The American Bach Soloists are pleased to announce the 2018 Jeffrey Thomas Award recipient: violinist JUDE ZILIAK

Jude ZiliakThe Jeffrey Thomas Award is granted annually at the Artistic Director’s discretion to honor, recognize, and encourage exceptionally gifted emerging professionals in the field of early music who show extraordinary promise and accomplishment. Inaugurated in 2013, the Jeffrey Thomas Award was created by the American Bach Soloists in celebration of their first 25 years of presenting performances in Northern California, across the United States, and around the world, and ABS Artistic & Music Director Jeffrey Thomas’s tenure of inspired leadership.

Jude Ziliak—the recipient of the 2018 award—is a violinist who specializes in historical performance practices. His dedication to the Baroque violin family extends from performing on the lira da braccio to premiering new pieces for period instruments.

Mr. Ziliak has been a member of the American Bach Soloists since the beginning of the organization’s 25th season in 2013, having first come to the attention of ABS and Jeffrey Thomas as a participant in the 2012 ABS Academy. In New York City, he is a member of the Renaissance music ensemble named Sonnambula and the Clarion Music Society. He has also performed with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Festival dans les Jardins de William Christie, the Four Nations Ensemble, Cantata Profana, Musica Angelica, Trinity Wall Street Baroque Orchestra, Gotham Chamber Opera, Concert Royal, New York Baroque Incorporated, New Vintage Baroque, and many other period ensembles throughout the United States and internationally. He has served as concertmaster under conductors Richard Egarr at the Britten-Pears School, Jordi Savall with Juilliard415, Andrew Litton at the National Orchestral Institute, and for R.B. Schlather’s pioneering production of Handel’s Alcina at WhiteBox Art Center in New York. With Sonnambula, he took part in the first complete recording of the music of Leonora Duarte.

Mr. Ziliak is also an independent scholar and a dedicated educator and is on the faculty of the Lucy Moses School and Special Music School (P.S. 859), New York’s public school for musically gifted children, where he has established a Baroque performance program with the support of an outreach grant from Early Music America. In 2017 he taught at the Madison Early Music Festival at the University of Wisconsin.

Jude ZiliakJude Ziliak studied the modern violin with Bayla Keyes at Boston University, Dona Lee Croft at the Royal College of Music, and Kenneth Goldsmith at Rice University. He then completed specialized studies in Historical Performance at The Juilliard School, where his teachers were Monica Huggett and Cynthia Roberts. He was an inaugural recipient of the English Concert’s American Fellowship, which recognizes early-career performers “who appear likely to make significant contributions to the field of early music.” Raised in Sewanee, Tennessee, Mr. Ziliak resides in New York City with his wife, gambist Elizabeth Weinfield.

Now a regular member of ABS, Mr. Ziliak has already appeared in more than 50 performances of 15 concert programs. His next featured role will be as soloist in Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in D Major for Violin and Two Orchestras at the 2017 Annual ABS Gala. Additionally, he will serve as concertmaster for ABS’s upcoming recording of Bach’s Four Orchestral Suites.

The Jeffrey Thomas Award takes its place within the organization’s already robust and long history of rewarding young talent. In 1998, the American Bach Soloists established their International Young Artists Competition as a way to foster emerging musicians who wish to pursue a career in early music. In 2006, the competition was named the American Bach Soloists & Henry I. Goldberg International Young Artists Competition, in memory of Dr. Henry I. Goldberg, who served as Board President for the ensemble from 2002 until September 2005. In addition, the First Prize was named in honor of the inestimable legacy of Laurette Goldberg, a leading force in the Bay Area’s early music community for many years. To ensure the broadest scope in this endeavor, from year to year the competitions focused on different instruments, attracting musicians from around the globe. The first competition, in 1998, was for harpsichord. In subsequent years, violin, flute, oboe, and vocalists took the spotlight. In 2010, competition award funds were offered as a Goldberg Prize to three promising participants of the American Bach Soloists ACADEMY, an advanced training program for emerging professionals and accomplished students of Historically Informed Performance Practice. In 2011, the Competition and special prizes were suspended in favor of funding scholarships for the Academy.

Read More about the Jeffrey Thomas Award

Handel’s Water Music Celebrates Its 300th Anniversary

For a great water party that was to take place on a July evening in 1717, King George I wanted a barge full of some 50 musicians to travel alongside his royal barge as it sailed on the River Thames from Whitehall to Chelsea. Upon arrival at Chelsea, the royal party was entertained at Ranelagh House (built in 1688-89 by the then late Richard Jones, 1st Earl of Ranelagh), where they had supper until early in the morning of the next day.

George I had been monarch for nearly three years, but Handel had yet to compose works specifically for him. Here was the opportunity to flatter the King with music that has since found its place among Handel’s most well-known and beloved compositions, the Water Music suites. Indeed, the King was exceedingly pleased.

The River Thames with St. Paul’s Cathedral on Lord Mayor’s Day, circa 1746, by Giovanni Antonio Canal “Canaletto” (1697-1765)

The River Thames with St. Paul’s Cathedral on Lord Mayor’s Day, circa 1746, by Giovanni Antonio Canal “Canaletto” (1697-1765)

Two contemporary chronicles give us a good sense of the experience of the water party on July 17, 1717 [yes, that’s the palindromic 7-17-1717 by our modern American style date convention]:

“On Wednesday evening, at about 8, the King took Water at Whitehall in an open Barge, wherein were also the Duchess of Bolton, the Duchess of Newcastle, the Countess of Godolphin, Madam Kilmanseck, and the Earl of Orkney. And went up the river to Chelsea. Many other Barges with Persons of Quality attended, and so great a Number of Boats, that the whole River in a manner was cover’d.”

“The music had been composed specially by the famous Handel, a native of Halle, and His Majesty’s principal Court Composer. His Majesty approved of it so greatly that he caused it to be repeated three times in all. The weather that evening was all that could be desired for the festivity, the number of barges and of boats filled with people desirous of hearing was beyond counting. In order to make this entertainment the more exquisite, a choice supper had been arranged in the late Lord Ranalagh’s villa at Chelsea on the river, where the King went at one in the morning. He left at three o’clock and returned to St. James’ Palace at about half past four.”

The Water Music suites, as we know them today, are collections of mostly dance movements—preceded by typical “overture” introductions—and draw on English, French, German, and Italian compositional styles. Handel cleverly included a number of nautically related dance movements for the King’s waterborne entertainment, in particular the hornpipe and rigaudon. The hornpipe was a dance that appeared in a variety of meters ( 3/2, 4/4, 9/4, or 9/8 ) and was characterized by stereotypical gestures that depicted raucous sailor antics or basic sailing activities such as looking out to sea (with alternating hands to the forehead), etc. The rigaudon was similar to a bourrée with its quarter-note upbeat, but was played at a much quicker pace with rhythmically simple phrases of even bar lengths; overall, quite straightforward.

While there is substantial documentation of the barge excursion, no complete autograph score of the music survives. It is only through reconstruction and a process of unediting the various contemporary (meaning, from Handel’s time) arrangements of the music that we can cull accurate and logical materials from which to assemble the three distinct suites in the keys of F major (for horns, oboes, bassoon, and strings), D major (for trumpets, horns, oboes, bassoon, and strings), and G major (for recorder, flute, and strings). Friedrich Chrysander (1826-1901), the editor of the first complete edition of Handel’s works, preferred to organize them in just two suites, combining the music in D major and G major into one set.

In consideration of these points, there may well be no absolutely correct order in which the various movements of Water Music must be played; rather, almost any combination of movements will suffice. But a deeper look at the sources supports the order of movements that is usually presented in concerts. The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge houses a full score of the Water Music that, although it has no inscribed date, clearly had been made in Handel’s lifetime, but probably without his authority. In 1743 John Walsh published an edition of that music, arranged for harpsichord solo, that contains all but two movements from the full score in Cambridge. The movements follow the same order as the full score. Therefore, it seems logical that something resembling today’s version of Water Music must have existed by no later than the 1740s.

But most music historians agree that the entirety of the Water Music was probably not originally conceived as three (or even two) independent suites. Rather, the almost identical order of movements found in the few manuscript (not autograph) sources presents a completely agreeable progression of keys and tonal centers in a way that supports the notion that all of the suites were assembled by Handel with a deliberate contiguousness in mind. The music in F major (including horns) ends with a substantial concerto grosso style movement—featuring the oboes and bassoon as soloists—in D minor (the “relative minor” key to F major), which would have progressed easily and logically to the grand music in D major, featuring trumpets. And the D Major portion, while employing trumpets all the way through the final movement (a bourrée), nevertheless does calm down, so to speak, and again easily transitions to the key of G major. Some hypothesize that the delicate texture of the music in G major (and G minor) would have been appropriate only for an indoor setting—its gentle orchestration for strings with flauto traverso and recorder (two rather quiet instruments) would hardly have been audible at the distance between the King’s barge and the musicians’ barge—and accordingly may have been performed either before or during the dinner at Ranelagh.

There is no evidence that the Water Music as presented by Handel in 1717 ever had a reprise performance during his lifetime. However, Handel did arrange the first two movements of the D major portion—an Allegro and a Hornpipe—as a two-movement concerto that had its first performance nearly six years later on March 20, 1723, in London’s Drury Lane Theatre. That transcribed version is in F major, and replaces the trumpets of the Water Music version with horns. The existence of that music has tempted performers—including us!—to include those two movements as a kind of “encore” added finale to the music in F major, altogether more satisfying than ending the F major/D minor organization without them.

Several movements from the Water Music have become as popular and recognizable as any among the top hits from the Baroque era. The endearingly loping stride of the Air, the perkiness of the Bourrée, and uncontainable vivacity of the Hornpipe have brought smiles to the faces of listeners for ages.

© Jeffrey Thomas, 2017


Academy Sponsor Spotlight: Judith Flynn

Judith Flynn is a long-time ABS supporter and former member of our Board of Directors. Her background in education in particular has led her to be one of the most passionate proponents of the ABS Festival & Academy. We asked Judith to share her thoughts about this annual celebration of the future of Early Music, which takes places August 4-13, 2017, in San Francisco.

Judith Flynn, Academy SponsorResidents of the San Francisco Bay Area should be grateful for the abundance of high-quality music groups to be found here. Where to go, what to choose…so many choices. However, one group, the American Bach Soloists, stands out for its commitment to authentic period instruments, an informed selection of Baroque repertoire, and the outstanding musicians who bring the music to life.

Seven years ago, the founder and Maestro of ABS, Jeffrey Thomas, was able to fulfill a wish of his: to start an Academy for emerging young professional musicians. And since its founding, the Academy has flourished and grown.

As an individual involved in education and as a lover of Early Music, I was very excited to hear about the Academy and its features. Throughout these seven years, I have never been disappointed. In fact, it’s been just the opposite—I am endlessly enthusiastic and passionate about the program. The carefully selected students are equally enthusiastic and passionate, and many return for a second or third year. In speaking with the students about why, the answers are uniformly the same. The Academy is extremely demanding, with long hours and short breaks, but these are outweighed by the excellence offered: the opportunity to work with world-class faculty privately and in groups; the camaraderie with fellow students and the development of long-term relationships; the thrill of working under Maestro Thomas, whose demanding requirements are relished for the education of the intricacies of Early Music; and the improvement of one’s talent. Students come to San Francisco from all over the globe, and many of our graduates have gone on to well-recognized careers in the field.

Education is essential if society wishes to maintain a comprehensive knowledge of the fine arts, including Early Music. The fear of our children not being familiar with J. S. Bach and his colleagues is real, as highly specialized music programs give way to tech and STEM instruction. Thankfully, at the ABS Festival & Academy, instruction of adults is happening simultaneously with that of the students via free master classes, colloquia, and student performances. The colloquia and lectures are filled with fascinating information, either about the composers, the period, or the music, and learning from live presenters is much more enjoyable than from a book!

On every level, I have found the Festival & Academy to be most enjoyable and educational, and I look forward to it annually. To me, it is an in-depth knowledge experience equal to an intense summer class, with the added bonus of eight nights of extraordinary music.

I choose to financially support the Festival & Academy for the primary purpose of maintaining continuation, not only of the music, but of the informed, sensitive musicians who play and sing that music for the children of today and tomorrow. Enjoy, and see you at the Festival!

Academy Alumni Spotlight: Ramón Negrón Pérez

The ABS Academy is a worldwide phenomenon. Since its inception in 2010, participants have represented more than 20 countries around the globe. One of these musicians is violist Ramón Negrón Pérez, a current member of ABS’s professional orchestra and a two-time Academy participant. Ramón grew up in Puerto Rico and studied music there before coming to the United States, and he shares his story below.

You’re from Puerto Rico, and much of your musical training took place there, including an undergraduate degree at the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music. What kind of classical music opportunities did you have growing up, and were they any different from what your own children have now that you live in San Diego, CA?

  • As a 9-year-old child, I auditioned and was accepted to the children’s string program of the Conservatory of Music commencing with only music theory for two years before being given a viola to play. Like most children I wanted to play violin or piano, but those spots were full. I was offered the cello or the viola. When I asked what a cello was, I was shown the large instrument and all I could think about was how hard it would be to transport on a daily basis, as I had to take public transportation. So the viola it was. That was the only formal musical program available at the time. I had to attend school all day and then travel an hour from my hometown in Canovanas to the capital city of San Juan to attend classes in the late afternoon and evenings 2-3 times a week. I am very grateful to my parents who took me to and from rehearsals and performances for the next decade until I started my professional career. The classical music opportunities in San Diego are quite different. Living in San Diego as the father of a 7-year-old and a 3-year-old, I see that there is such a large variety of musical programs and methods of teaching here for them, not to mention the diversity of private instructors. I am excited to be able to share with them the appreciation for historically informed performance. They don’t have to wait like I did to stumble upon it later in life.

You then went on to work as a professional musician there. Was freelancing in Puerto Rico similar to freelancing in the United States? Was it very competitive?

  • Working as a professional member of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra since the age of 18 opened many opportunities for me as a freelance musician in Puerto Rico, a very competitive environment. Freelancing in the United States is different because there is much more variety and more opportunities to select from. I can decide what musical performances I want to be a part of. This has allowed me to take time to reflect on the direction of my musical career and to try historically informed performance.​

What inspired your move to California? Professional? Personal? Both?

  • Moving to California was for mostly personal reasons, as my wife had been given the opportunity to complete her Juris Doctorate in San Diego and had a job opportunity waiting for her after graduation. Having family ties to San Diego made the decision easier now that we had our own family, who we wanted to grow up with as many opportunities as possible. The choice was clear; California it was. The more I contemplated relocating from the island I knew so well, the more ambitious I was to take a different direction. After 16 years as a member of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra I was up for a challenge and for a breath of fresh air professionally. My wife was more concerned than I was. I was being taken from my professional network and ties and relocating to a place where I was unknown to start from scratch, auditioning and volunteering until I demonstrated my capabilities. If it hadn’t been for this move, I would have never discovered historically informed performance on a professional level. It would have remained something distant in a textbook.

At what point in your career did you discover historically informed performance practice? Were you instantly taken with it, or did your love for it slowly develop?

  • As a student of the Conservatory of Music in my undergraduate program I took a course in music development, which included the different periods of music. I had heard and performed many Baroque pieces, but these were interpreted in the modern fashion. However, it was not until I relocated to California that I discovered historically informed performance practice. I had been researching local music groups and programs when I stumbled upon the genre with great curiosity. I was instantly taken with it. I was frustrated at first because I felt like I had missed out on a wonderful world of interpretation. All of the Baroque pieces I knew…I had misplayed them, not being true to their historic performance practice. Thus, the next phase in my professional development commenced—to re-learn and improve my skills, this time in historically informed performance. It is more than learning to tune and play on gut strings, or to use a different type of bow. It is a way of understanding and interpreting the music. It is a way of life.

You came to the ABS Academy in 2014. What was your experience? Did it open up doors for you in the Early Music community?

  • My experience at the ABS Academy was life-changing. I was able to meet local and international musicians who were interested in challenging their knowledge. It is a completely different world to play in a modern orchestra and then perform with a historically informed orchestra. There is a greater appreciation of being true to the interpretation of the pieces. It is a spiritual retreat for me to have such a caring role within the pieces as a musician in the ABS Academy and to be guided to greater learning.

You then returned to the Academy for a second time in 2015. Why’d you decide to come back?

  • I decided to return the following year, as I was performing in southern California and found myself desiring further knowledge and growth. The more I learned, the better I played. I couldn’t give up the opportunity to return to continue to refine my skills and perform with such extraordinary musicians. Not to mention it is such a joy to perform with ABS. I truly consider the experience a spiritual retreat.

During that time you also became a professional member of the ABS Orchestra. How has that shaped your career?

  • I feel like I am at the beginning of my career again, when some of my peers are bored to frustration. Believe it or not, being a professional musician for some can become monotonous if you don’t challenge yourself, just as it can in any other profession. Relocating, and taking a risk professionally, has opened up an entire new world to me. Being a member of the ABS Orchestra is a privilege of a lifetime and I am very proud to be a part of it.

When you think about performing with Jeffrey Thomas and your ABS colleagues, what stands out?

  • The final product is outstanding. Every concert is unique. The preparation of each concert is carefully crafted. Jeffrey Thomas is a highly skilled and meticulous conductor. In my career I have performed under world-renowned directors, and Jeffrey Thomas falls right into the high caliber of director that is ingenious, who is able to express what he needs from the ABS Orchestra. The work environment is one-of-a-kind. The chemistry of the group with the director is spot on. Each musician gives more than 100% of themselves to each performance. Overall, the level of dedication, professionalism, and love for music is why it is such a great experience.

You also recently founded your own Baroque group in San Diego. Can you tell us a bit about that?

  • It is a community Baroque group called Kensington Baroque Orchestra (KBO), because it was founded in a community in San Diego called Kensington. It is open to amateurs and professional musicians who want to broaden their knowledge and skills based on the techniques of historically informed performance. Even in a city like San Diego, where I have found great diversity and opportunity, there is still a great need to broaden the understanding of historically informed performance. I am very proud that two members of KBO are here attending the ABS Academy. This is what music is—sharing it with others—not just the audience, but with my colleagues, regardless of their level of experience. It is rewarding to give back to the community I now call my home. I look forward to continuing to develop the Baroque scene in San Diego for everyone to enjoy.

Finally, what does your ideal career in Early Music look like?

  • Continuing to develop my knowledge and skills to improve my level of performance by performing with ABS. Being able to perform, teach, and enjoy as I continue to grow professionally. Each performance I feel like I continue to develop my appreciation for the practice. Continuing to give back to my community by inspiring the next generation of musicians, audience members, and patrons to play an active role, to be informed in historically informed practice. But most of all, enjoying the musical experience.
Read more about Ramón by visiting his web site:

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.