Congratulations to ABS Academy Alumnus ARYEH NUSSBAUM-COHEN on winning Metropolitan Opera National Council Finals 2017

Aryeh Nussbaum-Cohen

We are thrilled to let you know that countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum-Cohen, a participant in the 2015 ABS Academy, has been named a Winner in the 2017 Metropolitan Opera National Council Finals held today in New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House. The Grand Finals Concert was hosted by Renée Fleming, a 1988 National Council Winner, and featured Nicola Luisotti conducting the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra as each finalist performed two arias. 

Praised by the San Francisco Chronicle as a “vocal powerhouse” and for the “expressive depth” of his singing, and acclaimed for his “soaring, otherworldly voice” by the Houston Chronicle, Aryeh Nussbaum-Cohen is quickly making his mark in the worlds of opera and early music. In his breakout 2016-2017 season, in addition to being named a Grand Finals Winner (as well as being named the Audience Choice Award Winner in the Eastern Region) in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, he is the First Prize Winner in the Houston Grand Opera Eleanor McCollum Competition, and winner of the Irvin Scherzer Award as a Finalist in the George London Foundation Competition. His season also includes concerts with the Newberry Consort in Chicago and Operamission in New York City. In the summer of 2016, Aryeh participated in the Merola Opera Program at San Francisco Opera, and in the summer of 2017, Aryeh will join Wolf Trap Opera as a Studio Artist.

In the 2017-2018 season, he joins the Houston Grand Opera Studio, as the first countertenor in the Studio’s history, where he will sing Nireno in Handel’s Giulio Cesare and Maid in Strauss’ Elektra. He will also join American Bach Soloists for our 20th annual performances of Handel’s Messiah in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. Upon hearing the news of Aryeh’s Met Grand Finals win, ABS Music Director Jeffrey Thomas happily recounted working with Aryeh in August, 2015:

“His singing of the Agnus Dei in Bach’s Mass in B Minor was unforgettable, so heartfelt, beautiful, and moving. It was tremendously exciting to work with such a young artist with immeasurable talent. Our Academy voice faculty were equally thrilled, and I am overjoyed that our audiences will hear this phenomenal vocalist during our December 2017 performances of Handel’s Messiah in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral and at the Robert & Margrit Mondavi Center for the Arts at UC Davis.”  

Aryeh Nussbaum-Cohen

Aryeh made his European debut at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, Austria, singing the primo uomo role of Timante in Gluck’s Demofonte with baroque ensemble Il Complesso Barocco, under the baton of maestro Alan Curtis.

His opera roles also include Nerone in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, Raphael (The Angel) in Jonathan Dove’s Tobias and the Angel, and Cefalo in Cavalli’s Gli Amori di Apollo e Dafne. Further, Aryeh has significant experience in the world of sacred music – highlights include serving as the alto soloist in a performance of the Bach Magnificat with the Leipzig Barockorchester in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Germany. During his senior year at Princeton University, Aryeh became the first singer to win the Princeton University Concerto Competition in a decade.

Currently residing in New York City, he received his BA in 2015 from Princeton University, where he majored in History (with a concentration in Intellectual and Cultural History) and received certificates in Vocal Performance and Judaic Studies. Upon graduating, he was awarded Princeton’s Isidore and Helen Sacks Memorial Prize for extraordinary achievement in the arts, granted each year to the student of greatest promise in the performance of classical music. He has spent extended time studying with ABS Academy faculty member Max van Egmond in Amsterdam, and he currently studies with Dr. Robert C. White, Jr. in New York. 

For more information, please visit Aryeh’s website:

ABS Festival & Academy wrap-up

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

August 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

Welcome reception at the end of first day.

Welcome reception at the end of first day.

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

August 7, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 9, 2015

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

Julianna Emanski, soprano

Julianna Emanski, soprano

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

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

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

Julianna Emanski

August 10, 2015

Mass in B Minor rehearsal with Jeffrey Thomas conducting.

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

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

Louie Eckhardt, trumpet

Louie Eckhardt, trumpet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louie Eckhardt
August 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

Grace Srinivasan, soprano (and friends)

Grace Srinivasan, soprano (and friends)

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

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

Grace Srinivasan

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

Interview with ABS soprano, Kathryn Mueller

Kathryn Mueller, soprano

Kathryn Mueller, soprano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baroque trumpeter John Thiessen

Baroque trumpeter John Thiessen

On Saturday, August 15, the Distinguished Artist for the 2015 ABS Festival & Academy, baroque trumpeter John Thiessen, will present a special recital. Described by The New York Times as “the gold standard of Baroque trumpet playing in this country,” Thiessen’s performances combine beauty of sound with brilliance and virtuosity. Performing a diverse program of Italian chamber music and cantatas, English music for the theater and oratorio, he will demonstrate his instrumental mastery in an astonishing variety of styles and settings in music by Corelli, Jeremiah Clarke, Handel, and Alessandro Scarlatti. He will be joined by members of ABS and guest soloists, including soprano Kathryn Mueller. ABS intern Erin Nishimori, a trumpet player herself, asked Mr. Thiessen about the August 15 program and his preparations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Thiessen with ABS. Photo: Gene Kosoy

John Thiessen with ABS. Photo: Gene Kosoy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johann Sebastian Bach by Haussmann

Johann Sebastian Bach by Haussmann

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

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

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

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


ABS Festival & Academy Highlight: Marin Marais’ Sémélé

Marin Marais

Marin Marais

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading.

Jeff McMillan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curtain calls during last night’s triumphant L'Allegro

Curtain calls during last night’s triumphant L’Allegro

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

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

Continue reading, Day 13.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading, Day 12.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading, Day 11.

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Elise Figa, soprano

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

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

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

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

Continue reading, Day 10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading, Day 8.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue with Day 7.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue with Day 6.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue with Day 5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue with Day 4.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Academy harpsichordists Arthur Omura and John Steven Yeh

Academy harpsichordists Arthur Omura and John Steven Yeh

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

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

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

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

Continue with Day 3.

The Academy Begins! (Daily Festival log, July 8)

2014 Academy participants getting to know one another

2014 Academy participants getting to know one another

Every summer, ABS welcomes more than 50 instrumentalists and vocalists to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for an intense period of study and performance as participants in the annual Academy. This program, which runs concurrently with ABS’s annual summer Bach Festival is designed to provide opportunities for emerging professionals to engage with and learn from the members of American Bach Soloists in a multi-disciplinary environment.

Orientation meeting at 9:00 am

Orientation meeting at 9:00 am

Yesterday, all 62 members of the 2014 Academy class reported to the lobby of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to begin their Academy experience with an orientation meeting at 9:00 am. This is always an exciting time and a highlight of the musical year for all of us at ABS as it is a moment loaded with potential and expectation. Above all, it is a thrill to meet these aspiring early music players and to watch them get acquainted with one another. This year’s class has a few returning participants from last summer and they seemed to settle in quickly. Most of this year’s participants are new to the Academy and new to San Francisco. They could be observed gazing all around the spacious Conservatory lobby, taking it all in.

The ABS Academy Faculty

The ABS Academy Faculty

Once schedules and ground rules were covered in the orientation meeting with the ABS faculty, the music-making began almost immediately: the first orchestra rehearsal for Bach’s Mass in B Minor started at 10:00 am! At that point the 22 singers went off to meet with the members of the voice faculty: Judith Malafronte, Max van Egmond, and William Sharp. After lunch, master classes and chamber music rehearsals occupied the afternoon hours for all the participants. The chamber works they began rehearsing together will be heard next week from Monday through Wednesday (July 14-16) in the Academy-in-Action concerts. At 5:00 pm, all participants, faculty, ABS staff, and many of the generous supporters who make the Academy possible met on the top floor of the Conservatory for a reception. This opportunity to celebrate the conclusion of a busy and exciting first day is always a fun occasion and last night was no exception. The Academy participants were clearly hungry for the musical experience they had embraced throughout the day… and also hungry for the refreshments at the reception. Though the participants had the rest of the evening off, the singers of the American Bach Choir arrived for an evening rehearsal for Handel’s L’Allegro and the ABS faculty went from the reception right into an evening of rehearsals for the Bach’s Inspiration programs on Friday and Saturday. As ever, it was a great beginning!

Continue with Day 2.