu-ray™ (5.1 DTS-HD™ Surround Sound and 2.0 DTS-HD™ Stereo) or DVD, and streaming on Amazon Prime Video (Google Play and iTunes releases coming soon).

For more information, visit americanbach.org/media.


San Francisco’s Proposition S Funds the Arts!

Vote YES on Prop S

American Bach Soloists does not enter the political arena very often, but this election cycle we have an opportunity to increase funding for the arts in San Francisco. Proposition S, the Allocation of Hotel Tax Funds, returns the tax proceeds to the arts, for which they were initially created, as well as supporting underserved families with safe, affordable housing.

From the bettersf.com website, a Yes on Proposition S ensures a creative and compassionate San Francisco for all. Support Proposition S to:

  • Fund individual artists, community organizations, nonprofit arts groups, and provide programs for underserved communities;
  • Make art experiences more accessible and affordable for all;
  • Support arts, cultural, and music programs for children;
  • Help end family homelessness by providing housing and prevention services for homeless and at-risk, low-income families;
  • Stand with over 70 arts, culture, and homeless service organizations that have come together to secure and increase funding for arts, culture and homeless families

Join American Bach Soloists, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, American Conservatory Theatre, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale, San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Symphony, SFJazz, and so many others in supporting Prop S.


Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bettersf/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bettersf2016/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/bettersf2016  #YESonS

Thank you for continuing to support ABS and all San Francisco arts organizations.

Don Scott Carpenter
Executive Director

ABS performed at Benefit Concert for fire-damaged First Congregational Church, Berkeley

On Friday, September 30, 2016, a fire broke out at First Congregational Church in Berkeley—also known as “First Church Berkeley”—in a wing that housed office and meeting space (Pilgrim Hall). Significant damage occurred; virtually all was lost from the edifice itself to the music program’s choral library. Fortunately, the sanctuary space, a cherished venue for dozens of Bay Area music ensembles including American Bach Soloists, suffered less damage. And there is good news, according to a post on fccb.org/fire-news:

“Although significant work will need to be done in the Sanctuary, it is estimated that that work will only take a few months.”

Nevertheless, losses were sustained that could not have been foreseen. To help the staff and congregation of that beloved venue, a Benefit Concert was held on Tuesday, October 18th, 2016, at 7:30 p.m., in neighboring church, St. Mark’s Episcopal.

American Bach Soloists were honored and proud to have been invited to participate, and presented two highly regarded members of the ensemble—William Skeen (violoncello & viola da gamba) and Corey Jamason (organ & harpsichord)—in a performance of a beautiful and virtuoso sonata by Bach.

William Skeen (shown here) and harpsichordist Corey Jamason will perform one of Bach's exquisite sonatas for Viola da gamba and Harpsichord

William Skeen (shown here) and harpsichordist Corey Jamason performed one of Bach’s exquisite sonatas for Viola da gamba and Harpsichord

All proceeds from the benefit concert—an evening of wonderful music including performances by American Bach Soloists, Ars Minerva, Musa, Music for a Viol, Philharmonia Baroque, Valley of the Moon Festival, and Voices of Music—helped to offset unexpected expenses incurred due to the fire.


We hope that many of our ABS patrons were able to attend to show how much all of us have enjoyed decades of fine performances in one of the Bay Area’s best concert venues.


ABS presents Handel’s Messiah in San Francisco’s Historic Grace Cathedral


American Bach Soloists, led by Artistic & Music Director Jeffrey Thomas, present their annual performances of Handel’s masterpiece, Messiah, in one of San Francisco’s most awe-inspiring, sacred spaces. ABS, Handel, and Grace Cathedral are perennially a winning combination and a highlight of the holiday season. A beloved Bay Area tradition now in its 18th consecutive year, ABS’s performances of Handel’s timeless work attract music lovers from around the world.


“The truly splendid ABS choir, with its round and transparent tone,
tied both the evening and Handel’s message together”
San Francisco Classical Voice

Since 1998, ABS has presented Messiah in San Francisco’s historic Grace Cathedral to more than 38,000 attendees. This holiday tradition has become an essential part of the musical year for many music lovers and was voted “Best of the Bay” by the readers of San Francisco Classical Voice in 2015. The Bay Area Reporter observed, “For those who treasure Messiah, Thomas’ version is revelatory.” Maestro Thomas will conduct the period-instrument specialists of ABS, the renowned American Bach Choir, and a quartet of brilliant vocal soloists.


Soprano Hélène Brunet returns to perform Messiah with ABS for a second year after thunderous acclaim in 2015. Praised for her interpretations of the works of Bach, Handel, and Mozart, the Montréal native has also performed in a diverse array of works including Lully’s Persée and Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. In recent seasons, Ms Brunet has collaborated with American Bach Soloists, the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal, Seattle Baroque Orchestra, Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, I Musici de Montréal, Arion Baroque Orchestra, as well as Ensemble Caprice, Ensemble Thirteen Strings, Ensemble Les Boréades, and l’Harmonie des Saisons. She has sung under such renowned conductors as Jeffrey Thomas, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, Eric Milnes, Kevin Mallon, Raffi Armenian, David Fallis, Ivars Taurins, and Alexander Weimann.

“Brunet sang with some of her finest intonation, expression,
mature interpretation, clearest Affekt … in essence, Ms Brunet was perfect.”
Calgary Herald

Contralto Emily Marvosh (debut) has been gaining recognition for her “sterling voice,” and “graceful allure,” on the stages of Carnegie Hall, Jordan Hall, Disney Hall, Lincoln Center, Prague’s Smetana Hall, and in Vienna’s Stefansdom. Following her solo debut at Boston’s Symphony Hall in 2011, she has been a frequent soloist with the Handel and Haydn Society under the direction of Harry Christophers. Other recent solo appearances include the Charlotte Symphony, Tucson Symphony Orchestra, Chorus Pro Musica, Music Worcester, L’Académie, Back Bay Chorale, the Brookline Symphony, and the Chorus of Westerly. She is often featured on the Music at Marsh Bach Cantata Series. Awards include the prestigious Adams Fellowship at the Carmel Bach Festival (2013), the American Prize in the Oratorio and Art Song divisions (2013), and second place in the New England Regional NATSAA competition (2014).

“[Marvosh] combined elegance and earthiness with engaging composure.”
The Boston Globe

Tenor Derek Chester was last heard with American Bach Soloists as the Evangelist in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. A frequent soloist with ABS, his recent concert appearances include the Fort Worth Symphony, Chicago’s Beethoven Festival, the Berkshire Choral Festival, the Korean Broadcasting System Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, Dallas Bach Society, Highland Park Chorale, St. Thomas Fifth Avenue, Bach Collegium San Diego, Houston’s Ars Lyrica, Handel Society of Dartmouth, and the Richmond Symphony Orchestra.

“Chester’s easeful and wondrously pliant tenor was deployed
to maximum expressive effect.”

Dallas Morning News

Baritone Mischa Bouvier was a member of ABS’s inaugural 2010 Academy and is in constant demand as a soloist and collaborator. Recent debuts include performances in Carnegie Hall Stern Auditorium with Orchestra of St. Luke’s and Musica Sacra, in Alice Tully Hall with Musica Sacra, with his hometown Alabama Symphony Orchestra, at Puerto Rico’s Casals Festival under the baton of Helmuth Rilling, and with the esteemed ensemble TENET. He also sings regularly with the American Bach Soloists, Bach Collegium San Diego, Princeton Glee Club, Columbus Symphony, Pittsburgh’s Chatham Baroque, and the Colorado Symphony in Denver and Beaver Creek.

“a baritone with a rich timbre and a fine line”
The New York Times

Best seats are available now, but remember that these annual performances always sell out! Discounted tickets are available for students (21 and under with valid ID), and ABS subscribers receive special discounts. Please call the ABS Office at (415) 621-7900 for details.


Wednesday December 14 2016 7:30 pm
Thursday December 15 2016 7:30 pm
Friday December 16 2016 7:30 pm
Grace Cathedral, 1100 California Street at Taylor, San Francisco CA

Additional performances:

Saturday December 10 2016 7:00 pm
Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts (Davis)

Sunday December 18 2016 3:00 pm
Green Music Center (Rohnert Park)

A Sparkling Evening at the ABS Gala

The spectacular Flood Mansion on Broadway in San Francisco's Pacific Heights

The spectacular Flood Mansion on Broadway in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights

ABS’s fourteenth annual Gala Auction, Dinner, and Concert was held on Saturday, September 24, at the James Leary Flood Mansion in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights. This annual fundraising event supports the ABS Academy, as well as our other education and outreach programs. The annual theme is “Sparkle,” and that is truly what we experienced.

The dining room set beautifully in anticipation of the arrival of our guests

The dining room set beautifully in anticipation of the arrival of our guests

As we entered the Flood Mansion, we were greeted with this year’s signature cocktail, “Blue Sapphire,” and began to peruse the silent auction items. Shortly after our arrival, Artistic Director Jeffrey Thomas led members of ABS in a rousing program of music composed by Bach and Purcell that featured baritone Mischa Bouvier and Baroque trumpeter Kathryn Adduci.

Baritone Mischa Bouvier performing for the Gala guests

Baritone Mischa Bouvier performing for the Gala guests

Following the concert, our patrons were offered passed hors d’oeuvre and stationary charcutterie table while they enjoyed the spectacular view from the belvedere inside the mansion and bid on exciting silent auction items including collections of wine, tickets to Bay Area arts organizations, a weekend in Inverness, and wonderful collections of art and jewelry. After a delicious dinner prepared by Melons Catering, the main event of the evening took place. Liam Mayclem—KCBS “Foodie Chap”—was again this year’s Gala entertaining auctioneer.

Auctioneer Liam Mayclem with Cyndee and Gary Stone

Auctioneer Liam Mayclem with Cyndee and Gary Stone

We had opportunities to bid on live auction lots which included private house concerts, a trip to Bordeaux, France, a trip to the 2017 Shakespeare Festival, a weekend on Catalina Island, access to a Porsche for a weekend, and the highlight of the evening, dinner for four prepared by our own Maestro Jeffrey Thomas. Of course, no fundraising event is complete without a focus on raising dollars for a direct cause.

Watch the Academy film that was shown at the Gala

These Fund-a-Need revenues will specifically support ABS’s annual Academy! This year’s Gala raised over $100,000 and we could not have done it without the support of our Gala attendees.

Thank you for continuing to believe in and support the mission of American Bach Soloists.

For more images of the Sparkle Gala, please visit our Facebook page at facebook.com/americanbach

ABS Festival Spotlight: Handel in Rome


At barely 18 years of age, George Frideric Handel moved from Halle to the more significant musical center of Hamburg where he flourished as a professional musician. Two years later, his opera Almira (1705) received its premiere and was a smash success. The young composer so impressed a Medici prince in attendance that he was subsequently invited to come to Italy, opera’s birthplace.

George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel

Handel wasted no time in gathering up his things and heading south on a modified Grand Tour, not only taking in the sites but also searching for patrons and steady work as a musician. He paid his first visit to the prince in Florence, but before long he found his way to the Eternal City, Rome. On January 14, 1707, the Roman diarist Francesco Valesio recorded the arrival of the 22-year-old German musician:

“There has arrived in this city a Saxon who is an excellent harpsichord player and composer of music who today exhibited his prowess by playing the organ at St. John Lateran to the astonishment of everybody.”

The Rome that Handel arrived in was one of stark social stratification between the haves and have-nots. The seat of secular power in the city rested with the nobility, a small enclave of influential families and wealthy citizens. Perhaps even more powerful were the papal orders–cardinals, bishops, and priests–which constituted another influential social strata. Compared with the comfort and privilege afforded the nobility and clergy, the majority of Rome’s 150,000 citizens in 1707 lived in destitution and squalor. Unsafe habitations were squeezed into tight alcoves, huddled along the outlines of the ruins of antiquity, or scattered between the city’s many magnificent churches and monasteries. Devastating fires and disease were a constant threat among the poorest communities.

The church of S. Maria di Monte Santo is on the left.

The church of S. Maria di Monte Santo is on the left.

Aided by his impressive, public display of musicianship at St. John’s, Handel quickly became the darling of Roman society upon arriving in town. A coterie of wealthy supporters fought for the composer’s favor and showered him with patronage and commissions. Secular music, especially opera, was explicitly forbidden by Papal decree, so Handel was enlisted by his admirers to invigorate the local musical culture by composing works for church services. Handel’s compositions not only breathed new life into Roman church services, but also inspired the best local musicians and many visiting players. As a favor to Cardinal Colonna, Handel composed music for the Vespers, or evening services, of the Carmelite Order at the Santa Maria di Monte Santo. His motet, Saeviat tellus inter rigores (“Though the earth is full of savagery and harshness”), celebrates the Order with bravura melodies in the Italian style for the soprano soloist – the Carmelite nuns must have had some extraordinary singers in 1707! Handel composed several other works for the Vespers, including settings for Salve Regina, Nisi Dominus, and Laudate Pueri. His magnificent tour-de-force choral work, Dixit Dominus, also dates from this same period, though probably was not a commission for the Carmelites’ Vespers.

Handel’s Roman works open ABS Festival on August 5

Handel’s extraordinary sacred music from his youthful Roman sojourn will open this summer’s ABS Festival & Academy, “An Italian Journey,” on August 5. For the opening night concert, Jeffrey Thomas leads the period-instrumentalist specialists of ABS, the American Bach Choir, and five vocal soloists in a program that includes Saviat tellus inter rigores, with soprano Mary Wilson as the vocal soloist (you can also hear ABS and Wilson perform his Laudate Pueri from the Roman period on the ABS CD “Mary Wilson Sings Handel“), Nisi Dominus, and Dixit Dominus. Do not miss this opportunity to experience the first flowering of Handel’s genius performed by the outstanding artists of ABS. Along with Handel’s music of for the Roman Vespers, the program will also include Antonio Vivaldi’s Salve Regina and the famous Gloria as examples of the Italian style from around the same time, but 326 miles away in Venice. Take “An Italian Journey” with ABS this summer, beginning August 5th!



Note: During his Roman sojourn, Handel also composed two oratorios–La Resurrezione and Il trionfo del tempo e del disanganno–that received elaborate performances at the private residences of his patrons. You can hear Jeffrey Thomas and ABS perform Handel’s La Resurrezione, a marvel of creative power and imagination, in May 2017. Mark your calendars now, purchase tickets, and continue your tour of Handel’s brilliant Roman period with ABS next season!

A FAB-ulous new way to support ABS

Lucy Connolly is a choral singer and longtime fan of American Bach Soloists. She is also the leader of FABS, or Friends of American Bach Soloists, a new initiative to brings passionate fans of Baroque music together to volunteer their time and talents in support of ABS. Whether they read about FABS in the April program for Bach Oratorios, received an email about the program, or heard about it via word of mouth, the group’s membership is already growing steadily. I asked Lucy about FABS and her vision for this new way of getting involved with ABS.

Please tell us more about FABS. What is this group with the fabulous name?
Friends of American Bach Soloists was created for the purpose of involving our devoted concertgoers in the process of planning events, providing support at rehearsals and performances, and all-around just supporting the activities of this great ensemble.

Who can join the FABS team?
FABS welcomes all who share our enthusiasm for ABS and who would like to be involved in a way that is both helpful and fun.

What skills and interests are most important for a potential new member to join FABS?

Mary Wilson with audienceThe opportunities for volunteers are many and varied. Members of FABS will help the ABS staff in the office and at events and rehearsals. There is also a need for some members to help with artist hospitality, which includes housing, transportation, and providing refreshments at rehearsals.

If you are interested in joining FABS and discovering new ways in which you can help ABS, please visit the FABS site and fill out the questionnaire.


Next up for ABS are the annual ABS Festival & Academy from August 5-14 and Sparkle 2016, the ABS fundraising gala, on September 24.

Getting ready for the 2016 ABS Festival & Academy: “An Italian Journey”

2016-Festival-and-AcademyDo you have your 2016 ABS Festival & Academy tickets yet? This summer’s Festival, which will be held at both St. Mark’s Lutheran Church and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music from August 5-14, promises thrilling musical performances, an assortment of free public events, and the chance to engage with the Italian Baroque. Titled An Italian Journey,” many of the concerts and lectures of the ABS Festival will explore the music and culture of Italy along with works by J.S. Bach, who was profoundly influenced by musical innovations that originated on the Italian peninsula. This 10-day immersion in the Italian style–a modern day Grand Tour right here in San Francisco–will include glorious sacred music by Handel and Vivaldi; elegant and witty chamber works by Frescobaldi, Caldara, and others; virtuosic concerti by Vivaldi & Corelli; the North American premiere of Handel’s sumptuous and festive serenata Parnasso in festa; and two performances of Bach’s monumental Mass in B Minor. With a few months to get into the spirit, we compiled a short list of resources for those who are inclined to read, listen, and watch a little before embarking on “An Italian Journey” with ABS in August.


Beginning in the sixteenth century and lasting on into modern times, The Grand Tour was a rite of passage. To complete their education and attain a certain continental refinement, British noblemen and wealthy landed gentry ventured to Italy and the roots of civilization to observe humanity’s greatest artistic achievements in art, sculpture, architecture, and music. The idea of “taking The Tour” caught on and cultural pilgrims from all over Europe, and eventually America, made the trip over the centuries with Italy being either an important stop or the ultimate destination. Below are a few great sources about The Grand Tour:

Goethe: Italian Journey, 1786-1788 (Penguin Classics)

Goethe_Italian_JourneyThough already famous at the age of 26 for his The Sorrows of Young Werther, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe balanced his artistic sensibilities and vocation as a lawyer well for many years. At the age of 36, he sent his employers at the firm a letter requesting leave so he could take The Grand Tour. Before permission was granted, Goethe was already on a stagecoach bound for Italy and chronicled his adventures in diary form. “I am not here to enjoy myself,” he wrote upon reaching Rome, “I want to develop myself fully before I am forty.” Poet, novelist, statesman, and philosopher, Goethe also proved to be a great travel writer and his Italian diary is full of insightful observations, adventure, and encounters with local eccentrics. Though late for the Baroque period, Goethe’s “Italian Journey” is a fascinating read. Many versions are available, but I recommend poet W.H. Auden’s translation.

E.M. Forster: A Room With A View (1908, filmed version 1986)

Screenshot 2016-05-24 13.52.42This classic twentieth century Grand Tour novel follows a young Englishwoman as she finds love and meaning in the exotic locale of Florence, Italy. The transformation she undergoes leads to a complicated transition back into English society. The Merchant-Ivory cinematic adaption of Forster’s novel introduced filmgoers to actress Helena Bonham Carter and also enchanted them with Puccini’s aria “O mio bambino caro,” unforgettably sung by Kiri Te Kanawa. Though not from or about the Baroque period, Forster’s tale is essential reading and/or viewing for learning about the age-old custom of The Grand Tour.


Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi spent many years working in Venice for the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage and convent for young girls, which also trained many of its wards to be musicians. With Antonio Vivaldi as their music master, the all-female orchestra and chorus became known for their virtuosity and thrilling performances. The fact that this accomplished ensemble of young virgins were rarely permitted to leave the Pietà and gave their heavenly performances from behind a metal grate separating them from the Venetian public, contributed to their legend and mystique. Vivaldi’s “Angels of the Pietà” have inspired storytellers for centuries. While not all of these narratives are likely to be worth exploring, some recent ones utilize current research to imagine the lives of the orphaned girls in effective ways while still others shed light on the social, political, and economic forces at work in eighteenth-century Venice. Below are a few intriguing attempts to understand this fascinating institution for which Vivaldi composed a great deal of incredible music. On August 5, ABS will open the 2016 ABS Festival with sacred works by Handel and Vivaldi, including the latter’s famous Gloria, composed for the female virtuosi of the Pietà. Then, on August 13, the virtuosi soloists of ABS will perform instrumental concerti by Vivaldi, many of which were also written for these fantastic Venetian orphans. Before attending the concerts, you may want to explore the legend further:

The Four Season by Laurel Corona (Hyperion Books, 2008)Four Seasons

A novel about two sisters who grow up as wards of the Pietà. High spirited Chiaretta sings with the Coro until marrying into a powerful Venetian family. Her sister Maddalena rises through the ranks at the Pietà as a virtuoso violinist and muse to Maestro Vivaldi.


Vivaldi’s Virgins by Barbara Quick (Harper Perennial, 2008)Vivaldi's Vigins

Taking as its inspiration the life of Anna Maria dal Violin, a historical alumna of the Ospedale della Pietà, Quick’s novel is a fictional account of growing up within the Ospedale system. Outwardly committed to the strict regimen of daily prayers and musical instruction, Anna is driven to learn more about where she came from and launches into a journey of self-discovery that leads her, and readers, into the heart of eighteenth-century Venetian music culture.

Vivaldi’s Gloria

This filmed performance (below, from the BBC Four documentary Vivaldi’s Women) of the famous Gloria in D Major channels the legendary ensemble of the Ospedale della Pietà during Vivaldi’s time. It shows the all-female orchestra and chorus in an eighteenth century church performing behind screens, using candles to read their music, and wearing simple uniforms like those worn by the young ladies in the composer’s day. The only thing missing in this fanciful recreation is a roomful of ecstatic Venetians and out-of-towners, enthralled by the music and drawn to the mysterious, otherworldly performers who are physically separated from them, barely visible, and unobtainable.

If you have some favorite books, films, or videos related to The Grand Tour or the Italian Baroque, please share them with us on the ABS Facebook page. To learn more about the 2016 ABS Festival & Academy (August 5-14, 2016), see the full schedule, request a brochure, or purchase tickets, please visit our website.


Also, mark your calendars now for two outstanding free educational events during the Festival: On Friday, July 29 at 6:30 pm, ABS violinist Robert Mealy will present a pre-Festival, multimedia lecture about the Festival theme–”An Italian Journey”–at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura. On Saturday, August 6 at 2:30 pm, an ABS Festival Public Colloquium titled “The Grand Tour of Italy” will explore the Grand Tour, Italian Baroque instrumental style, and the craze for Italian opera. Join William Berger–author, lecturer, and writer/producer for the Metropolitan Opera’s radio broadcasts–and the ABS Academy Faculty for a lively and informative discussion.

Subscribe to the 2016-17 ABS season

The details of ABS’s exciting new 2016-17 season have been announced and subscriptions to the new season are now available! With works by Bach, Handel, and a handful of masters of the French Baroque, the new season offers a showcase of peerless musical inspiration from the Baroque era. Don’t miss ABS Artistic Director Jeffrey Thomas and his ABS forces of leading period-instrumentalists and historically informed singers, including three vocal soloists making their ABS debuts, in these unforgettable programs. Purchase a subscription today! Remember subscribers get the best seats at the best prices.



Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral

For the eighteenth consecutive season, ABS returns to San Francisco’s magnificent Grace Cathedral to present its annual performances of Handel’s Messiah, December 14-16, 2016. Maestro Thomas will direct the renowned American Bach Choir, ABS orchestra, and vocal soloists soprano Hélène Brunet, alto Emily Marvosh in her ABS debut, tenor Derek Chester, and baritone Mischa Bouvier in three performances of Handel’s beloved work in one of San Francisco’s most awe-inspiring sacred spaces. Always a highlight of the holiday season in the Bay Area, ABS’s annual performances attract music lovers from around the world.


A Weekend in Paris

ABS’s 28th subscription season opens February 10-13, 2017, with “A Weekend in Paris,” a program of works by five masters of the French Baroque. When Jean-Baptiste Lully’s monopoly on music in France ended in the late seventeenth century, an explosion of musical creativity erupted in Paris from a new generation of composers. Marin Marais and Jean-Féry Rebel were both students of Lully, played under his direction in the King’s royal orchestra, and were among the first to emerge as faces of the “new music.” Thomas conducts the period-instrument specialists of ABS in a suite of dances from Marais’ 1709 opera Sémélé, including the lively Act II chaconne, and Rebel’s benchmark of French style, Les caractères de la danse. Jean-Joseph de Mondonville and Michel Corrette were significant participants in the next wave of French invention and elevated the Grand Motet to brilliant new heights by incorporating new cosmopolitan influences from abroad. The Italian style is especially evident in Corrette’s Laudate Dominum, which includes an interpolation of Vivaldi’s “Spring” from the Four Seasons arranged for choir, vocal soloists, and orchestra. Finally, Thomas conducts ABS in a suite of dances from the opera Dardanus by the great genius of the French Baroque, Jean-Philippe Rameau. Haute-contre Steven Brennfleck, an ABS Academy alumnus, makes his ABS debut singing the mellifluous lines for high tenor that are so central to French music of the period. Soprano Nola Richardson, who the Washington Post applauded for her “astonishing balance and accuracy,” and baritone William Sharp, “a superbly communicative vocal artist” (Baltimore Sun), round out the assemblage of artists for this tour of works for the Opéra, Ballet, and Chapelle.

Motet-ensemble-2017 2

Bach’s Motets for Double Chorus

Among the most compelling and mysterious of Bach’s sacred works are his motets for double choir. From March 31-April 3, Thomas will lead the American Bach Choir and instrumentalists in Bach’s Motets for Double Chorus. Composed for special occasions, these mesmerizing and ethereal works rely on the human voice, in its multifaceted splendor, to provide the color palette, melodic movement, harmonic textures, and, of course, the message of the text. Thomas and the American Bach Choir left the audience breathless when they last performed Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (BWV 225) and Fürchte dich nicht (BWV 228) at the 2012 Berkeley Festival & Exhibition. This presentation of Bach’s motets, including some frequently overlooked works only recently attributed to Bach, promises to be a banquet of sublime vocalism.


Handel’s La Resurrezione

The ABS subscription season closes May 5-8 with performances of Handel’s La Resurrezione. Composed and first performed during the composer’s youthful sojourn in Rome, the 1708 work is a marvel of creative power and imagination. La Resurrezione, a truly operatic oratorio, scandalized the Vatican (opera was prohibited in Rome by Papal edict at the time) yet assured Handel’s place as the new master of Italian operatic style. Heaven and Hell—embodied in Lucifer and an Angel—battle for supremacy on earth through this dramatic telling of the emotions and convictions of Mary Magdalene and St. John the Evangelist. Thomas conducts an outstanding cast of Handelians in this brilliant work, which demands bravura performances from singers and instrumentalists alike. As the opposing divine forces, soprano Mary Wilson and baritone Jesse Blumberg assume the roles of the Angel and Lucifer. ABS Academy alumna Nola Richardson sings the role of Mary Magdalene, contralto Meg Bragle makes her ABS debut as Mary Cleophas, and tenor Guy Cutting, the 2014 recipient of The Jeffrey Thomas Award, sings the role of St. John.

Subscriptions are available online or by calling the ABS office at (415) 621-7900. Subscribers enjoy the following benefits:

  • best seats at the best prices
  • additional seats at 15% off
  • ticket exchanges
  • invitations to special events


ABS performs at Sustainable Food Trust conference

Front left - Lisa Grodin, Brandon Labadie, Andres Vera, Daria D’Andrea, Kati Kyme. Front right - Ramón Negrón Pérez, Maxine Nemerovski, Jeffrey Thomas, Steven Lehning. Not in photo - Gretchen Claasson, Jason Pyszkowski, Noah Strick.

Front left – Lisa Grodin, Brandon Labadie, Andres Vera, Daria D’Andrea, Kati Kyme.
Front right – Ramón Negrón Pérez, Maxine Nemerovski, Jeffrey Thomas, Steven Lehning.
Not in photo – Gretchen Claasson, Jason Pyszkowski, Noah Strick.

Jeffrey Thomas led an ensemble of ABS musicians in a special performance at The True Cost of American Food Conference at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco last Friday night. At the invitation of Bishop Marc Andrus from the Episcopal Diocese of California, Thomas and ABS performed on the opening night of the three-day conference, which was hosted by Patrick Holden, the Chief Executive of the Sustainable Food Trust and advisor to Prince Charles of Wales on issues of sustainability. The conference brought together luminaries of the environmentally responsible agriculture movement to present and share their expertise about the economics of food production and the hidden costs of seemingly inexpensive foods. Exploring how methods of food production can take a heavy toll on the environment and health care costs, the conference spurred the dialogue about sustainable food production and consumption.

One significant inspiration for conference attendees was Johann Sebastian Bach. Sitting on a panel with Holden, Andrus, and Sustainable Food Alliance director Owsley Brown III, Thomas pointed to Bach as an eighteenth-century model of civic responsibility. Following the panel, Thomas conducted eleven ABS musicians in an all-Bach program:

Concerto in D Minor for 2 Violins, BWV 1043
Noah Strick & Katherine Kyme, violin soloists

Sinfonia, BWV 156
Brandon Labadie, oboe soloist

Dances from Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C Major, BWV 1066

“The event was quite eye-opening simply from hearing all the planet conscious people speaking,” said violoncellist Andrés Vera, “We as musicians need to be more involved with solving climate change and seeing the connection between food, climate, and music.” Violinist Daria D’Andrea commented, “I was struck by a statement made by one of the panelists from Sustainable Food Action that it has been a struggle to raise awareness about the plight of food workers, even among foodies and those who are very concerned with the ecological impacts of how their food is sourced and produced.  I’ve found myself talking to friends and family about this ever since.” D’Andrea also observed the impact of the music on conference goers,”Our performance was truly welcomed by the audience. Several people remarked to me on the beauty of the music and how it had lifted and refreshed them at the end of what had been a long conference day packed with information. I think it gave the audience a much-needed moment to reflect and let the miracle of Bach waft over their exhausted minds.”

After the ABS performance, the musicians joined the conference organizers for a meal at Greens, a restaurant in the Fort Mason Center that has been a model of sustainability and the “slow food” movement for 38 years. It was an honor for the musicians of ABS to participate in this important event and share the inspiring music of J.S. Bach. It was also a pleasure for them to enjoy a meal with this group of visionaries who are thinking about tomorrow today.

Jeffrey Thomas’s remarks about J.S. Bach during the panel discussion:

Bach seems to have powerfully understood concepts of order and functionality in his world. As an extremely devout Lutheran – and one who certainly considered himself as much, if not more, a theologian as a composer – his spiritual sensibilities always became focused, and worked themselves out, in his music. 

So he would pour himself into that powerfully expressive rhetoric that he developed and cultivated, whereby he really stood by the undeniability of cause and effect, in particular the cause-and-effect nature of his music. He expressed this belief that he had in his ability to reach people, to connect with his congregants, through a certain way of teaching his listeners to learn both how his music proceeded through a movement or section—by way of repeating elements of melody or harmony so that they would come to expect their return—and by gently teaching them how particular musical gestures, or affects, were meant to move them and instill in their minds very particular points of dogma and principles of living.

Another of Bach’s sensibilities was his awareness of the “order” of his and others’ lives back then. This was evidenced by his appreciation for service and even subservience at the various courts that employed him, representing another kind of responsibility of behavior that he did not find oppressive, but rather holistic and quite natural. He manifested his understanding of that by constantly organizing his compositions, from measure to measure, from section to section, in ways that were very highly structured, methodical, and hierarchical. And quite often he used the technique of musical canon—when one melody is begun in different parts successively—to represent both the need to “follow” the teachings of a theology, and the truthfulness of those teachings. The word canon in German, just as in English, means both this musical device, and of course rules, principles, and law.

Additionally, he sought with great conviction to preserve various heritages, whether of the compositional styles of his forebears or the heritage of religious devotion, not wanting to give way to various aspects of the Age of Enlightenment that were breaking through the doors of his world: for example, the simplification of high art, and industrialization and its repercussion of the loss of individual responsibility.

So, in these ways, he was a preservationist. He understood and even chose to represent concepts of societal and cultural ecology and balance.

Times were difficult in his era. There was great poverty, hunger, and disease. But his faith, his undying and relentless faith, was the very thing that prevented him from succumbing to discouragement. He shows this to us in his compositions by his constant inclusion of dance music, dance forms and structures, even in some of the most emotionally gripping moments of sadness that are found in some of his church cantatas and, of course, in his great settings of the St. Matthew and St. John Passions. Arias sung at some of the darkest moments are actually, and not-so-subtly, slow dances: perhaps a Siciliana or a Sarabande. It’s worth noting that dances and dance forms are the most formally defined kinds of music; they must adhere to rules of tempo, meter, weight, and feeling. Again, Bach shows us his great valuation of order, appropriateness, and adherence to right principles. To Bach’s listeners, it is the worldliness of the dance, as Bach utilized it in his music, that tethers spiritual enlightenment to our dance-capable human forms. 

For more information about the True Cost of American Food conference, please visit their website.

Easter & Ascension Oratorios: ABS completes a Bach Trifecta, April 22-25

Unlike the agony and ecstasy in his famous Passion settings, Bach composed joyous music for Easter and the Feast of the Ascension. Boasting full compliments of wind instruments, percussion, vocal soloists, and choruses, all uniting in exaltation, his oratorios for these celebrations have their fair share of excitement and jubilation. Along with the “Christmas Oratorio,” these three compositions are the only ones from his career that Bach called oratorios. Many of you heard ABS perform the “Christmas Oratorio” in December. We hope you will join us again from April 22-25 as ABS completes the trifecta of Bach Oratorios with performances of his magnificent works for Easter and the Feast of the Ascension.



St. Thomas Church, Leipzig

St. Thomas Church, Leipzig

While Bach’s “Easter Oratorio” is easy to appreciate without advanced preparation, there are several aspects of the work where close listening and study will open up new riches to the hearer. First of all, in this oratorio Bach assigns dramatic roles to the vocal soloists–Mary Jacobi (soprano), Mary Magdalene (alto), Simon Peter (tenor), and John the Apostle (bass). The characters first appear as mournful believers approaching the cave where Jesus is buried. Their discovery of the empty tomb and evidence of his rising lead to a glorious series of recitatives, arias, and a grand chorus at the end. The BWV number for the “Easter Oratorio” is 249, placing it in the sequence with the St. Matthew Passion BWV 244, St. John Passion BWV 245, and “Christmas Oratorio” BWV 248 (the “in-between” numbers – BWV 246 & 247 – were reserved for Bach’s other Passions which have not survived, though many have tried to reconstruct a Mark Passion). Unlike the Passions or the “Christmas Oratorio,” BWV 249 does not employ an Evangelist, but rather allows the four soloists to interact within a dramatic scenario without a narrator. The work was first performed in Leipzig on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1725.


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

A westward look view of the Thomaskirche interior featuring the choir loft and Sauer organ, built from 1885–89. Photo: Derek Chester

The “Easter Oratorio” opens with an exuberant Sinfonia that begins allegro, or at a fairly rapid tempo. Scored for trumpets, timpani, oboes, flute, strings, and basso continuo, this orchestral opening is like a concerto grosso with several instruments enjoying exposed, solo lines within the overall ensemble. The opening movement is followed by an adagio (slow) instrumental section where the flute is the primary soloist. This section is succeeded by another rapid, triple meter movement wherein the chorus joins the orchestra. This three-part opening of the “Easter Oratorio” is essentially an instrumental concerto (Allegro, Adagio, Allegro) with the choir added to provide a little something different (not to mention providing some serious “lift”!) in the final movement.

Recitatives and Arias

As there is no Evangelist in this oratorio, the recitative sections are shared by the soloists in the four roles. Interestingly, many of the recits involve the whole quartet rather than a single singer. Mary Magdalene opens the first recitative with “O kalter Männer Sinn! Wo ist die Liebe hin, die ihr hem Heiland schuldig seid?” (“O cold mind of men! Where is the love you owe our Redeemer?”). She is quickly joined by “the other” Mary, Peter, and John who comment and mourn along with her. The vocal soloists then engage in a fascinating device called double-recitative, where two soloists sing the same text to different melodic lines. Each of these melodic lines is in harmony with the basso continuo, and heard together they create a complex and active texture.

Three soloists gets their own aria in the “Easter Oratorio” and each of them is a gem. The first is for the soprano singing the part of Mary Jacobi (mother of James), that third woman in depictions of the crucifixion, along with Jesus’s mother and Mary Magdalene. Her aria has a very open, almost delicate texture of only the solo voice with flute and basso continuo. Though the rhythm resembles a minuet, the mood is melancholy as the group has yet to discover the empty tomb.


The tenor aria, “Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer” (“Gentle shall my sorrow be just a slumber”) comes next, communicating Peter’s relief and comfort at the miraculous resurrection. For this aria, the two oboe players put down their instruments and take up recorders and, along with support from the strings and basso continuo, accompany the tenor in this beautifully tender aria.

Restless and excited, Mary Magdalene’s aria opens with the words: “Saget, saget mir geschwinde, Saget, wo ich Jesum finde” (‘Tell me, tell me quickly, tell me where I can find Jesus”). Accompanied by oboe obbligato, strings, and basso continuo, this aria marks a dramatic shift in the overall tone of the oratorio–from mourning, to relief, to excitement–and it is played to the dance rhythm of a gavotte.

The bass soloist does not sing an aria, but provides a conclusion to the narrative by declaring that we all shall overcome sorrow and sing songs of joy. The chorus and full orchestra then launch into an exuberant chorus giving thanks and praise in an energetic gigue.


First of all, you might ask, what is Ascension? The Feast of the Ascension is one of the three most significant celebrations in the liturgical year (along with Christmas and Easter), which memorializes the moment when Christ ascends to the heavens. Traditionally held 40 days after Easter, the equally joyous celebration inspired four great works by Bach:

Wer da gläubet und getauft wird, BWV 37 (1724)

Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein, BWV 128 (1725)

Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen, BWV 43 (1726)

Himmelfahrts-Oratorium: Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen, BWV 11 (1735)

Of these works for Feast of the Ascension Sunday, the last is the most sumptuous, glorious, and recent. Completed in 1735, only a few months after the premiere of his six-part “Christmas Oratorio,” Bach crowned the work with a special title: Himmelfahrts-Oratorium, or “Ascension Oratorio.”

Recitatives and Arias

As with the “Christmas Oratorio” and Passion settings, Bach utilizes a tenor soloist as Evangelist in the “Ascension Oratorio.” Along with the Evangelist’s solo narrations, there is also a fascinating contrapuntal recitative between the Evangelist and bass soloist, and also accompanied recitatives for the alto and bass soloists, each singing the text along with the accompaniment of a pair of flutes.


If you are familiar with Bach’s Mass in B Minor, then the first aria in the “Ascension Oratorio” will likely sound very familiar: Bach reset it years later as the “Agnus Dei” for his epic Mass in B Minor compilation. After the joyous opening chorus, this alto aria might seem like a radical change of pace, but the text, “Ach ja! So komme bald zurück” (“Ah, yes! Then come back soon”) captures the melancholy mood of the disciples who are left behind after the divine ascent. The soprano aria, “Jesu, deine gnadenblicke” (“Jesus, your merciful gaze”), develops this sentiment into a more proactive stance: even if we are left behind, we can use our remaining time on the earth to refresh ourselves spiritually. Accompanied by two flutes, oboe, and strings, this aria is full of diverse colors and has a constantly shifting texture. Just as the oratorio opens with a jubilant chorus, it also closes with considerable energy in a chorus for the entire ensemble of singers and instrumentalists.

Along with these extraordinary works by J.S. Bach, ABS will also perform works for Easter & Ascension by Bach’s Leipzig predecessor Johann Kuhnau and important stylistic influence Dieterich Buxtehude. Don’t miss Easter & Ascension Oratorios! Jeffrey Thomas leads four performances around the Bay Area and in Davis between April 22-25 with a fantastic quartet of soloists: soprano Clara Rottsolk, countertenor Eric Jurenas, tenor Zachary Wilder, and bass Joshua Copeland. Do you have your tickets yet?



Countertenor Eric Jurenas is 2017 Jeffrey Thomas Award recipient

Eric Jurenas, countertenor

Eric Jurenas, countertenor

ABS is pleased to announce that countertenor Eric Jurenas is the 2017 recipient of The Jeffrey Thomas Award. Within only a few short years, Jurenas has emerged from auspicious talent at the 2011 ABS Academy to one of the leading young countertenors of his generation. Making a vivid impression in opera and on the concert stage, The New York Times praised Jurenas for his “beautiful, well-supported tone and compelling expression.” Following a recent performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, his “exceptionally clear tone” and “vocal flexibility” were applauded by the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Having received considerable acclaim in the United States and abroad, Jurenas’s enterprising success and impact on the music scene make him an ideal recipient for The Jeffrey Thomas Award, which was created to inspire artists of unusual promise and precocious achievement.

Jurenas grew up outside Washington, D.C. where his youthful ambition was to be a jazz drummer and perform with big bands. His musical focus shifted once he began playing piano and joined his high school chorus as a bass. At the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, he made the switch to countertenor. At the ABS Academy, he distinguished himself in his portrayal of Polinesso in Handel’s Ariodante.

While pursuing a Master’s degree at the Juilliard School, Jurenas’s professional career took off. He has worked with several groups as a featured artist, including the Santa Fe Opera, the Glimmerglass Festival, Opera Philadelphia, Wolf Trap Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, Dayton Philharmonic, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Burlington Choral Society, Baldwin Wallace Bach Festival, and the Bel Canto Chorus of Milwaukee, among others. He completed his graduate degree in 2015 and is currently enjoying a sensational 2015-16 season with performances in Opera Lafayette’s production of Vivaldi’s Catone in Utica and his debut at the Wiener Staatsoper in Eötvös’s Three Sisters. As a concert singer, Jurenas has performed contemporary works and Baroque repertory with many of the finest ensembles. With American Bach Soloists, he has performed works by Bach (Magnificat; Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden) and Handel (Dixit Dominus; Messiah), including an appearance as a featured soloist in the 2016 film, Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral. He has also performed as a soloist with Juilliard 415, Colorado Bach Ensemble, and Concerto Brabant in The Netherlands, among many others.

Founded in 2013 to recognize and encourage young leaders within the Early Music community, The Jeffrey Thomas Award is given annually by ABS Artistic and Music Director Jeffrey Thomas. Recipients are awarded a cash prize and invited to perform with American Bach Soloists. Past recipients of the Award include tenor Guy Cutting (2014), violoncellist Gretchen Claassen (2015), and violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova (2016).

Hear Eric Jurenas with ABS from April 22-25

Don’t miss your chance to hear Jurenas in Easter & Ascension Oratorios. The all-star assemblage of ABS artists for this uplifting program of music by Bach, Kuhnau, and Buxtehude will also include soprano Clara Rottsolk, tenor Zachary Wilder, bass Joshua Copeland, the American Bach Choir, and the instrumentalists of ABS, all under the direction of Jeffrey Thomas. Good seats remain, but they are going fast. Get your tickets today! (americanbach.org or 415-621-7900).


Free Public Master Class with flutist Sandra Miller, April 18

Sandra Miller, Baroque flute

Sandra Miller, Baroque flute

Each season, ABS presents free public master classes at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music where students work with an ABS musician on matters of technique, interpretation, and applying a historically informed approach to Baroque repertory. On Monday April 18 at 7:30 pm, ABS flutist Sandra Miller will coach Conservatory students on Baroque repertory. Admission to the master class is free and open to the public; no tickets or registration is required.

Sandra Miller had an early fascination with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach that ultimately led her to the baroque flauto traverso, upon which she is widely regarded to be one of the finest performers of her generation. She leads an active musical life, appearing in a variety of chamber music performances, solo recitals and orchestral concerts. She is frequently invited to perform and record with many well-known period instrument ensembles. For many years Professor (now Emerita) of Music at the Purchase College Conservatory of Music (SUNY), Ms. Miller is currently on the faculty of the Historical Performance Program at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Her solo recordings include the complete Bach flute sonatas and, on six- and eight-keyed classical flutes, the three Mozart concertos.

Hear Sandra Miller with ABS

After witnessing this master musician work with young performers at the Conservatory, you can hear Ms. Miller perform live with ABS around the Bay Area and in Davis in Easter & Ascension Oratorios, April 22-25. Be sure to listen especially for the lovely aria for soprano and flute, “Seele, deine Spezereien,” in Bach’s “Easter Oratorio,” which she will perform with soprano Clara Rottsolk. This deeply expressive aria is a moment of calm and introspection within an otherwise jubilant atmosphere. Tickets are available online or by calling the ABS office at (415) 621-7900.

Easter & Ascension Oratorios, April 22-25

Countdown to #1 Conclusion: The Top 10 “Bach Favorites”

Johann Sebastian Bach by Haussmann

Johann Sebastian Bach

According to ABS concert goers, musicians, and staff, Bach’s Top Ten are listed below. Thanks to voters on Twitter, The Well Tempered Clavier jumped up the list two spots! [To revisit the first 36 “Bach Favorites” on the list, click here]

10) Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major, BWV 1050

“First Bach I heard live and well performed. I play keyboard and the parts for that and the flute and violin interact in such a happy manner” – Edith Vermeij

9) Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147

8) Brandenburg Concertos, BWV 1046-1051

“They’re all just gorgeous” – Dena Elfert

7) Toccata & Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565

“I find it deeply moving. It never fails to make me tear up!” – Karen Combs

“I love organ!” – Thomas Farver

6) Magnificat, BWV 243

John Thiessen

John Thiessen

“To my mind, the most perfect choral work: each note is a gem” – John Thiessen, ABS musician (trumpet)

5) Das wohltemperierte Klavier (“Well Tempered Clavier”), BWV 846-893

4) Weihnachts-Oratorium (“Christmas Oratorio”), BWV 248

“Where to start? Not enough room” – James Bert

“Cheerful and celebratory” – Susan Garbini

3) Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, BWV 1007-1012

“What can match the beauty, the longing and the soul of the cello suites? Pablo Casals recorded his version as the Spanish Republic was falling and one can hear his soul in those recordings” – Douglas Shaker

“Expressive, lyric, meditative, ordered, mathematical, pensive, reflective” – Wit Ashbrook

2) St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244

“If there’s such a thing as the greatest piece of music ever written (Which I doubt) then, the St. Matthew would be it” – Dan Hersh

“It epitomizes everything I love about Bach – the grandeur, pathos, and genius” – Greg Madsen, ABS Board of Directors

1) Mass in B Minor, BWV 232

“Fabulous trumpet writing, but also a summation of Bach’s lifework” – John Thiessen, ABS Musician (trumpet)

“It’s gotta be Bach’s Mass in B Minor, but maybe it’s because I love the way Jeffrey Thomas interprets it. He brings out something new every time he conducts it” – Barbara Malloy

“Everytime I listen, I weep at its beauty” – Dan Chow

Jude Ziliak

Jude Ziliak

“The B Minor Mass is maybe the most universal music there is, and yet also singularly, distinctly the product of one clear, individual mind. It is music for many lifetimes” – Jude Ziliak, ABS musician (violin)




Thank you for voting! I hope you will all join me in using this list of “Bach Favorites” as a guide for future listening! [To see Part I, click here] [To see Part II, click here].