ABS Free Master Class at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, January 19

Steven Lehning

Steven Lehning

ABS continues its collaboration with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on Monday, January 19 at 7:30 p.m. when violone player Steven Lehning leads a public master class on performing basso continuo. Mr. Lehning, who has performed with ABS since their first concerts and also serves as the company’s artistic administrator, librarian, and all around wellspring of knowledge and expertise, will coach the Conservatory’s finest in the art of Baroque group accompaniment.

The continuo instruments are the low strings and keyboard instruments that provide a coordinated support and harmonic foundation in much of the Baroque repertoire. Groups of Conservatory violoncellists, harpsichordists, and bassists will work with Mr. Lehning on techniques of listening, realizing accompaniments, and working together to form the ideal “Baroque sound.”

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

ABS performs Handel’s Messiah

American Bach Soloists annual performances of Handel’s Messiah are an eagerly anticipated part of the musical year for many Bay Area music lovers. This year, ABS thrilled audiences in three of Northern California’s most picturesque and ideal venues, Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, the Mondavi Center in Davis, and the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University. With 5 performances of the masterpiece in 7 days, approximately 5,600 people heard ABS’s magnificent performances.

At the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts:

Jeffrey Thomas directs ABS at the Mondavi Center on December 14.

Jeffrey Thomas directs ABS at the Mondavi Center on December 14.

At Grace Cathedral in San Francisco:

Sold out performances in Grace Cathedral were filmed for future release.

Sold out performances in Grace Cathedral were filmed for future release.

At The Green Music Center at Sonoma State University:

Audience on their feet for the Hallelujah chorus at the Green Music Center.

Audience on their feet for the Hallelujah chorus at the Green Music Center.

Thank you to all who came out to hear ABS’s 2014 Messiah. It was a fabulous run with glorious music, outstanding artists, and one of the greatest Handel interpreters around, Maestro Jeffrey Thomas!

Next up: Handel’s Acis and Galatea and Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, January 23-26, 2015. For tickets and more information, visit our website.

ABS presentations of Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral underway

Following performances at the Mondavi Center in Davis on Sunday and last night’s performance at Grace Cathedral, ABS’s 2014 performances of Handel’s Messiah are officially underway! If the ovation after Tuesday’s performance is any indication, Jeffrey Thomas and his outstanding ABS forces have once again touched audiences to the core with their annual performances of this musical masterpiece.

ABS rehearsal in Grace Cathedral.

ABS rehearsal in Grace Cathedral.

Reserved seating is SOLD OUT for the remaining performances at Grace Cathedral on Thursday and Friday, but general admission tickets are available at $15 each. These tickets may be purchased through the website or in person at the Cathedral beginning one hour before each concert. For more information, please visit our website.

ABS rehearsal in Grace Cathedral.

A break during rehearsal.

It’s not too late to catch the magical combination of ABS, Messiah, and Grace Cathedral – join us for this unforgettable experience!

General Admission seats now on sale for Messiah at Grace Cathedral

ABS in Grace Cathedral by Ken HowardDue to the heavy demand for tickets to this year’s performances of Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral, general admission (GA) seating has been opened for the December 18 & 19 performances. The GA seating areas are on the left and right sides of the cathedral’s main nave area as well as the south transept (near the chapel on the California Street side). GA seats are $15 and available through the website, the ABS office, and—pending availability—at the performances. The seating area on each night will open at 7:00 p.m., so if you have a GA ticket come early for the best seats.

NOTE: Many GA seats have an obstructed view of the performers. The sound in these sections is terrific and the experience of music, performance, and locale rewarding. Being there is the key!

A limited number of reserved seats are available for Tuesday, December 16, and Thursday, December 18, but they are going fast. Visit americanbach.org or call the ABS office at (415) 621-7900 to check availability or purchase tickets. Reserved seating for Friday, December 19 is SOLD OUT.

Don’t miss ABS performing Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral. This year’s performances will be recorded live in high definition video, so come and be a part of history!

The Foundling Hospital Version of Handel’s Messiah

This month ABS returns to Grace Cathedral to present its annual performances of Handel’s enduring masterpiece, Messiah. Over the sixteen year tradition of performing the work annually in the Cathedral, Jeffrey Thomas and ABS have presented several versions of the work that Handel prepared and conducted during his lifetime. Between the work’s premiere in 1742 and the composer’s death in 1759, Handel treated the overall form of his Messiah with a measured flexibility and some 10 versions are known to exist. The versions differ mostly in how music is allocated among the four soloists. It may be hard to imagine today, but when Messiah was a new work Handel reworked it to accommodate the capabilities of his musicians and, in the case of a few star singers, to exploit the extraordinary talents of his performers.

Gaetano Guadagni (1728-1792)

Gaetano Guadagni (1728-1792)

For this year’s performances, Thomas will lead the musicians of ABS in the Foundling Hospital Version of 1753. First presented eleven years after the work’s premiere in Dublin, this version was performed at the dedication of the new Chapel in London’s Foundling Hospital. The engagement of the famous Italian castrato Gaetano Guadagni as one of the soloists for the occasion influenced Handel’s preparation of the score. When listening to ABS’s performances, keep in mind that the alto part, which will be sung by countertenor Eric Jurenas, was adapted to showcase the technique of one of the great international singing stars of the mid-eighteenth century. Handel reassigned the bass aria “But who may abide” to Guadagni and composed a new, much more ornate B section in which the singer could astound with an exhibition of his technique. Befitting Guadagni’s reputation and the audience expectation that the biggest star would sing the last aria, Handel also assigned him “If God be for us.” Handel’s other soloists for the dedicatory performance–soprano Giulia Frasi, tenor John Beard, and bass Robert Wass–were all experienced singers who had performed with the composer on earlier occasions. In fact, Beard was Handel’s tenor soloist in Messiah at the work’s 1743 London premiere performance at Covent Garden.

Handel’s Foundling Hospital Anthem

Years before the 1753 performance of Messiah, Handel directed a program of celebratory works in the still unfinished chapel. Along with compositions that are today chestnuts of the Baroque repertory like Fireworks Music and excerpts from the oratorio Solomon, Handel included a new work, Foundling Hospital Anthem. This sacred work which employs a boychoir is well-suited to liturgical purposes, but is rarely performed today in concerts. Its message of charity and humanity, however resonate powerfully in other compositions by Handel, especially his Messiah. Listen to an excerpt from Handel’s Anthem here.

A Home for Abandoned Children

Foundling Hospital

Foundling Hospital

The Foundling Hospital was created by merchant and philanthropist Thomas Coram during the 18th-Century rise in cosmopolitanism in London. Built over the course of more than a decade, the institution was a force for social welfare during a period of rapid urban growth in London which coincided with a dramatic rise in destitute families and abandoned children. The Hospital also stimulated public philanthropy among the upper classes who saw their fortunes increasing while a growing population of have-nots threatened to fall through the cracks. The Foundling Hospital served in its original capacity until the early years of the 20th century when there were efforts to move the operation out of the city and into to the countryside. A proposed university purchase of the buildings fell through and the campus was purchased by a developer in 1920 and soon thereafter razed.

Though Foundling Hospital no longer exists, the spirit of charity surrounding its founding and initial purpose live on in Handel’s compositions of the 1740s and 1750s.  Tickets for ABS’s 2014 performances of Messiah at Grace Cathedral are available here or by calling (415) 621-7900.

Meet the Messiah Soloists

“Rejoice greatly!” On December 16, 18, & 19 Jeffrey Thomas will lead three performances of Handel’s Messiah at San Francisco’s magnificent Grace Cathedral—a beloved annual tradition now entering its 16th year! These performances will be recorded live in high definition for future release. Tickets are going fast, but it’s not too late to reserve seats at this year’s event.

Along with this year’s highly anticipated appearances at the Cathedral, Maestro Thomas and ABS will also perform Handel’s masterpiece at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis on December 14 and the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park on December 21.

Lets meet the soloists: Mary Wilson (soprano), Eric Jurenas (countertenor), Wesley Rogers (tenor), and Jesse Blumberg (baritone).

What is your favorite music to listen to in your free time?

Mary Wilson, soprano

Mary Wilson, soprano

Mary Wilson: I like a great variety of music. I listen to a lot of choral music, and a lot of old rock. I’m a huge fan of Led Zeppelin, the Stones, U2, and Prince!

Eric Jurenas: I actually listen to classical music way too much—there’s just so much interesting stuff to check out. I tend to be obsessed with an album for weeks at a time. This year I found myself attached to Bach’s Orchestral Suites, John Adams’ works, and the Brahms German Requiem. Most recently I have not been able to escape Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde while exploring its history—it’s so fascinating to see how influential that opera was on all music everywhere! Of more popular genres, Tower of Power is on the top of the list. Jazz is also a favorite: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Keith Jarrett. I skip over most pop, but I love atmospheric music from groups like Hammock or Jon Hopkins. My plan is to keep listening.

Wesley Rogers: My favorite music to listen to in my free time is varied.  Right now I listen to Jason Isbell a lot. He is sort of alt/country. I’ve also been listening to Ben Howard and James Vincent McMorrow.

Jesse Blumberg: Free time, what’s that?  In truth, though, I’m not nearly the audiophile I wish I were.  If I had a car it’d be easier to find time to listen, but sometimes in a rental car I’ll just put on a pop radio station to zone out a bit.  At least then I’ll know “what the kids are into these days.”

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

Mary Wilson: SHOP!  Oy, I certainly help stimulate the local economy! I never take the time when I’m home and there just aren’t that many good places in Memphis so I shop when I’m on the road.

Eric Jurenas, countertenor

Eric Jurenas, countertenor

Eric Jurenas: Eating. There are so many fabulous restaurants in the city. I live in New York City and frequent many great restaurants, but San Francisco also has some incredible places. One area where San Francisco ultimately beats New York is the view of the city from afar; it is one of the most spectacular things I’ve seen.

Wesley Rogers: I really love Muir Woods. I always enjoy hanging out in Mill Valley and taking a trip to Stinson Beach.

Jesse Blumberg: It’s one of my favorite cities in the world, and I’m fortunate to get here a few times a year.  I’m sure I’ve missed some obvious touring spots, but lately I just try to explore and get down to the water somehow, whether it’s just coffee or a snack at the Ferry Building, or a ferry ride over to Marin. And when it’s Messiah time, I try to take the cable car up to Grace at least once—just seems like the most festive way to arrive!

What do you like most about performing Handel’s Messiah?

Mary Wilson: There is always something new. A harmony I’ve never heard before, the way another soloists will bring out a line of text, the joy and energy with which that AMAZING ABS choir sings—it’s always different. Each year I eagerly look forward to returning to my old friend—it’s just not December without it.

Eric Jurenas: I love the variety. As a singer, it allows me to show different aspects of my voice. There are dramatic moments as well as contained moments. Handel crafts it so well for each solo voice part.

Wesley Rogers, tenor

Wesley Rogers, tenor

Wesley Rogers: My favorite part about performing Messiah is being in the middle of those beautiful choruses. The Amen is almost overwhelmingly dramatic and beautiful and Jeffrey Thomas does an amazing job with his interpretation of it.

Jesse Blumberg: Singing bass arias in Messiah gives you lots of great challenges across a pretty wide range of vocal writing. It also gives you lots of time to sit back and listen to your colleagues making music, and those moments at ABS are some of my favorites every season. The singers and players Jeffrey assembles are truly some of the very best around. It’s always a pleasure to experience big chunks of Messiah as an audience member, only with the best seat in the house.

Besides Handel, what favorite composer or favorite piece of music do you like to sing?

Mary Wilson: I like to sing a lot of Mozart and Bach. I’m having a love affair with the Rossini Stabat Mater and Beethoven Missa Solemnis—they are such fun to sing!

Eric Jurenas: Let’s say besides Bach too, because that is the obvious first choice. Vivaldi and Purcell are also pretty high on the list, but I have a large attraction to German art song. I have fallen in love with Schubert Lieder as of late, which I used to find boring. Mendelssohn is largely ignored, which is a shame, and Brahms is irresistible. Brahms was such a terrible text setter and had no idea what he was doing with the voice, but his songs are still amazing. And of course, every now and again, I sing Beyoncé.

Wesley Rogers: I have always really enjoyed singing and working on Benjamin Britten. I would love to sing his War Requiem again.

Jesse Blumberg, baritone Photo: Arielle Doneson

Jesse Blumberg, baritone
Photo: Arielle Doneson

Jesse Blumberg: Tough question!  Other Handel favorites would have to include Apollo and Daphne, Dixit Dominus, and I loved the Birthday Ode for Queen Anne that we did at ABS a few years back.  I just toured a Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 for three weeks, and that’s a piece that could never get old even after 11 performances.  Life without Bach and Mozart is pretty unthinkable, of course, but as a self-identifying Lieder geek, I certainly couldn’t do without Schubert, Schumann, and Wolf. I’d better stop here!

Hear ABS perform Messiah this December live. Tickets are available online or by calling (415) 621-7900.

2015 ABS Academy Applications Now Accepting Applications

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An Advanced Training Program for
Emerging Professionals and Accomplished Students
of Historically Informed Performance Practice

August 3-16, 2015
Now accepting applications
Deadline: FEBRUARY 16, 2015

The AMERICAN BACH SOLOISTS ACADEMY is an advanced training program for emerging professionals and accomplished students of historically informed performance practice. The ACADEMY offers unique opportunities to study and perform Baroque music in a multi-disciplinary learning environment with the distinguished roster of the American Bach Soloists—named “the best American specialists in early music” by The Washington Post— gaining the perspectives of eminent and highly acclaimed professional artists from a variety of disciplines. In addition to in-depth coachings and technical studies with masters of their particular instruments, string players, wind and brass players, continuo and keyboard players, and singers work together with all faculty members.

Each day during the multi-week program, students will work in a master class environment with their teachers, rehearse ensemble works in collaboration with their new colleagues, and prepare for chamber performances and large-scale productions in which ACADEMY participants perform along with the faculty, working side-by-side. Most afternoons include presentations by faculty members on a variety of relevant topics including performance practice, Baroque studies, and historical contexts. Additionally, forums are offered on topics such as career development, recording and technology skills, and tuning and temperaments.

2014 Academy Faculty and participants.

2014 Academy Faculty and participants.

The ACADEMY is held in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s exquisite facilities in the heart of the city’s arts district, offering state-of-the-art performance halls, classrooms, practice rooms, and teaching studios. During the course of the program, students and faculty present public concerts including Chamber Series programs, “Academy-in-Action” concerts, concert-version Baroque opera or oratorio, and annual performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor. Additional ACADEMY events include colloquia, public lectures and master classes, and special performances including the Distinguished Artist Series.

Read the 2014 ABS Academy daily blog

Our new Academy Auditor Affiliates program is open to directors of early music ensembles, workshop organizers, and early music educators, academics, and administrators. Auditor Affiliates have full access to all Academy activities and performances, and also participate in roundtable sessions to compare notes with fellow auditors, ask questions of Academy Faculty, and Q&A with the Academy directors to address all queries about recruitment, scheduling, and implementation of a program of this scale. More information available here.

2015 Faculty

Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin & viola
Max van Egmond, voice
Corey Jamason, harpsichord
Steven Lehning, violone & contrabass
Judith Malafronte, voice
Robert Mealy, violin & viola
Sandra Miller, flute
Debra Nagy, oboe & recorder
William Sharp, voice
Kenneth Slowik, viola da gamba & violoncello
William Skeen, violoncello
Dominic Teresi, bassoon
John Thiessen, trumpet
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor


ABS presents “Sing with Haiti” benefit concert at Grace Cathedral

The Chapel candles were lit for the first time in 20 years for the concert

The Chapel candles were lit for the first time in 20 years for the concert

On the evening of October 29 within the beautiful candle-lit chapel of Grace Cathedral, Jeffrey Thomas led an ensemble of ABS musicians in a special concert for “Sing with Haiti.” Hosted by Bishop Marc Andrus and Owsley Brown, III, the concert and reception was an event to thank the donors and supporters of this outstanding charitable organization. Born in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that destroyed the Holy Trinity Music School along with most of Port-au-Prince in 2010, “Sing With Haiti” is an organization devoted to restoring music education and its positive effects to the people of Haiti.

Sing With Haiti

Sing With Haiti

ABS Executive Director Don Scott Carpenter said, “Last fall, I received a call from The Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus asking American Bach Soloists to take part in the “Sing with Haiti” event that the Cathedral was hosting. It was a star-studded evening of musicians from the opera world including emcee Deborah Voigt and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and tenor Nicholas Phan, as well as local choral groups, and the Cathedral’s Choir of Men and Boys. Jeffrey and I were pleased to donate, on behalf of ABS, a private concert in the Chapel of Grace to the event’s live auction which was held in the Fairmont Hotel immediately following the concert. The October 29, 2014 concert is this donation, and we couldn’t be more pleased to thank so many of the donors who are supporting music education in Haiti.”

The musical program for the evening was an outstanding one:

Telemann: Ouverture a 7 in D Major
Vivaldi: Concerto in D Major for Flute and Strings (“The Goldfinch”)
Scarlatti: Salve Regina
J.S. Bach: Sonata in G Major for Flute, Viola da gamba, and Basso continuo, BWV 1027/1039
Handel: “O Lord whose mercies numberless” from Saul
J.S. Bach: “Kommt, ihr angefochtnen Sünder” from Freue dich, erlöste Schar, BWV 30

Jeffrey Thomas and the members of ABS take a bow.

Jeffrey Thomas and the members of ABS take a bow.

The ABS ensemble was:

Jeffrey Thomas, conductor
Ian Howell, countertenor
Christopher Matthews, flute
Katherine Kyme, violin
Noah Strick, violin
Clio Tilton, viola
Gretchen Claassen, violoncello
William Skeen, viola da gamba
Steven Lehning, contrabass
Michael Peterson, organ & harpsichord

The music of Bach and his contemporaries was performed at the highest level for a wonderful cause at this memorable event.

To learn more about “Sing With Haiti” or to watch an inspiring video about the program and the young music students in Haiti, please visit the organization’s website.

ABS returns to Grace Cathedral on December 16, 18, & 19 to perform Handel’s Messiah. Tickets for the event are going fast, but great seats are still available.

Jeffrey Thomas to give lecture and master class at Eastman School of Music

Jeffrey Thomas Photo: Gene Kosoy

Jeffrey Thomas
Photo: Gene Kosoy

Next month, ABS Artistic and Music Director Jeffrey Thomas will be heading to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Invited to give a lecture on Handel’s Messiah and to work with student conductors and singers on Bach interpretation, Maestro Thomas will be in residence at Eastman November 10 and 11.

Eastman’s Voice and Opera Department faculty member, Kathryn Cowdrick was instrumental in orchestrating the visit. She and Thomas have been friends and colleagues for many years, and their musical journeys have had many parallels. Cowdrick said of the upcoming visit:

The Voice and Opera department of the Eastman School of Music is thrilled to have Jeffrey Thomas visit us this November. This past year, our choral department has been presenting Bach cantatas and our young conductors, soloists and orchestras have enjoyed working together on these great, rarely performed works. It occurred to me that the perfect person to come visit might be a beloved friend of mine from the past.

Jeff and I both grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania. We both stood at the same bus stop during elementary school and later reaped the benefits of a culturally rich music community in high school choral organizations. We both went to NYC to study–me as a speech pathologist and he, after Oberlin, to attend Juilliard.
 A few years later we were both in the opera department there and then followed similar paths to the San Francisco Opera where I too was fortunate enough to gain an Adler fellowship and begin my career. Jeff was always such a gifted young organist, soloist, and conductor–always creating new performance opportunities in a leadership role.

Eastman School of Music

Eastman School of Music

I am so excited about Jeff’s work with American Bach Soloists and that he will be coming to Eastman to meet our students. Our department is dedicated to not only opera performance but also to the joys students find in collaborative work, oratorio, and lieder. I would have to add that sometimes those collaborations arise with people we met almost 50 years ago in the neighborhood. We are looking forward to his presentation about Messiah and seeing him help our young singers in a master class on preparing Bach arias and ornamentation.”

In 2015, Maestro Thomas and other members of ABS will also be presenting master classes at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. For more information about these exciting opportunities to hear ABS artists work with talented, young Bay Area musicians please visit our website.

Meet Emma Gavenda, ABS’s new Operations Associate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bach and his Times

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

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

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

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

Handel, Vivaldi, and Leo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Costello directing the Sächsisches Barockorchester.

Michael Costello directing the Sächsisches Barockorchester.

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

Running my aria with the orchestra.

Running my aria with the orchestra.

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

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

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

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

The portative organ is adorned with Bach’s crest.

The portative organ is adorned with Bach’s crest.

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

Looking eastward from the choir loft.

Looking eastward from the choir loft.

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

Derek Chester, tenor

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking westward toward the choir loft and Sauer organ.

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

The Thomaskirche interior, looking eastward toward the altar.

The south gallery.

The south gallery.

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

The famous “Bach Window.”


Chancel, altar, and Bach’s grave

Chancel, altar, and Bach’s grave

The Sauer organ above the choir loft.

The Sauer organ console.

The Sauer organ above the choir loft.

The Sauer organ above the choir loft.

The “Bach Organ” in the north gallery.

The “Bach Organ” console.

The “Bach Organ” in the north gallery.

The “Bach Organ” in the north gallery.






































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

Sensational Gala

ABS annual gala, A Red Carpet Evening.

ABS annual gala, A Red Carpet Evening.

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

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

Tatiana Chulochnikova playing Bach's Partita no. 3

Tatiana Chulochnikova playing Bach’s Partita no. 3

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

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

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

2014-15 Single Tickets on sale now

Messiah in Grace Cathedral Photo: Ken Howard

Messiah in Grace Cathedral
Photo: Ken Howard

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

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

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

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

Coming up: The annual ABS Gala, September 20

Win great items in the ABS silent auction

Win great items in the ABS silent auction

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

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

Tatiana Chulochnikova, violin

Tatiana Chulochnikova, violin

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

Casa Piazza in Manzanillo, Mexico.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 ABS Festival Theme Announced

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

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

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

Interview with Mary Wilson

Mary Wilson at Belvedere's Old St. Hilary's ChurchSoprano Mary Wilson is no stranger to American Bach Soloists audiences. Since her 2003 debut with ABS in Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral, she has thrilled concertgoers with her dazzling performances of some of the most challenging and exciting vocal works of the Baroque era. Ms Wilson will return this summer as the Distinguished Artist for the 2014 ABS Festival & Academy and will appear, along with countertenor Eric Jurenas, as a soloist in Bach’s transcription of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater at the opening night concert, “Bach’s Inspiration – Part I” on July 11. As the 2014 Distinguished Artist, she will also be featured in an extraordinary program dedicated to exhibiting her unique talents and artistry on July 19. Following the concert, Ms Wilson will sign copies of her critically acclaimed debut CD with American Bach Soloists, “Mary Wilson Sings Handel.”

How did you get started in music?

My parents are both music teachers, so I knew my musical notes basically before my ABCs. I studied flute and piano leading into college and decided to get a vocal performance degree; I wanted to be a back up and commercial singer. I went to St. Olaf College in order to sing with their world famous choir. It was fabulous!  The more I studied vocal music, the more I was hooked and wanted to keep learning and discovering.

How did St. Olaf prepare you for your career?

Soprano Mary Wilson

St. Olaf taught me to love performing. I’ve always loved being on a stage, but I learned to serve the music and try to communicate something to an audience. People come to concerts to be moved and to experience something. Our job is to say something, not just make a pretty noise. We have to make things personal and unique.

How did you learn about ABS and Jeffrey Thomas?

In discovering this repertoire, I acquired a bunch of ABS CDs and was always a huge fan of ABS! I watched who was getting the solo work and saw that I knew some of them and had sung with them. It just became this obsessive pursuit to try and work with ABS. I am pretty sure Jeffrey Thomas gave me my first job just to shut me up!  I relentlessly pursued him to get an audition and give me a chance. I remember turning around after hearing the choir for the first time and telling Jeffrey I’m going to get fired because everyone was so amazing!

What do you like most about performing with ABS?

I love that everyone is so involved in the music. There are no egos to get in the way—everyone is there to serve the music and the talent is amazing. I am always so uplifted and inspired after spending time with ABS.

Are Bay Area early music fans different from those elsewhere?

The audience members are appreciative, but also knowledgeable. I always get a little nervous. I know they’ll be supportive, but they also know good quality and they expect it since that’s what they always get from ABS! It’s a grand challenge to try and keep that music-making level high and meet or even exceed expectations! On a personal note, since I’ve been lucky enough to be around for a while, I’ve gotten to know many audience members really well and consider them friends; some of them I consider family.

Who are your favorite composers and what are your favorite works?

Mary Wilson, soprano

I adore Handel and Bach … and Mozart, too! I love lots of different kinds of music … U2, Led Zeppelin, Prince, Barry Manilow.

I am in a very unique and strange position in the vocal world. In Mozart’s time I would have been a Donna Anna [in Don Giovanni] and a Fiordiligi [in Cosí fan tutte], but nowadays my voice would be considered to be too small. So strange. I am lucky in my career that I get to sing a broad range of rep. I work with a lot of period instrument orchestras and I’m always told my voice is so big and operatic and then when I work with a modern instrument orchestra I am told my voice is so sweet and little. It’s an interesting life straddling those two worlds!

Is there anything about Handel’s work that you find particularly satisfying to sing?

Handel has the greatest gift for illuminating and illustrating a text and, even more importantly, an emotion. I find Handel difficult and yet his music makes sense when you sit down and look at it!

I am so excited and thrilled that people like and are buying our Handel CD [American Bach Soloists: Mary Wilson Sings Handel]!  I was afraid only my mom would buy it! So THANK YOU to all the ABS supporters who have always been so amazingly kind and supportive. I am deeply grateful and overwhelmed.

Do you have a favorite movie?

WilsonMary-by-JacqueBrund2I haven’t seen a movie in a movie theater in a long time. I only get to see kids movies these days, but I can recite the entire Lego Movie. I am currently binge watching Game of Thrones and loving it!

What books have you recently enjoyed?

I just finished Natchez Burning by Greg Iles. Love his books! I just finished the Divergent Trilogy and am now reading some of the David Baldacci’s King and Maxwell books. I like escapism!

Do you utilize Social Media to stay in touch with audiences?

That makes me laugh! I am a Facebook addict and stay in touch with people and friends from all overthe world. I’m that annoying mom posting about my 6 year old son and 2dogs!