New ABS Season Announced!

If you joined us for St. Matthew Passion last month, you received a sneak peek into ABS’s 2015-16 season. Well, the full season has just been announced and it is a good one … make that a GREAT one! Outstanding concert programs and an exciting roster of artists make this one of ABS’s best seasons yet. Current ABS subscribers may renew their current seats for the new season anytime through April 24 and new subscriptions go on sale May 1. Single tickets for all 2015-16 events will go on sale July 1. Remember: subscribers enjoy the best seats at the lowest prices. Without further ado, lets take a look at what the 2015-16 ABS season will bring!

December special events

St. Ignatius Church, San Francisco

St. Ignatius Church, San Francisco

Bach lovers rejoice because the ABS concert season will open on December 12 with Johann Sebastian Bach’s vast and inspiring “Christmas Oratorio.” Last presented by ABS in 2008, this festive work contains elements of three secular cantatas and an otherwise lost church cantata that Bach synthesized into a single, unified musical expression of the Christmas story. ABS will present Bach’s grand work in its entirety within San Francisco’s historic Saint Ignatius Church. The “Christmas Oratorio” will also be performed on December 13 at the Robert & Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis.

ABS in Grace Cathedral by Ken Howard

ABS in Grace Cathedral.

Every December, ABS’s presentations of Messiah in Grace Cathedral bring together Handel’s timeless score, the outstanding performances of ABS, and one of San Francisco’s most breathtaking settings in an indelible Bay Area experience. Jeffrey Thomas will direct the renowned period-instrument orchestra, the American Bach Choir, and vocal soloists soprano Hélène Brunet, alto Agnes Vojtko, tenor Kyle Stegall, and baritone Jesse Blumberg in three unforgettable performances December 16, 17, & 18.


27th Subscription series concerts

Jeffrey Thomas and Tatiana Chulochnikova

Jeffrey Thomas and Tatiana Chulochnikova

The new subscription series opens January 22-25, 2016 with “Bach Favorites,” a program displaying the composer’s genius in a variety of settings. Maestro Thomas leads his ABS forces in two brilliant cantatas, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147 (“Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life”), a work best known for the beloved chorale setting, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” and Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!, BWV 70 (“Watch! Pray! Pray! Watch!”), a bold setting of a text about the Day of Judgment. Soprano Mary Wilson, tenor Derek Chester, and baritone Mischa Bouvier will join the ensemble as vocal soloists. Violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova, the 2016 recipient of The Jeffrey Thomas Award, will be featured in a pair of thrilling instrumental works. Exhibiting the dazzling technique and bravura style that have made her one of today’s most exciting new Baroque violinists, Chulochnikova will perform her own transcription for solo violin of Bach’s organ Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and the Concerto for Violin in E Major [Read more about Tatiana Chulochnikova receiving the award and performing at last year’s ABS Gala].

Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great

From February 26-29, 2016, Maestro Thomas leads an all-out Handelian celebration with the presentation of Alexander’s Feast. Based on a poem by John Dryden, subtitled “The Power of Music,” Handel’s ode recounts a banquet held for Alexander the Great in the conquered city of Persepolis at which the musician Timotheus moves the military commander through a course of emotions until he is compelled to seek revenge for his perished Greek soldiers. Avoiding operatic conventions such as da capo arias, Handel’s richly scored setting expresses the narrative in a direct manner that is, at times, surprising in its intensity. This evening-length work of some of the composer’s most ambitious and glorious choral music will feature the acclaimed American Bach Choir and an outstanding trio of vocal soloists: soprano Anna Gorbachyova in her ABS debut, tenor Aaron Sheehan [Read more about Mr. Sheehan’s 2015 GRAMMY win for “Best Opera Recording”], and baritone William Sharp. Following Handel’s tradition of inserting instrumental concertos between the work’s different parts, ABS will perform his Concerto Grosso in C Major and Harp Concerto in B Flat Major.

American Bach Soloists. Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

American Bach Soloists. Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

Concluding the subscription season on a festive note, ABS performs celebratory works by Bach, Kuhnau, and Buxtehude from April 22-25, 2016. Bach composed impressive oratorios for three important occasions of the Lutheran calendar: Christmas, Easter, and the Feast of the Ascension. Completing the trilogy begun in December (see “Christmas Oratorio” above), ABS will perform the composer’s exuberant “Easter Oratorio” and “Ascension Oratorio” with vocal soloists soprano Clara Rottsolk, countertenor Eric Jurenas, tenor Zachary Wilder, and bass Joshua Copeland. Pulling out all the stops for these jubilant works—trumpets, timpani, flutes, oboes, recorders, strings, and voices—Bach composed joyful, extroverted music, tempered by exquisite moments of reflective calm. Along with these masterworks from Bach’s mature years in Leipzig, Thomas and ABS will perform an Ascension cantata by Bach’s predecessor Johann Kuhnau and Heut triumphieret Gottes Sohn (“Today God’s Son triumphs”), a work for Easter by one of Bach’s important musical influences, Dieterich Buxtehude.

2015-16 ABS Season

December 12-13 – Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio”
December 16-18 – Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral
January 22-25 – Bach Favorites
February 26-29 – Alexander’s Feast
April 22-25 – Easter & Ascension Oratorios

It’s going to be a great season!

Bach Birthday Celebration!

On the evening of March 20, supporters of ABS joined the board of directors, staff, and Artistic Director Jeffrey Thomas at the General’s Residence in San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center to raise a glass and toast the ensemble on the occasion of its namesake’s 330th birthday (Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany, March 21, 1685). With spectacular views of the marina and Alcatraz, the revelers also enjoyed fine wines, some tasty edibles by Delicious! Catering, and a screening of the new video installation project Bach’s Mass in B Minor: Anatomy of a Masterwork in this special fundraising event for ABS.

Anthony Newman and Joshua Romatowski

Anthony Newman and Joshua Romatowski

Following the party, the Bach Birthday Celebration continued over at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church where renowned Bach interpreter Anthony Newman was presented in a recital program featuring works by J.S. Bach, Handel, and his own compositions. Exhibiting his legendary facility throughout the evening, Newman gave an exhilarating performance. To close the first half of the harpsichord portion of the recital he was joined by ABS flutist Joshua Romatowski in Bach’s Sonata in E-Flat Major for Flute and Harpsichord, BWV 1031.

ABS Flutist Joshua Romatowski meets fans during intermission.

Joshua Romatowski meets fans during intermission.

For the second half, Mr. Newman made his way upstairs and finished the performance at the organ bench playing St. Mark’s splendid instrument. He performed his own Grand Intrada and Triple Fugue in C for Organ and Fantastia in E Major along with Bach’s Toccata in C Major, Alle Menschen müßen, and closed with a rousing performance of Bach’s Fugue in C Minor.

Thank you to everyone who came out to support ABS at this memorable event … and happy birthday, J.S. Bach!

Anthony Newman, after performing organ recital.

Anthony Newman.

Free Master Class with Jeffrey Thomas, March 16

Jeffrey Thomas

Jeffrey Thomas

ABS continues its collaboration with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on Monday, March 16 at 7:30 p.m. when ABS Music Director leads a public master class on Baroque performance. The master class will take place in the Conservatory’s Recital Hall. Admission is free and no tickets are required.

Jeffrey Thomas is a Bay Area treasure. In addition to the exquisite ABS performances he has directed since co-founding the ensemble in 1989, Maestro Thomas can also be heard as the host of “Sacred Concert” and “Baroque by the Bay” every Sunday morning on KDFC. This master class will be an excellent opportunity to witness a musical master coach some of the Conservatory’s best young musicians.

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

Anthony Newman: A Vinyl Tribute

Since he burst onto the scene in 1967, Anthony Newman has been a commanding and, at times, iconoclastic performer of the music of J.S. Bach. His extraordinary discography spans several decades and includes hundreds of recordings, many of them highly influential best-sellers. As Newman is one of the most prolific early music artists of the LP era (long-playing records), we selected a few of his albums with imaginative designs to display in the “vinyl tribute” below. As great as the records are, don’t miss the chance to hear him perform live on March 20 at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco when ABS celebrates Bach’s Birthday.


Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2 (1974, Columbia M2 32875)


J.S. Bach: The Goldberg Variations (Columbia M 30538)


Bach: Newman (Columbia MS 7421)


Music for Organ: J.S. Bach, Franck, Liszt, Dandrieu (1972, Columbia M 31127)


J.S. Bach: Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue; Italian Concerto; Haydn: Sonata No. 33; Newman: Chimeras I & II (Columbia M 30062)

NewmanRecord 5

J.S. Bach: Toccata & Fugue in D Minor, “St. Anne” and Others (Quadraphonic QTV-S 34656)

And for something a little different…


Organ Orgy (A Wagner Sound Spectacular) (1975, Columbia M 33268)

$250 (includes party, donation to ABS, and concert)

$15 – $50

Tickets to hear this legendary artist perform Bach on harpsichord and organ right here in San Francisco are still available, but they won’t last long. Get your tickets today!

ABS Celebrates Bach’s Birthday, March 20

ABS celebrates its namesake on March 20 with a fabulous evening of music and fun. Beginning at 5:00 p.m. at San Francisco’s historic General’s Residence in the Fort Mason Center, we welcome friends and supporters of ABS to enjoy food, wine, and the spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Please join us in toasting the one and only J.S. Bach while also supporting ABS!


View from the General’s Residence at the Fort Mason Center

The occasion will also mark the premiere of ABS’s video installation Bach’s Mass in B Minor: Anatomy of a Masterwork. Chronicling the annual performances of the Mass at the ABS Festival & Academy, the project explores the work’s colossal dimensions and encyclopedic stylistic variety through the expertise of ABS musicians Jeffrey Thomas, Elizabeth Blumenstock, Debra Nagy, Steven Lehning, John Thiessen, and others as they work with Academy participants to perform the Mass.

Following the party, guests will attend a special, one-night-only concert with renowned harpsichordist and organist Anthony Newman at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church at 8:00 p.m. Mr. Newman will perform one half of the program from the harpsichord, joined on Bach’s Sonata in E-Flat Major for Flute and Harpsichord by ABS musician and Academy alum flutist Joshua Romatowski. For the second half of the concert, Mr. Newman will perform an organ recital on St. Mark’s magnificent instrument. This rare opportunity to hear an early music legend right here in San Francisco is available to ABS’s great supporters as part of this extraordinary celebration of Bach.

Anthony Newman, harpsichord & organ

Anthony Newman, harpsichord & organ

Please join us for the celebration! VIP tickets for the event are $250, and remember: $150 of that price is a tax-deductible donation to ABS. If you would like to attend only the concert portion of the celebration, tickets ($15-$50) are available online or by calling the ABS office at (415) 621-7900.

Tickets for 6th Annual ABS Festival & Academy now on Sale

2015 Festival DatesTickets for the 6th annual American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy are now on sale. The theme for the 2015 Festival, August 7-16, is Versailles & The Parisian Baroque, and it will feature concerts, lectures, and colloquia that celebrate Bach’s French contemporaries and the splendid music of the extravagant court at Versailles.

The Festival opens with a two-part program celebrating Versailles & The Parisian Baroque, August 7-8. For Part I, Director Jeffrey Thomas leads ABS In a trio of stunning orchestral works by three French Masters. The high-minded musical ideals and splendor of the era are fully evident in Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Ouverture & Suite of dances from his opera Naïs. Here beauty and grandeur are enhanced by a third trait: velocity! As first violinist at the Paris Opéra, Jacques Aubert had an ear for music suitable for drama and dance. His D Major Concert de Symphonie, an early incarnation of what would become the French symphony, is a delightful, foot-tapping tour of dance forms. Finally, Jean-Féry Rebel’s imaginative and vivid work for orchestra, Les élémens, depicts the creation of the world from chaos using motifs associated with earth, air, fire, and water.

Johann Sebastian Bach by Haussmann

Johann Sebastian Bach by Haussmann

From the grand to the intimate, ABS continues its exploration of the Parisian Baroque on August 8 with a look into the era’s drawing rooms, private halls, and the Royal residence at Versailles, for a sampling of exquisite works by Marin Marais, François Couperin, André Campra, and Quirinus van Blankenburg, a Dutchman who felt it necessary to compose an answer to Campra’s Les Femmes. The elegance, refinement, mirth, and poignancy that were all hallmarks of the Parisian Baroque will be presented.

Bach’s Mass in B Minor is the pinnacle of the Baroque repertory and ABS’s annual Festival performances draw Bach pilgrims to San Francisco from around the world. Jeffrey Thomas and the ABS Festival Orchestra, with vocal and instrumental soloists from the ABS Academy, perform the masterwork on each Sunday during the Festival, August 9 & 16.

August 10-12 are set aside for the outrageously talent Academy participants who come from around the world to study and perform with the musicians of ABS. These popularly priced Academy-in-Action concerts (only $10!) are great for taking in a bevy of musical delights–both well known and obscure­–performed by the future leaders of the art form. Say you heard them when; come to AIA!

Marin Marias

Marin Marias

Buy your tickets for August 14 today, because they won’t last. On that Friday evening Jeffrey Thomas will direct the first complete performance outside of Europe of Marais’s 1709 opera, Sémélé. Utilizing soloists from the ABS Academy and the Festival Orchestra, this gem from the golden era of musical Paris will return to the stage in glory right here in San Francisco.

Baroque trumpeter John Thiessen will be the featured performer in the annual Distinguished Artist Series concert on August 15. Performing a diverse program of Italian chamber music and cantatas, English music for the theater, and oratorio, John Thiessen will demonstrate his instrumental mastery in an astonishing variety of styles and settings in music by Corelli, Jeremiah Clarke, Handel, and Alessandro Scarlatti. For this special recital, members of ABS and guest soloists, including soprano Kathryn Mueller, will join Thiessen.

Baroque trumpeter John Thiessen

Baroque trumpeter John Thiessen

The Festival concludes on August 16 with a matinee performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor by The ABS Academy Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Thomas. Book your tickets early!


For more information, visit our website or call the ABS office at {415) 621-7900.

St. Matthew Passion is SOLD OUT

Here at ABS, we are all so excited about this weekend’s performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. It is great to know that our fans and patrons are pretty excited about it, too – all four performances from February 27-March 2 are completely sold out.

Thank you all for your support!

Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

Next Up: Don’t miss our Bach Birthday Celebration on March 20. Great seats are available for this special event and concert with harpsichordist / organist Anthony Newman. For More information, visit

Free Master Class with tenor Derek Chester, February 23

Derek Chester

Derek Chester

In collaboration with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, ABS presents a series of public master classes during each concert season. On February 23, tenor Derek Chester will coach a group of SF Conservatory singers in vocal repertory and interpretation. The master class will take place in the Conservatory’s Recital Hall. Admission is free and no tickets are required.

Derek Chester is a frequent ABS collaborator and has performed the music of Monteverdi, Kuhnau, and Bach with the ensemble regularly since his debut in 2008. Acclaimed for his performances of Bach, Chester will sing the role of the Evangelist in ABS’s performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, February 27-March 2. Along with his duties as assistant professor of voice at the University of Northern Colorado, he tours the country and further abroad as a featured soloists (read about the trip he made last summer to sing Bach in Leipzig).

The February 23 master class is free, open to the public, and begins at 7:30 pm. The San Francisco Conservatory of Music is located at 50 Oak Street, close to BART and MUNI stops. For more information about this and other upcoming free public master classes by the musicians of American Bach Soloists, please visit our website here.

Violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova Named 2016 Jeffrey Thomas Award Recipient

ABS is pleased to announce that violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova is the recipient of the 2016 Jeffrey Thomas Award. Splitting her time between Washington, DC, New York City, and San Francisco, Chulochnikova is a talented and enterprising artist who has performed with many of the nation’s leading Baroque ensembles. Her thrilling technique and bravura style have dazzled audiences around the country and across continents.

Born in Ukraine, Chulochnikova began playing violin at the age of 7 and made her professional debut at 14 playing Bruch’s violin concerto with the Kharkov Philharmonic. Around the same time, her own Trio for violin, flute, and cello was awarded Second Prize at the International Young Composers Competition in Kiev. Chulochnikova received her professional training at the Tchaikovsky College of Music and Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. She was first introduced to historically informed performance practice at the Conservatory where she quickly developed a passion for the early music repertory. Her interest in the Baroque brought her to the United States where she continued her studies under the direction of Marilyn McDonald at the Oberlin Conservatory.

She attended the 2010 ABS Academy and has performed with renowned Baroque orchestras including ABS, Tafelmusik, and Handel and Haydn Society Orchestra. In 2012 she completed her studies at the Juilliard School under Monica Huggett and Cynthia Roberts and continues to perform both as a soloist and within ensembles including Four Nations Ensemble and The Rubinstein Players. Most recently she was featured in the ABS 2014 gala “A Red Carpet Evening” where she premiered her own violin transcription of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. This season she also is performing as concertmistress and as a soloist with the Symphony Orchestra of the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music as well as leading the Washington Bach Consort in their Cantata Series at the Church of the Epiphany in Washington, D.C.

Founded in 2013 to recognize and encourage young leaders within the early music community, The Jeffrey Thomas Award is given annually to a musician of unusual promise and precocious achievement. Selected by Thomas, winners are awarded a cash prize and invited to perform with ABS. Past recipients of the Award include tenor Guy Cutting (2014) and violoncellist Gretchen Claassen (2015). As the winner of the 3rd annual award, Ms. Chulochnikova will perform in ABS’s 2016 season as a soloist in works by J.S. Bach.

ABS Oboist Debra Nagy Discusses Bach’s St. Matthew Passion

I hope you already have your tickets for ABS’s performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, February 27-March 2 as they are going fast (March 1 & 2 are already SOLD OUT)! ABS oboist Debra Nagy will play oboe, oboe d’amore, & oboe da caccia in all four performances. She will also present the pre-concert lectures in advance of each performance. We asked Debra about her experiences performing this masterpiece with ABS and the discoveries each encounter brings:

Debra Nagy, oboe

Debra Nagy, oboe

What are the challenges and thrills of performing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion?

Playing the St. Matthew Passion as first oboe in the first orchestra is a singular challenge. As crazy as it sounds, I liken it to running a marathon—you have to be in great shape, and you also have to pace yourself over the course of the nearly three hours. It’s an emotionally heart-rending piece to perform, and it’s actually a rather difficult task to keep the focus that’s required to perform at your best as the emotions swirl around you in arias like “O Süßes Kreuz,” “Können Thränen,” or “Geduld” (you can tell I’m drawn to the really tortured ones!). Add to that the frequent “dives for the carpet” (the many fast instrument switches from oboe to oboe d’amore to oboe da caccia and back again), and you can start to understand the challenges!

Playing St. Matthew is a big challenge, but also extremely rewarding. You’re exhausted afterwards but also so inspired by the journey through the work and through the narrative. Because of the double choir/orchestra structure, I’m also always struck by the various symmetries in the work and never fail to notice something new and interesting.

 What is it like performing this work with ABS under the direction of Jeffrey Thomas?

I think this is perhaps my 3rd time doing this work with Jeffrey. As always, Jeffrey has a uniquely powerful, focused approach to the Matthew Passion. There’s not a moment that doesn’t feel taut with energy. I’m always inspired by the vocal soloists and I know that they are selected with the utmost care. In taking a look through the score and thinking about the “cast,” I can see and hear precisely his thinking … We first heard Agnes Vojtko last summer at the ABS Academy and I know she will sing a most beautiful “Erbarme dich,” I love Jay Carter’s expressive yet crystalline countertenor which will cut all the right corners in “Können Thränen,” and Bill Sharp is just about the most wonderful Jesus there is. I’m also very much looking forward to hearing and working with Hélène Brunet for the first time (we’ll see what special magic she brings to “Aus liebe!”)

What is it like performing this work from the oboe chair in the orchestra?

St. Matthew is a gold mine for the oboist—so many arias—yet so many fast switches! Pace yourself! 😉

What are some aspects of the piece that ABS concertgoers might listen for or be aware of when they hear Bach’s St. Matthew Passion at the end of this month? 

In my lecture, I will talk about (and draw the listeners’ ears towards) the accompanied recitatives (especially those preceding the arias). Often, I think when we think about the Matthew, we’re focused on our narrator/Evangelist, the symmetry created by the big opening, closing and interior choruses, and of course some of those famous arias – “Erbarme dich,” “Ich will bei meinem Jesu,” “Mache dich,” etc. But I find the many accompanied recits in the St. Matthew Passion remarkable (and not just those for Jesus!). In Baroque opera, accompanied recit was used sparingly to create the most heightened emotional content in the work. We’ll consider the rhetoric of Bach’s accompanied recits in the St. Matthew, which use a very wide range of orchestrations and effects (from 2 oboes da caccia and a pair of recorders, to flutes with gamba, etc.).


Debra Nagy’s pre-concert lectures will occur in each venue, one-hour before the performances begin. For more information about St. Matthew Passion or to purchase tickets, please visit our website or call the ABS Office at (415) 621-7900.

Congratulations to ABS Musicians on Grammy-Winning Recording

CharpentierAt the 57th annual Grammy Awards on February 8, the Boston Early Music Festival’s recording of two chamber operas by Charpentier–La Descente d’Orphee aux enfers and La Courronne de Fleurswas awarded the Grammy for Best Opera Recording. This superb, period-instrument recording under the direction of artistic directors Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs features several artists who perform regularly with ABS. Please join us in congratulating all of the artists involved for their outstanding achievement and well-deserved recognition, especially the following ABS musicians:

Aaron Sheehan, tenor

Jesse Blumberg, baritone

Zachary Wilder, tenor

Robert Mealy, concertmaster/violin

Debra Nagy, Oboe

For more information about this award-winning recording, check the BEMF website, Arkivmusic, amazon, iTunes, or your favorite outlet where early music CDs are sold.

Tickets for Bach’s St. Matthew Passion going fast

Matthew2012-500Do you already have your tickets for ABS’s presentation of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion? It is always a significant occasion when this great masterwork is performed and ABS’s presentations are especially anticipated by Bach lovers. Tickets for the March 1 performance in San Francisco’s St. Mark’s Lutheran Church are already SOLD OUT and availability is beginning to run low for the other three performances. Get your St. Matthew Passion tickets here.

Currently the best availability is at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley on February 28 at 7:30 p.m. Excellent seats remain in the main orchestra seating area and in the balcony. Of course the First Congregational Church is also where ABS made their historic recording of St. Matthew Passion in 1996 as part of the Berkeley Festival and Exhibition. On that occasion, Jeffrey Thomas did double-duty as conductor and Evangelist and William Sharp sang the role of Christus. The recording is a classic and you can purchase the CD on our website or download it from iTunes. This month (February 27-March 2), Thomas will conduct, tenor Derek Chester will sing the role of the Evangelist, and Sharp will return as Christus. It is going to be sensational!

We expect all four of venues to sell out prior to the performance, so reserve your seats today! Visit our website or call the ABS office at (415) 621-7900 for more information.

Lift off for the “The Flying Gambas”!

Photo: Shelby Lewis

Photo: Shelby Lewis

Thanks to all supporters of “The Flying Gambas,” ABS’s kickstarter campaign. Through the generosity of a broad spectrum of ABS supporters, the campaign successfully reached its funding goal of $10,000. The support for this program will enable accepted ABS Academy players of violas da gamba, violoncellos, violones, and double basses to attend this summer’s Academy without the extra costs of transporting their instruments.

The ABS Academy is the country’s leading program for musicians of historically informed performance practice to study and perform Baroque music in a multi-disciplinary learning environment. The deadline to apply for the 2015 Academy is coming up on Monday, February 16. To apply or get more information about the program, please visit our Academy website or contact me at the ABS office: (415) 621-7900, ext. 204. Apply today! The experience can be a transformative one. On the ABS youtube channel, you can watch Academy co-directors Jeffrey Thomas and Corey Jamason discuss this outstanding program and how it touches the lives of so many musicians and, through their talents, audiences all around the world.

If you would like to contribute to the advancement of the next generation of early music leaders, please consider becoming an Academy Sponsor. For more information, visit our Academy Sponsorship page or call the ABS office.

We Need Your Help for “The Flying Gambas” to Take Flight


“The Flying Gambas” is more than halfway to its funding goal. With only a few days to go before the deadline, now is the time to pledge your support for this important program to fly the large stringed instruments of hopeful ABS Academy participants to San Francisco for the invaluable summer training program.

Remember, if we do not reach the goal of $10,000 by Monday, February 2 at 1:15 p.m. PST, then ABS does not collect any of the pledged funds and the program will go unfunded. So pledge today and help us reach the goal. Any contribution from $1 to $1,000 gets us closer. Thank you, in advance, for your support!

Visit the Flying Gambas kickstarter site for full details and a list of rewards that supporters earn if we reach our goal. These rewards range from your name in the 2015 ABS Festival & Academy program ($25), admission to a rehearsal for Bach’s Mass in B Minor in August ($250), or an invitation to the Festival opening night reception where you will meet the musicians of ABS and the 2015 Academy class ($1,000). Pledge today!

Digital Bach: Essential Online Resources

Johann Sebastian Bach by Haussmann

Johann Sebastian Bach by Haussmann

We are glad that so many ABS supporters were able to attend our January double-bill of Handel’s Acis and Galatea and Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4. Next up is one of the greatest masterpieces of music, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, February 27-March 2. Bach’s musical setting of the Passion narrative as told by Matthew is epic in its proportions, deeply moving in its depiction of human suffering, sacrifice, and redemption; and the music is glorious!

Beginning with Felix Mendelssohn’s rediscovery and performance of the work in 1829 to the historically informed, and romantic interpretations that share the stage today, a venerable performance tradition surrounds this masterwork due to nearly two centuries of experience performing it, analysis, contemplation, and engagement.

Like any great masterpiece, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion rewards periodic revisiting and focused inquiry; the more you learn about it and experience it, the deeper and more fulfilling the work becomes for you. Below are a few essential online resources for researching Bach and one of the enduring examples of his genius. Happy surfing!

The Bach Digital Archive is an amazing resource for viewing Bach’s music in historic manuscripts. Want to see the original parts Bach wrote out for his musicians for the Good Friday performance of the St. Matthew Passion in 1736? The Bach Digital Archive has them along with the manuscript for the Mass in B Minor and many other works.

The Bach Cantatas website is another essential site; bookmark it immediately! Not only do they have the texts & translations for each cantata, but you will also find historical information about the composition of each work (including the oratorios and Passions) and a recorded history for each work (complete or in excerpts). The recordings are also searchable by work or by artist. When you need to know what Bach arias were recorded by Marian Anderson, this is the place to go!

In 2008, National Public Radio created a curated tour of the work with an excellent cast of experts including tenor Ian Bostridge, Ton Koopman, Joshua Rifkin, and others. The 50 minute St. Matthew Passion primer was launched again in 2014. Listen here.

Of course, Wikipedia is always a handy go-to resource for Bach biography and information about individual works.

If you are looking for books and articles about Bach, try the Bach Bibliography. If you navigate to it through a search engine, use the words “bach tomita.”

The American Bach Society publishes an esteemed journal of Bach scholarship titled Bach Perspectives. Their site is a hub for all-things Bach on the web.

There are many more Bach sites that are valuable to lovers of his music and to curious minds. If you have a favorite, please share it with us on our ABS Facebook page.

Tickets for the February 27-March 2 presentations of St. Matthew Passion are available here.

ABS Academy Application Deadline: Monday, February 16

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 11.28.15 AM

The deadline for applying to the 2015 ABS Academy is coming up—all applications are due Monday, February 16, 2015. The Academy is an outstanding opportunity for study, training, and performance of Baroque music and historically informed performance practice. This year’s Academy will be August 3-16, 2015.

Admission to the Academy is through competitive application. Candidates must submit materials including 2 letters of recommendation, audio recordings (audition repertory guidelines here), and pay a $35 application fee. All application materials are submitted online. For more information, visit our Academy page.

Begun in 2010, the Academy has been preparing 50-60 musicians each summer for professions in early music. Our graduates have gone on to lead extraordinary careers all over the world and many have performed with American Bach Soloists since completing the program.

In December 2014, 21 past Academy graduates performed as members of the orchestra and chorus for ABS’s performances of Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral, the Mondavi Center, and Green Music Center.

2014 Academy low res

Front row
Gabriela Estephanie Solis (alto), Lindsey Strand-Polyak (violin), Jason Pyszkowski (viola), Vijay Chalasani (viola), Jessica Powell Eig (contrabass), Clio Tilton (viola), Tatiana Chulochnikova (violin).

Back row
Andrew McIntosh (violin), Laura Gaynon (violoncello), Gretchen Claassen (violoncello), Andres Vera (violoncello), Ramón Negrón Pérez (viola), Jude Ziliak (violin, principal 2nd)

[Not pictured: Karin Cuellar (violin), Mishkar Núñez-Mejía (violin), Dan Cromeenes (countertenor), William Sauerland (countertenor), Mark Bonney (tenor), and vocal soloists Eric Jurenas (countertenor), Kyle Stegall (tenor), and Jon Lee Keenan (tenor).]


Giant Steps – Catching up with Mischa Bouvier

Baritone Mischa Bouvier is no stranger to fans of ABS. A participant in the 2010 inaugural class of the American Bach Soloists Academy, the charismatic soloist has performed with ABS on many memorable occasions since. He returns January 23-26 to sing the role of the murderous giant Polyphemus in Handel’s Acis and Galatea. His commentary on preparation, singing Handel, and throwing rocks at shepherds concludes our conversations (Nola Richardson, Kyle Stegall, and Zachary Wilder) with the Acis cast. Do not miss the chance to hear these spectacular artists perform in one of Handel’s most splendid works!

BOUVIERIn recent seasons, ABS fans have heard you perform in Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral and as Apollo in the composer’s secular cantata Apollo & Dafne. How does  the role of Polyphemus in Acis and Galatea differ from other Handel assignments? Does Polyphemus involve different preparations?

Well, it’s my first time playing a giant cyclops, so I’ve been singing with one eye closed to gain perspective. But basically my preparation for the role of Polyphemus is no different than it would be for probably any other Handel role. I pay special attention to the fast parts and the low parts … the fast parts so I can make sure I’m flexible in the event that my chosen tempo isn’t also the choice of the conductor, and the low parts because we’re performing at 415 [vibrations per second; a low Baroque tuning]. And, of course, I always, always focus on the text.

Acis and Galatea is one of Handel’s most enduring and popular operatic works. What do you think attracts listeners to this work? As an artist, what do you find most rewarding about it?

Acis and Galatea has endured because it’s an accessible and entertaining story. Most of us can relate to its themes of love, passion, and jealousy (though I’d like to think most of us would not kill our rival with a big rock). And musically, the work offers something for every ear. There are moments of melancholy, elegance, simplicity, etc., and also a variety of the prevailing styles of the time. And, of course, there’s that amazing trio (“The flocks shall leave the mountains”) which sounds almost Mozartian.

Compared with other Baroque composers like Bach, Scarlatti, or Purcell, are there features of Handel’s works that make performing them especially thrilling or challenging? 

Some of Handel’s writing is challenging in terms of range. For instance, the character of Lucifer in La Resurrezione, which I sang for the first time as a participant in the inaugural class of the ACADEMY, requires a range of over two octaves (F#–g’). And in Acis, Handel writes a particularly excellent opening accompanied recitative for Polyphemus, “I rage, I melt, I burn!” He launches the movement with a bit of that wonderful Handelian coloratura on the word “rage.” It starts quite low, but quickly rises to the top of the singer’s range. It’s total text painting, and totally difficult to sing (like the opening bit for bass on the words “…and I will shake” in Messiah).

Are there any composers whose works you would like to delve into more? Dream projects?

Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder. Or Rameau’s Thétis. Mozart’s Papageno. Or almost any American song premiere. Or the bits of Ravel I haven’t already sung. Or one of the Schubert cycles (!). Or Billy Budd. And there’s always room for some crossover rep (Emile, Fred, Marius …). Oh, and Grieg!


Meet Damon – An Interview with Zachary Wilder

As we continue getting to know the Acis and Galatea cast a little better (previous interviews with Nola Richardson and Kyle Stegall), we now introduce tenor Zachary Wilder. Mr. Wilder makes his ABS debut as Damon in Handel’s pastoral, January 23-26. His views on the work and making a career as an American opera singer based in Paris, France, are below.

Zachary Wilder

Zachary Wilder

Tell us about Damon’s role in Acis and Galatea? What musical challenges does Handel create for this role?

Damon really serves as the voice of reason in this work, cautioning both Acis and Polyphemus against making poor decisions in the heat of passion or anger. What makes Damon challenging, but also very interesting, is that Handel really asks of you to listen very carefully to what is going on around you all of the time. Each time Damon sings, he is offering a contrasting color in response to the aria that just came before; so you have to really pay attention to your colleagues. Also, two of Damon’s arias are in “call and response” with the instrumental lines (violin in “Would you gain the tender creature” and oboe in “Consider, fond shepherd”), so there is quite a lot to think about and listen for!

Acis and Galatea is one of Handel’s most enduring and popular operatic works. What do you think attracts listeners to it? As an artist, what do you find most rewarding about it?

That’s true! I think Handel was particularly inspired when he first got to England. He really tapped into the beautiful, melancholic tunefulness of the English music tradition there, which makes the work very touching and appealing. But I think what makes the work so exciting is the mixing of French, English, and Italian styles that Handel brought to it, bringing together the best elements of each to make something quite different and incredibly compelling.

You are an accomplished performer in staged Baroque operas. Any favorite roles or productions that you have performed in?

That’s a tough choice! I’d have to say Grimoaldo in Handel’s Rodelinda, as well as singing the role of Mercury in this real gem of an opera by Gioseffo Zamponi: Ulisse all’Isola di Circé. The battle scene with Venus was a blast and I got to dance in that production!

This year, I’m very much looking forward to singing Septimius in Handel’s Theodora as well as partaking in Boston Early Music Festival’s productions of Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno D’Ulisse in Patria as Telemaco and L’Incoronazione di Poppea as Lucano.

As an American musician living in Paris, do you observe any significant differences among French and American audiences for Baroque music?

Oh gosh, you’re going to get me in trouble … It really depends on where in France, but in general the French have the benefit of a very rich education in their own cultural heritage. Lully, Charpentier, Rameau, and Cavalli all performed and premiered many of their works just a few miles west of Paris in Versailles. So while the French are very proud, they are also very possessive and are not afraid to tell you what they did or didn’t like about your interpretation. American Baroque audiences also hold performers to a very high standard, but they don’t come with the same cultural baggage, so are generally much more open to new sound experiences.

Will this be your first visit to Northern California? Besides singing with ABS, what do you look forward to doing while you are here?

I’m actually a native Californian (though a Los Angelino … shh, don’t tell anyone), so I’m really very excited to be singing in my home state as I miss it very much. I’ve been to San Francisco and the surrounding areas quite a few times and am always in awe of the richness of the surrounding geography, mid-century architecture, food culture, and arts scene. I’ll probably try to go to the MOMA, take many walks, and make sure to indulge in as much Cali-Mex food as possible before returning to the other side of the Atlantic.

Unfortunately the SFMOMA will still be closed for renovation while you are here. Anywhere else?

Oh no! That’s a shame to hear, but it encourages me to explore some new things in San Francisco. I’m a big fan of contemporary art, but also anything sort of Wunderkammer-like. The Museum of Craft and Design looks like it’s up my alley and will be opening up their new exhibits just before I get into town. The Sarah Winchester House in San Jose is something I’ve always wanted to see, but it may be too far. However, the Burlingame Museum of Pez Dispensers (and Banned Toys) looks “very” promising.


Acis Access – ABS talks with tenor Kyle Stegall

After catching up with our Galatea, Nola Richardson, we also had the opportunity to speak with tenor Kyle Stegall, who will perform the role of the shepherd Acis, the other half of Handel’s “Happy We” couple.

Kyle Stegall Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

Kyle Stegall
Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

Last month thousands of ABS fans heard you in Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral and the Green Music Center. What are the differences between Messiah and Acis and Galatea? Does your preparation differ for these Handelian assignments?

The more time I spend with Handel’s music, the more I appreciate it for its ability to dramatically reveal the various passions and involvements of the human spirit. Last month I had the great pleasure of performing Handel’s Messiah with ABS. Handel’s treatment of text for any aria in secular or sacred context focuses on making the story at hand relatable to anybody hearing it by highlighting the human nature within. My preparation vocally is much the same: careful consideration for how my melodic line is to fit into the greater musical context. In Acis, rather than focusing my energies on the birth and passion of Christ, and on the biblical words that relate the comfort, desperation, and victory we find in that narrative, I instead focus on expressing the universal human experience of unyielding love for another.

Acis and Galatea is one of Handel’s most enduring and popular operatic works. What do you think attracts listeners to this work? As an artist, what do you find most rewarding about it?

This piece is great, with music full of contrast and elegance that raises this pastoral beyond a simple play about nymphs, giants, and innocent love. Handel’s masterful and imaginative writing makes this an experience for both the audience and myself, which frees us to unabashedly explore the joy, jealousy, and impulsiveness of love.

Compared with other Baroque composers like Bach, Scarlatti, or Purcell, are there apects of Handel’s works that make performing them especially thrilling or challenging?

I have been blessed to spend much of my career so far with these great masters. Each of them offers a slightly different approach to the vocal line and to its interaction with the text. In addition to being highly dramatic, Handel’s music is rather kinetic in nature, always inviting the singer to give over to the dance rhythms on which much of the music is built. I find this so stirring and inspiring as an artist.

Are there any composers whose works you would like to delve into more? Dream projects?

I have been studying the Passions of Bach, and wish very much to continue learning about his music and about the Passion story through performing the Evangelists. I made my debut at Lincoln Center as the Evangelist in the St. John Passion, and feel I have only scratched the surface of this striking repertoire. I look forward to devoting much of my energy and artistry to the development of these roles with mentors such as Maestro Thomas.


Galatea Speaks – An interview with soprano Nola Richardson

ABS’s 26th subscription season opens this month with a mixed bill of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 and Handel’s Acis and Galatea performed January 23-26 in three Bay Area venues and in Davis. Taking on the title role of Galatea in Handel’s gorgeous pastoral is soprano Nola Richardson. We took a moment to speak with Ms Richardson about the role and the challenges of singing Handel.

Nola Richardson Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

Nola Richardson
Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

Many ABS fans heard you as an Academy participant at ABS’s 2013 San Francisco Summer Bach Festival where you were a soloist in Handel’s Esther, Biber’s Missa Salisburgensis, and Bach’s Mass in B Minor. Where have your musical journeys taken you since?

Since 2013 I’ve sung a lot more Bach! I performed the Mass in B Minor again with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, and the St. John Passion with Bach in Baltimore. I also sang Cantata 51 (Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen) with the Bach Sinfonia in DC and again along with Scarlatti’s “Su le Sponde del Tebro” in my debut with the Baltimore Symphony last summer. I am now attending Yale’s Institute for Sacred Music, a program focused on Early Music and concert repertoire. I’ve been kept very busy there with lots of stunning repertoire including Charpentier, Zelenka, and music of the English Restoration period.

Acis and Galatea is one of Handel’s most enduring and popular operatic works. What do you think attracts listeners to this work? As an artist, what do you find most rewarding in performing it?

Well, certainly what attracts me to it is the fact that the arias are exquisitely beautiful! I also think that the smaller scope of the work, and the English text have allowed it to remain very approachable. I love the intimacy of the text and music and I feel it gives a lot of opportunities for a singer to be delicate and subtle which you don’t always get in larger operatic works!

Compared with other Baroque composers like Bach, Scarlatti, or Purcell, are there features of Handel’s music that make singing it especially thrilling or challenging?

Handel gives the singer a great deal of freedom, probably because of the caliber of singers he was working with. In order to sing Handel really well, singers have to be willing to make lots of decisions, as opposed to Bach which is generally much more elaborate and harmonically complex. The ornaments and phrasing in Handel’s music need to be unique and reflective of each individual’s abilities and natural sense of expression.

After studying with Jeffrey Thomas at the ABS Academy, what are you looking forward to in working with him again in Acis and Galatea?

I am thrilled to work with Jeffrey again! I learned so much from him about shaping phrases and the elements of Baroque articulation. I know Jeffrey will shape this piece beautifully and it will be lovely to sing with the orchestra under his guidance!

Are there any composers whose works you would like to delve into more? Dream projects?

I absolutely love French Baroque music, so I hope to get the chance to sing more Rameau, Lully, Charpentier, Couperin etc. I also want to sing a lot more Baroque opera. Dream roles include Poppea, Cleopatra, and Semele. In general any Baroque is just wonderful in my book! But I’m also a sucker for Mozart, Schubert, Barber, Argento–really, I’m just tickled about most of the pieces I get to sing!