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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue with Day 5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue with Day 4.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Academy harpsichordists Arthur Omura and John Steven Yeh

Academy harpsichordists Arthur Omura and John Steven Yeh

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

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

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

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

Continue with Day 3.

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

2014 Academy participants getting to know one another

2014 Academy participants getting to know one another

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

Orientation meeting at 9:00 am

Orientation meeting at 9:00 am

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

The ABS Academy Faculty

The ABS Academy Faculty

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

Continue with Day 2.

Interview with Mary Wilson

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

How did you get started in music?

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

How did St. Olaf prepare you for your career?

Soprano Mary Wilson

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

How did you learn about ABS and Jeffrey Thomas?

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

What do you like most about performing with ABS?

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

Are Bay Area early music fans different from those elsewhere?

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

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

Mary Wilson, soprano

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have a favorite movie?

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

What books have you recently enjoyed?

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

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

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

1900: The First American Performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor

One of the musical highlights of a summer in San Francisco is the opportunity to hear Jeffrey Thomas conduct the ABS Festival Orchestra and the American Bach Choir in Bach’s magnificent Mass in B Minor. In fact, as part of its annual San Francisco Summer Bach Festival, ABS offers two chances to hear the timeless work each summer and both performances sell out year after year. The Mass’s richness, expressivity, complexity, and the awe-inspiring genius of its composer are all attributes that pay dividends of insight and satisfaction when revisited regularly. At present, tickets are still available for the two performances on July 13 at 7:00 pm and July 20 at 2:00 pm.

The idea of performing Bach’s Mass in B Minor annually has been a mainstay in European musical communities since the mid-nineteenth century. In the United States, the tradition of yearly performances began with the very first American performance of the entire work on March 27, 1900, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Before the tradition could take root, however, the difficulty of mounting the work and introducing it to domestic audiences proved a significant challenge.

An Ambitious Bach Conductor

Fred Wolle

Fred Wolle

During the last months of 1898, the organist of the Moravian Church in Bethlehem, Dr. J. Fred Wolle, began recruiting singers for what would eventually become known as the Bethlehem Bach Choir, a musical entity that continues performing, among other works, the Mass in B Minor in Eastern Pennsylvania to this day. Ten years before the genesis of the Bach Choir, Dr. Wolle had led Bethlehem’s Choral Union, an ensemble that performed the great oratorios of Handel, Mendelssohn, and others, and also introduced Pennsylvanians to the large-scale works of Bach. In the latter area, the Union, supplemented by instrumentalists from nearby Philadelphia, distinguished itself with the U.S. premiere of the St. John Passion (1888) and an acclaimed performance of the St. Matthew Passion (1892). Following their successes, Wolle aspired to present the Mass in B Minor, but his singers did not share his zeal. In fact, the work terrified them! When shown the score, the group’s enthusiasm wilted at the challenging music and the Union quietly disbanded in 1892.

Dr. Wolle did not give up on his ambition to present the Mass in B Minor, but he had to wait eight years for a better opportunity and better musicians. Starting with his congregational choir at the Moravian Church as the core, he began recruiting singers in late 1898 for his project. On December 5, he had amassed 80 singers and the Bethlehem Bach Choir was born. Nearly a year later, Wolle and his ensemble were still preparing the Mass for performance and the leader released a statement to the local paper:

Bethlehem Bach Choir 1917

Bethlehem Bach Choir 1917

The ‘Mass,’ owing to its huge proportions, its well nigh insuperable difficulties, and the almost inaccessible height of artistic plan, makes unusual demands and will yield to nothing short of complete surrender of the singers’ time, industry and patience. The question whether in any sense of the word it pays to devote one’s self so thoroughly to the performance of a work beset with obstacles can best be answered by those members of the chorus who, since last December, have braved the difficulties, and who, with keen artistic insight, doubtless ere this have had revealed to them unsuspected beauties in unlooked for places in this veritable masterpiece of unspeakable power and imperishable glory.

After fourteen months of preparation, Dr. Wolle and the Bethlehem Bach Choir gave the premiere of Bach’s towering masterpiece on March 27, 1900. Though the event failed to draw many of the leading critics, the performance was a great success and took on an almost mythical status throughout the year, overshadowing the New York Oratorio Society’s performance of the work at Carnegie Hall in early April. With a reputation that extended far beyond Pennsylvania, Wolle and his Bach Choir returned in 1901 for Bethlehem’s Second Bach Festival from May 23-25. This time the Festival featured three works by Bach: “Christmas Oratorio,” St. Matthew Passion, and the Mass in B Minor, all in just three days!

The Bach Festival tradition, which began in this country 114 years ago in Pennsylvania, has proliferated in musical communities around Europe, the United States, and the entire world. Here in San Francisco, we have one of the younger Bach Festivals–2014 will be ABS’s 5th annual event–but it is a great one that, like that 1900 festival in Bethlehem, has been making waves and drawing music lovers from all around. Tickets are available for the Festival performances from July 11-20, but they won’t last long. Get your tickets to the Mass in B Minor now, while they are still available.

ABS 2014 Festival opens July 11th & 12th with “Bach’s Inspiration”

Do you have your tickets for the 5th annual ABS Festival & Academy yet? This summer’s event, which will take place at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music from July 11-20, promises to be the best Festival ABS has offered to date. Titled “Bach’s Inspiration,” the 9 performances, 5 lectures, 5 master classes, and a public colloquium titled “Baroque Instruments and Performers, Then and Now: Creating a New Fusion of Styles and Tastes” comprise a 10-day immersion in the music and culture of the Baroque, specifically the works that inspired ABS’s namesake, J.S. Bach. Musical delights and discoveries await Baroque music connoisseurs and newcomers alike.

Mary Wilson, soprano

Mary Wilson, soprano

As in year’s past, Festival concerts will attract music lovers from far and wide. The opera / oratorio program this year will be Handel’s pastoral ode L’Allegro, Il Penseroso ed il Moderato, there will be two performances of Bach’s great Mass in B Minor, and 2014 Distinguished Artist soprano Mary Wilson will be featured in a program highlighting the “Italian side” of Bach. There will also be three evenings of “Academy-in-Action” concerts to showcase the talents of the emerging artists participating in the ABS Academy who are poised to become the next generation of Early Music stars.

2014 Festival Opening Night: Bach’s Inspiration, Part I

To inaugurate this year’s Festival, a special 2-part program curated by ABS Artistic & Music Director Jeffrey Thomas will present a host of selections over two evenings featuring the work of composers who directly influenced and inspired the young Bach. In “Bach’s Inspiration Parts I & II” on Friday July 11 and Saturday July 12, compositions by Dieterich Buxtehude, Alessandro Marcello, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Georg Melchior Hoffmann, and many others, including Bach’s uncle Johann Christoph, will be performed alongside works by J.S. Bach.

Oboe Concerto by Marcello became Bach Harpsichord Concerto


Alessandro Marcello

Among the highlights of the first night will be Alessandro Marcello’s Concerto for Oboe in D Minor, a piece that Bach would later rearrange for harpsichord solo (BWV 974). While Bach’s piece has become famous in our time (the second movement especially is often heard as an encore by concert pianists, and Glenn Gould made a famous recording of the complete work), the original oboe concerto is a rare delight that is infrequently performed. On opening night ABS oboist Debra Nagy will be the soloist as Jeffrey Thomas and ABS perform this Italian work which clearly fired Bach’s imagination and which is still an extraordinarily beautiful composition to experience hundreds of years later.

Bach Adapts Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater


Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

Also on opening night, two fantastic vocal soloists, soprano Mary Wilson and countertenor Eric Jurenas, will join Thomas and ABS for a performance of Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, Bach’s transcription and arrangement of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. Pergolesi managed to compose several important works during his brief life (he died of tuberculosis at the age of 26), but his Stabat Mater for soprano, alto, and string orchestra with basso continuo is arguable his most enduring work. Bach took the young Italian’s soaring operatic lines and added his own inimitable penchant for counterpoint and texture to create a new work that yields an entirely different kind of impact and effect. With soloists like Wilson and Jurenas singing before the outstanding forces of ABS, this will surely be one of the hottest tickets of the summer!

Saturday Night – Bach’s Inspiration continues with Part II

Derek Chester, tenor

Derek Chester, tenor

Saturday night continues the exploration of works by composers who inspired Bach with another outstanding program. Among many other exquisite works will be Meine Seele rühmt und preist, an emotionally charged cantata by Georg Melchior Hoffmann. Hoffmann was an active musical figure in Leipzig in the years before Bach arrived, playing in the city’s collegium musicum and eventually succeeding its founder, Georg Philipp Telemann, as director. He also succeeded Telemann as the music director of the Neukirche, while also conducting performances of his own operas at the Leipzig civic opera in the first decades of the eighteenth century. Like Pergolesi, Hoffmann also died young (in 1715 at the age of 37) and his death left a tremendous void in Leipzig’s musical life, a space that would soon be filled when Bach became Thomaskirche Cantor in 1723. Despite a prodigious output, very little of Hoffmann’s music survives and the authorship of some of his sacred works has been confused with Bach’s works. The performance of Hoffmann’s cantata, a piece long thought to be one of Bach’s, will feature tenor Derek Chester as soloist with Thomas leading the ABS orchestra.

Also on the program will be two works—Mit Fried un Freud ich far dahin and Klaglied—by one of Bach’s idols, Dieterich Buxtehude. Nicolaus Bruhns, a pupil of Buxtehude, and Johann Adam Reincken, one of the Lübeck organist’s associates, will be represented by a sacred aria and partita, respectively. All three of these prominent North German musicians exerted powerful influences upon J.S. Bach.

And finally: Bach!

William Sharp, baritone

William Sharp, baritone

After intermission of the July 12 concert, ABS will perform mature works by Bach composed after he had absorbed all he could from his forebears, peers, and colleagues. Baroque trumpet virtuoso John Thiessen will be one of the soloists on Bach’s second Brandenburg Concerto, the heart-rending secular cantata Amore traditore will feature baritone William Sharp and harpsichord Corey Jamason as dual-soloists, and the fiendishly difficult trio sonata from the “Musical Offering” all will serve as examples of Bach’s mastery of all he had learned as well as his ability to thrill musicians and audiences all these years later in 2014.

The full programs of “Bach’s Inspiration Parts I & II” and tickets may be found on our website, or by calling the ABS Office at (415) 621-7900.

ABS Festival Attraction: Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato

John Milton

John Milton

Opera / Oratorio night at the ABS Festival & Academy is always a musical highlight. This summer’s program on Friday July 18 will be no different as ABS and the Festival Orchestra under the direction of Jeffrey Thomas will present Handel’s 1740 pastoral ode, L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato.

The work is neither opera nor oratorio, but rather a meditation on the quixotic nature of humanity. It has no roles; each vocal soloist embodies a different element of the ode’s text and sings arias that more closely resemble poetic recitation. The work synthesizes John Milton’s poems L’Allegro (“the joyous one”) and Il Penseroso (“the pensive one”) into a single work along with a third voice, Il Moderato (“the moderate one”), contributed by Charles Jennens. A few years after creating L’Allegro together, Jennens and Handel would collaborate again on Messiah.

One of Handel’s most popular works during his lifetime

Charles Jennens

Charles Jennens

L’Allegro was an immensely popular work during Handel’s lifetime. Like Messiah, the composer did not labor long over its creation, composing and orchestrating L’Allegro between January 19th and February 9th, 1740. The work premiered a few weeks later on February 27 at London’s Royal Theatre, receiving a total of five performances that season. Handel’s concerti grossi were played between the different parts and the last part was introduced by his Organ Concerto in B flat. L’Allegro was a hit and revived in London in 1741 and 1743 and, along with his classic pastorale Acis and Galatea, featured heavily in Handel’s 1741-42 sojourn in Ireland. Following its premiere, L’Allegro proved to be a malleable work and its essence was not diminished or hindered by the integration of different instrumental works between the scenes or when given without the Il Moderato section.

George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel

While Milton’s poetry was held in high esteem throughout eighteenth-century in London, Handel’s reputation was undergoing a dramatic reappraisal in 1740. Having withdrawn from the field of Italian opera, Handel virtually created his career anew at this time as an oratorio composer. Musical London was not wholly behind Handel’s efforts at the beginning. One Handel advocate wrote an anonymous letter to the London Daily Post on April 4, 1741, defending the composer against a cabal that was brewing in the city. Among his entreaties to civility among the pro- and contra- partisans, the observer included a brief review of a performance of L’Allegro:

The Performance itself (the Musick as well as the Poetry) is noble and elevated, well devised, and of great Propriety. The Musician and the Poet walk Hand in Hand, and seem to vie which shall better express that beautiful Contrast of Mirth and Melancholy, which you have quite thro’ the “Allegro” and “Il Penseroso,” and the happy Success which Mr. Handel has had in the Composition of this particular Piece, will appear, to any one, who listens with Attention to it, the strongest Argument for the Truth of what I have said, That Musick is really a Language understood by the Soul, tho’ only a pleasing Sound to the Ear.

L’Allegro continues to be one of Handel’s most beloved works centuries later. Of all his large-scale works, musicians and audiences alike are drawn to the work for its gentle mirth and wit, and its gorgeous melodies are among the composer’s best. Indeed, L’Allegro conveys its humanist message with both power and subtlety and yields a stirring effect. ABS’s single July 18 performance of Handel’s ode to humanity and its many moods will undoubtedly draw a tremendous crowd. Be sure to get your tickets for L’Allegro and other Festival attractions now, before it’s too late.

Inspiration… How far will you go to get it?

Dieterich Buxtehude

Dieterich Buxtehude

At the age of 18, Bach was offered the job of organist at St. Boniface’s Church in Arnstadt. In spite of a rather generous salary for so young a musician, he bristled at the poor quality of singers in his choir and the appointment only lasted a few years. In October 1705 Bach requested leave to travel to the northern city of Lübeck to hear the great organist and composer, Dieterich Buxtehude, and “take in all I can of his art.” Granted four weeks off, he set out for Lübeck to meet his idol, traversing the 260 miles in early winter and reportedly on foot! Instead of a month, Bach ended up staying three months before returning to Arnstadt a changed man; he had found his inspiration.

While Bach undoubtedly longed to meet the famous organist, Buxtehude’s Abendmusik concerts at St. Mary’s church were likely what precipitated the teenaged Bach’s road trip. Under Buxtehude’s watch, the Abendmusik concerts—privately funded musical programs featuring a highly skilled group of municipal players performing stunning, new instrumental and vocal works by the town’s famous music master—had developed into significant annual attractions. In 1697, several years before Bach’s visit, a travel writer noted the organist and his concerts as one of Lübeck’s principal draws:

“On the west side, between the two pillars under the towers, one can see the large and magnificent organ, which, like the small organ, is now presided over by the world-famous organist and composer Dietrich Buxtehude. Of particular note is the great Abend-Music, consisting of pleasant vocal and instrumental music, presented yearly on five Sundays between St. Martin’s and Christmas, following the Sunday vesper sermon, from 4 to 5 o’clock, by the aforementioned organist as director, in an artistic and praiseworthy manner. This happens nowhere else.”

Though not bound by liturgical concerns, the Abendmusiken occurred each year on the final two Sundays of Trinity and first three Sundays of Advent, so roughly once a week from throughout November and December, excluding the week of Christmas. The events had begun under the stewardship of Buxtehude’s predecessor, Franz Tunder, but developed considerably in the late seventeenth century and continued long after Buxtehude’s death. In 1752, one writer recounted the history of the concerts, especially their development over the years from humble beginnings:

“In former times the citizenry, before going to the stock market, had the praiseworthy custom of assembling in St. Mary’s Church, and the organist [Tunder] sometimes played something on the organ for their pleasure, to pass the time and to make himself popular with the citizenry. This was well received, and several rich people, who were also lovers of music, gave him gifts. The organist was thus encouraged, first to add a few violins and then singers as well, until finally it had become a large performance, which was moved to the aforementioned Sundays of Trinity and Advent. The famous organist Diederich Buxtehude decorated the Abendmuisken magnificently already in his day. His successor, Mr. Schiefferdecker, did not fail to maintain the reputation of these concerts and even augment it. But our admirable Mr. Kuntze has brought them to the highest level. He has gotten the most famous singers [both male and female] from the Hamburg opera; he has even employed Italian women.”

The Bachkirche (Bach Church) in Arntadt

The Bachkirche (Bach Church) in Arnstadt

Like most musically inclined Germans in the early 1700s, Bach knew about the Abendmusik concerts and undoubtedly timed his visit to Lübeck accordingly. He also must have known that a four-week leave would not be adequate to fully take in the concerts, but he failed to mention this detail before leaving. Bach was not entirely happy with his post in Arnstadt, so missing more than a month of work bothered him less than it upset his employers. Interestingly, however, when Bach returned and was reprimanded, his most serious offense was not his AWOL status; it was for introducing strange notes and musical gestures into his services in January and February 1706! The experience of hearing and playing Buxtehude’s music in the Abendmusiken (some have suggested that he performed in some of the concerts) had inspired Bach and directly influenced his musical voice and ambition.

This July, ABS will celebrate this and other similar occurrences in the career of J.S. Bach during the ABS Festival & Academy, subtitled “Bach’s Inspiration.” The Festival opens with a fantastic two-part survey of the influences upon Bach along with examples of the master’s works. These two concerts, “Bach’s Inspiration – I & II”

Exciting Performances and Events Coming Up for ABS

The thrilling performances of ABS continue through the year and on into 2015. With the 25th subscription season performances ending on an especially glorious high point with “Bach’s Legacy” last month, it is great to look at what is coming up next for ABS.

2014 ABS Festival & Academy “Bach’s Inspiration”

A performance at the ABS Summer Bach Festival

A performance at the ABS Summer Bach Festival

In July ABS returns to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music from July 11-20 for the ABS Festival & Academy. This annual Baroque extravaganza—6 main stage concerts, 3 Academy-in-Action programs, and several free public lectures, master classes, and colloquia—has grown every year since its founding in 2010 and attracts music lovers from around the country and abroad to hear Jeffrey Thomas and ABS perform the masterpieces and little-known gems of the Baroque. Every concert of the 2013 Festival sold out, so it is never too early to get your tickets for this year’s event, which promises to be the best yet! Titled “Bach’s Inspiration,” the 2014 Festival features works by Bach and composers who influenced his music. Tickets and a full schedule are available on our website:

2014-15 season subscriptions are now available

Baritone Jesse Blumberg returns to Grace Cathedral for Handel's Messiah

Baritone Jesse Blumberg returns to Grace Cathedral for Handel’s Messiah

Subscriptions for ABS’s 26th season are now available online. The subscription season begin in January 2015 with “Bach & Handel,” followed by Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in February, and “Bach & Vivaldi” in May. Subscribers also receive priority seating for our December performances of Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral. Single tickets for subscription concerts and Messiah performances go on sale to the general public on July 1, so act now for the best seats at the lowest prices. Remember, subscribers never pay handling fees and may exchange tickets at any time. Full details about the season are available at

Save the Date! Saturday September 20, 2014
Tickets to ABS’s annual gala, “A Red Carpet Evening,” are now on sale

Corey Jamason, Kyle Stegall, and Nola Richardson performing at the 2013 Gala

Corey Jamason, Kyle Stegall, and Nola Richardson performing at the 2013 Gala

The annual gala auction, concert, and dinner will occur on September 20, 2014, at St. Stephen’s Church in Belvedere. “A Red Carpet Evening” awaits you at this year’s annual American Bach Soloists auction, concert, and dinner! Our red carpet will lead you to exclusive auction items, with food and drink from Delicious! Catering and a special ABS performance to enjoy along the way. Don’t miss this intimate opportunity to mingle with your favorite ABS artists and fellow supporters, all while supporting the artistic and educational initiatives of ABS. Reserve your tickets today for ABS’s unparalleled Red Carpet Evening! Invitation will be mailed in July, but you can make reservations at any time by visiting our gala homepage or call the ABS office at 415-621-7900.

2014 is off to a great start and there are still many more opportunities to catch up with ABS. We look forward to seeing you all at the Festival this summer, the gala in September.

ABS Festival Tickets are now on sale!

ABSFAJULY 11-20 2014

Tickets for the 2014 ABS Festival and Academy are now on sale! Titled “Bach’s Inspiration,” this summer’s event continues ABS’s 25th season celebration with a line-up of concerts, free lectures and master classes, and a public colloquium that promise to be the greatest two-week Baroque immersion in the history of the ABS Festival. Purchase your single tickets and Festival Pass subscriptions today.

2014.02.05 FestivalMusical delights and discoveries will fill the days and nights of the 2014 Festival. From large-scaled masterworks for full orchestra, choir, and vocal soloists to intimate instrumental works, there will be something for everyone to enjoy and, more likely, ample reason to “move in” to the Conservatory for two weeks in order to take it all in. Bach only set two works to Italian texts—Amore Traditore BWV 203 and Non sa che sia dolore BWV 209—and both will be part of the Festival. Many fabulous instrumental works will also be performed, including Vivaldi’s Concerto for four violins in B minor, concerti by Alessandro Marcello, Frederick the Great, and, of course, J.S. Bach with, among others, his Concerto for Three Harpsichords in C Major and Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. It is going to be an unforgettable event. Read below for a sneak peak at the events and be sure to visit the Festival page for tickets and more information.

The Festival kicks off on Friday, July 11, with a celebratory opening night dinner at Dobbs Ferry Restaurant in Hayes Valley. Dine with ABS Artistic and Music Director Jeffrey Thomas and other members of the ABS family before heading over to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for “Bach’s Inspiration—Part I,” the opening program which traces the influences of Italian and North German composers on J.S. Bach’s life and music. Works by composers who inspired him, including his uncle, Johann Christoph Bach, Dieterich Buxtehude, Johann Kuhnau, Frederick the Great, and Alessandro Marcello will be performed along with his paraphrase of Psalm 51, a fascinating re-working of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s famous Stabat Mater. ABS and the Faculty of the Academy will be joined by guest artists soprano Mary Wilson, countertenor Eric Jurenas, and tenor Derek Chester.

The exploration of Bach’s influences and compositions will continue on Saturday, July 12, with “Bach’s Inspiration—Part II.” This captivating program will include works the young Bach may have heard on his 1705-1706 journey to Lübeck to hear Dieterich Buxtehude. Compositions by Johann Adam Reincken, Nicolaus Bruhns, Buxtehude, and George Melchior Hoffmann will be performed. After intermission, ABS will perform mature works by Bach composed after he had absorbed all that he could from his forebears, peers and colleagues, including the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 and the trio-sonata from the “Musical Offering.”

Regular ABS Festivalgoers know that the two Festival Sundays each July are reserved for Bach’s monumental Mass in B Minor as performed by the ABS Festival Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Thomas. This year, the July 13 performance will begin at 7:00 pm and July 20 will begin at 2:00 pm. These performances are among the highlights of the musical calendar for Bach lovers and ABS fans—don’t miss out! (or maybe hear it twice?)

Three Academy-In-Action programs, July 14-16, will give you the opportunity to hear the work of the 2014 Academy in beautiful and rarely heard works performed by the next generation of early music virtuosi. At $10 a ticket, these concerts are a great value for truly rewarding experiences. Hear these outrageously talented emerging artists before they become stars.

Friday, July 18, is Baroque opera and oratorio night at the Festival and this year Handel’s L’Allegro, Il Penseroso ed il Moderato will command the stage. Composed in the years between Israel in Egypt and Messiah, Handel’s masterful adaption of pastoral poems by John Milton and Charles Jennens is an expressive, musical romp through the pleasures of Happiness, Melancholy, and Moderation. Featuring vocal soloists from the Academy and a performance by the ABS Festival Orchestra, tickets for this delightful oratorio will surely go fast!

Soprano Mary Wilson, this year’s Distinguished Artist, will command the spotlight on Saturday, July 19. A well-established favorite of ABS audiences and musicians alike, Ms. Wilson and ABS will continue to explore the theme of “Bach’s Inspiration” with a diverse program devoted to Bach’s Italianate side. Along with Bach’s cantata Non sa che sia dolore, Wilson will also perform works by Vivaldi, whose scores Bach studied while in Cöthen, and his contemporary, G.F. Handel, who was also born in the year 1685. It is only fitting that Wilson who has won admiration for her thrilling performances of Handel’s music, will perform his cantata Tra le fiamme. The text cautions that butterflies drawn to a flame will burn, but a phoenix will rise again—expect fireworks!

The 2014 Festival concludes on Sunday, July 20, with a matinee performance of the Mass in B Minor; a final opportunity to hear Maestro Thomas and the ABS Festival Orchestra and American Bach Choir as they perform one of the greatest works of art ever created.

Following a banner year for the ABS Festival in 2013 when every main stage concert sold out, we strongly encourage Festivalgoers to secure their tickets early. As an attraction for music fans from all over Northern California, the country, and beyond, the 2014 ABS Festival—San Francisco’s Summer Bach Festival—promises to be one of this summer’s greatest highlights!


Academy Applications due Saturday February 1st

Calling all aspiring Baroque musicians! The application deadline for the 2014 ABS Academy is coming up—all applications are due February 1, 2014. To apply, visit our Academy page and fill out the online application. Audio recordings and recommendation letters are required for a complete and competitive Academy application, so don’t hesitate: get started with your application today!

The ABS Academy has been preparing the next generation of early music virtuosi for professional careers since 2010, inviting a class of participants every summer to come to San Francisco and work closely with the incredible musicians of ABS. The application process is highly competitive, but the rewards of the program are many. One past Academy participant said, “I recommend this program to anyone inspired and ready to push their musicianship to a challenging and exciting professional level. I won’t say it is easy, but I will say it is worth it.”

2013 Academy "grads" performing as members of ABS during 2013 Messiah performances

2013 Academy “grads” performing as members of ABS during 2013 Messiah performances

Throughout the duration of the Academy and simultaneous ABS Festival, the general public has many opportunities to observe and hear the work being done within the Academy. In addition to free public master classes and some Festival concerts (most notably two performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor and the opera/oratorio program), Academy participants enjoy the spotlight during the Academy-in-Action concerts that open the Festival’s second week. These three concerts (July 14-16) allow Academy participants to perform for works they have developed in classes and coachings throughout the first week for an enthusiastic audience including fellow participants, the ABS faculty, and the general public. The Academy-in-Action concerts provide great moments of discovery: both in regard to hearing beautiful yet rarely performed works and for being introduced to exciting, new performers.

The Academy environment has something of a Baroque analogue in the Collegium Musicum founded by Telemann in 1702, and directed by Bach between 1729 and 1741 at Zimmermann’s Coffee House in Leipzig. That legendary assemblage of artists came together to play new works, dedicate themselves to high-level music making, and to build their performing careers. Journalist and first-hand observer of the entertainments at Zimmermann’s, Lorenz Christoph Mizler, provided a great description of Bach’s sessions:

“Both of the public musical Concerts or Assemblies that are held here weekly are still flourishing steadily. The one is conducted by Mr. Johann Sebastian Bach, Capellmeister to the Court of Weissenfels and Musik-Direcktor at St. Thomas’s and at St. Nicholas’s in this city, and is held, except during the Fair, once a week in Zimmermann’s coffeehouse in the Catherine Street, on Friday evenings from 8 to 10 o’clock; during the Fair, however, twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, at the same hour. The other is conducted by Mr. Johann Gottlieb Görner, Musik-Direcktor at St. Paul’s and Organist at St. Thomas’s. It is also held once weekly, in the Schellhafer Hall in the Closter-Gasse, Thursday evenings from 8 to 10 o’clock; during the Fair, however, twice weekly, namely, Mondays and Thursdays, at the same time.

“The participants in these musical concerts are chiefly students here, and there are always good musicians among them, so that sometimes they become, as is known, famous virtuous. Any musician is permitted to make himself publicly heard at these musical concerts, and most often, too, there are such listeners as know how to judge the qualities of an able musician” (Neu eröffnete musikalische Bibliothek, September 1736).

If you ever wished you were a participant at Zimmermann’s Coffeehouse or wanted to be a fly on the wall to observe that legendary artistic laboratory, don’t miss the ABS Academy this July.


ABS 2014 Academy Now Accepting Applications

ACADEMY only logo 72dpi RGBAn Advanced Training Program for
Emerging Professionals and Accomplished Students
of Historically Informed Performance Practice
July 7–20, 2014
Now accepting applications
Deadline: FEBRUARY 1, 2014

handout1_web72The 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.

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.

2014  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
John Thiessen trumpet
Jeffrey Thomas conductor

A few photos from the Academy

The 'Cellos

The ‘Cellos

Rehearsing the Mass in B Minor

Rehearsing the Mass in B Minor

Kyle Stegall, Isaac Pastor-Chermak, Elizabeth Blumenstock

Kyle Stegall, Isaac Pastor-Chermak, Elizabeth Blumenstock

Derek Tam

Derek Tam

Valerie Gordon & Mishkar Núñez-Mejía

Valerie Gordon & Mishkar Núñez-Mejía

Justin Bland, Leigh Anne Hunsaker, Patrice Boileau

Justin Bland, Leigh Anne Hunsaker, Patrice Boileau

Adam Young, William Skeen, Gretchen Claassen, Jane Leggiero

Adam Young, William Skeen, Gretchen Claassen, Jane Leggiero

Jason Rylander, Travis Hewitt, and Andrew Padgett

Jason Rylander, Travis Hewitt, and Andrew Padgett

Noemy Gagnon-Lafrenais, Valerie Gordon, Karin Cuellar

Noemy Gagnon-Lafrenais, Valerie Gordon, Karin Cuellar

Joseph Monticello & Alissa Roedig

Joseph Monticello & Alissa Roedig

Isaac Pastor-Chermak, Vijay Chalasani, Arthur Omura, & Rachel Van Amburgh

Isaac Pastor-Chermak, Vijay Chalasani, Arthur Omura, & Rachel Van Amburgh

Tanya Tomkins - CD signing

Tanya Tomkins – CD signing

Approaching the cadence…

In a few hours, we’ll return to Bach’s masterpiece as the closing work for our ABS Festival. It is like enjoying a wonderful visit with a close friend: there is always something new to talk about and there are always familiar and cherished memories to revisit. Conversations with our best friends are easy and rich, and so are the musical conversations that we have with Bach through this great work that we are privileged to know so well.

Then we must say farewell to our dear new colleagues, the Academy Participants, who have made these two weeks the wonderful adventures that they were. I trust that we’ll see them and hear them again. I’m sure of that.

Yesterday’s master class (voice) and Max van Egmond’s lecture on the special techniques used by singers who specialize in music of the Baroque era (and beyond) were offered to capacity crowds. Those free public events are one of the defining aspects of our Festival, and many spend the entire week with us, enjoying those and evening concerts for six or so days in a row.

Last night, in the grand Concert Hall of the Conservatory, we were fortunate to hear the Distinguished Artist Series performance by Tanya Tomkins. She was, of course, superb. Beginning with one of the most complex of Bach Suites for Solo Violoncello, and ending with a concerto by Bach’s son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, the colors of sonorities during the concert were beautiful. The Sonata No. 6 in C Minor by Jean-Baptiste Barrière, scored for two ‘cellos and harpsichord was the big “surprise” on the program, revealing a deep blend of sounds and a sensational allegro movement. Afterwards, Tanya signed copies of her new CD recording of the Bach suites. Here’s a photo showing some happy audience members (who also appear to be young Giants fans).


So, it’s off to put the finishing touches on the Bach for our 2pm matinee. This should probably be the last installment of these blogs from the Festival. But I’m sure that we’ll send along a wrap-up of some sort.

Thanks for reading!

Esther triumphs.

There was a palpable buzz around the Conservatory yesterday. The excitement that led up to our Festival/Academy performance of Esther was as great as that which preceded the great Biber Salzburg Mass last weekend. People arrived hours early in hopes of finding a seat for the sold-out performance. The folks on our wonderful box office staff (led by Lisa May) were able to eke out about a half-dozen extras in the gallery above the stage. But that was it, and the crowd that did have tickets knew how lucky they were to have made their reservations in advance. I met music-lovers from all sorts of locations, even some who had driven for hours and hours just to hear this early masterpiece by Handel.

Without any exaggeration, the performance was stunning. The Academy string players are phenomenal. Under the mentorship of Elizabeth Blumenstock, Robert Mealy (who was the leader and concertmaster for Esther), William Skeen, Elisabeth Reed, and Steven Lehning, those exceptionally talented Academy members in the violin, viola, ‘cello, and bass sections played with a polish and finesse that I have rarely heard anywhere. A fine continuo band, excellent playing by horns, trumpet, oboes, and bassoon, and the colorful combo of triple harp and baroque flute provided the color and excitement that Handel had intended. The singers were glorious, as was the American Bach Choir, nearly bringing the house down with the great chorus “He comes to end our woes,” a heroic and powerful romp of joy near the end of the work.

The day started with our final preparations for the performance, followed by another great public master class (Winds & Brass) and a lecture presentation on Handel’s English Oratorios, offered by “yours truly.”

The buzz this morning is all about today’s public offerings—Voice Master Class and the lecture by early music superstar baritone, Max van Egmond—and this evening’s concert by the justly renowned violoncellist Tanya Tomkins.

It nearly breaks my heart to know that in barely more than another day, the splendid Academy Participants will be moving on to their next triumphs elsewhere. When I say that I wish we could find a way to keep them all here, I mean it! They’re simply wonderful, and it has been the deepest pleasure of their mentor colleagues to work with them over the course of this two-week program. I will be so sorry to see them leave what has been our nest for a short while. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned in all these years of producing concerts of early music, we will see them again here, there, somewhere, and that is consoling and promising!

Tomorrow, the final performance of the work that we started at the first minute of rehearsals on day one of the Academy: Bach’s Mass in B Minor.

More tomorrow…

Radiant music during a dark night in the concert hall.

This one will be quick, as I’m running out the door to an early morning rehearsal. We have a big day ahead of us, mostly because it will result in a concert of some of Handel’s most glorious music. That’s a big statement, I know, but it’s true. In Esther, Handel composed a couple of the most tremendous choruses you’ll ever hear. This little “masque” composed for a private performance in the extravagant settings of the Cannons estate in 1718 contains choruses of the grandest proportions. And the colors that Handel elicited from a very efficiently sized orchestra seem to be innumerable just by the addition of some horns, and a triple harp. Gorgeous arias, a wonderful story… we had a great time at our dress rehearsal last night in the concert hall, the only evening of the Festival without a public performance.

This afternoon our wind and brass participants will be featured in the public master class and I’ll present a short talk about Handel’s English Oratorios. This is going to be fun.

More tomorrow…

A marathon evening.

Last night, two hours and 59 minutes of glorious music wrapped up a series of three evenings, showcasing the talents of the 2013 Academy Participants. In the spirit of sharing the works that they began to rehearse just a week ago, the performances were astonishing to me. Not a note was played or sung without joy, reminding us how glad we all are that these emerging artists have come together to immerse themselves in an experience that we trust is as formative and beneficial for them as it is inspiring for us to hear. The conductorless chamber orchestra began with selections from Muffat’s “Noble Youth” suite, aptly tiitled and chosen for the stageful of strings, oboes, and continuo players. Then we moved on to a program that, in all but one or two pieces, focused on the great German tradition of sacred vocal works, including motets and arias by Bach, Bruhns, Buxtehude, and Schütz. A sensational excerpt from Telemann’s Tafelmusik in D for trumpet, oboe, and strings was performed with all the elan that its composer would have expected, and a graceful setting by the French composer, Pascal Collasse, of texts by Jean Racine transported us quickly and happily to another realm before returning to the city of Hamburg for Weckmann’s big “Weine nicht,” a work for groups of violins, viols, and voices. So it was a great big holiday trip, beginning in Bavaria with Muffat’s suite, joining up with Schütz in Dresden, then off to Leipzig, Lübeck, and Copenhagen, stopping in Hamburg for Telemann, and ultimately returning there (following a quick side-trip to France!) to close the journey – and all in under three hours!

Thanks to the Academy Participants for three nights of wonderful music! We’re so grateful to them for their artistry and focus.

Today we have two rehearsals for Esther, morning and evening, and in between are two more free public events. All the bass string instruments — cellos, contrabasses, violones, and viols — will join forces for the master class, and Academy co-director Corey Jamason will offer his insights into the fine elegance of Bach’s great Mass in B Minor.

Master Class 1: check – Lecture 1: check – AIA 2: check … and still a dozen events to go!

The mornings are becoming just a touch more relaxed as more and more ensembles have been presenting their work in the Academy-In-Action concerts. That means that some participants might have an extra hour now in the morning. But the jam-packed schedule is certainly worth it. Before long, these wonderful two weeks will have passed by in a flash, even considering how rich the experiences and performances are. Last night, again, we heard great performances by our Academy Participants. The Viol Consort, the Trumpet Ensemble, the Chamber Orchestra, and smaller ensembles performing Bach, Boismortier, Corelli, Handel, Luzzaschi, Monteverdi, and Schmelzer all gave enthusiastically received presentations. And there’s more to come tonight: this evening’s program focuses to a great degree on Bach arias and the wonderful repertoire to have come from German composers, Bruhns, Buxtehude, Muffat, Schütz, Telemann, and Weckmann. And, for a bit of variety, we’ll hear a cantata by the Frenchman, Pascal Collasse.

Our public lectures and master classes began yesterday. Corey Jamason led his harpsichord students through a very enlightening hour and a half session, and Robert Mealy’s presentation of “Biber and the Wunderkammer of 17th-Century Germany” was fascinating. He is a superb lecturer, as is Debra Nagy (who presents today) and the remaining speakers (Corey Jamason and Max van Egmond); I will do my humble best to speak about Handel’s English Oratorios, or rather the dawning of them, on Friday before our performance of Esther.

Today, Tanya Tomkins will present her second of two presentations about the Bach ‘Cello Suites. What a great opportunity to hear her speak about the music that she has mastered so brilliantly.

Before signing off for today, I just want to pass along tremendous thanks to the SF Conservatory. Their staff has been wonderful, and special thanks go to their new president, David Stull, and production manager Seth Ducey. We’re so glad to collaborate on this great project!

More tomorrow…

The Academy in action. Home Run Derby #2.

Yesterday was “the day off” … hardly, for nearly all of us, but the idea of it looked good on paper, at least. Some did enjoy a little extra sleep in the morning, perhaps attended to some laundry, got in some extra practice time, maybe even got to stay at home for the great part of the day. One of our Participants celebrated his birthday at a local aquarium, and I headed down to KDFC to prepare for next Sunday morning’s broadcasts of “The Sacred Concert” and “Baroque By The Bay.” But many used the day to polish up the pieces they’d be presenting later in the evening as part of the first of three Academy-In-Action concerts.

Before heading over to hear the first musical smorgasbord of the works that our Participants began to rehearse just a week ago, I stopped back at Dobbs Ferry Restaurant and ordered that sensational Chicken Scarpariello that I wrote about last week. When it was served to the Opening NIght Dinner guests, a plateful satisfied three of four. So, much to my surprise, when the same huge portion arrived at my table for just me, I was delighted to consider how lucky I was to have that entirely to myself! Even better than the first time I tasted it last week, it set me out in a very good mood, perhaps also because in the restaurant I was watching the 2013 All-Star Home Run Derby. Yoenis Cespedes nailed the first-place prize, hitting homer after homer. What fun that must be!

Having arrived in the concert hall, it was the Home Run Derby all over again. Our Academy Participants hit home run after home run in music that included Monteverdi, Telemann, Boismortier, Hotteterre, Monteclair, Quantz, Rameau, Bach, and Handel. I can’t single out any one of the performers without singling out them all — and that, by usage, wouldn’t really be singling, anyway — they were all terrific. Now we just have to figure out how we can keep them all here in San Francisco!

Tanya Tomkins presents her first of two lecture/demos on the Bach ‘Cello Suites today (the second one is tomorrow at noon), and today brings the first of five installments of public (meaning “open to the public”) master classes and lectures. They’re all going to be enlightening and inspiring. Those who have attended in previous years can attest to that. Then it’s on to Academy-In-Action II tonight at 8.

More tomorrow…