ABS’s Steve Lehning asks Chorus Members ​about singing Bach Motets

Next week, ABS will present a program of Bach’s Motets for Double Chorus. I thought it would be interesting to ask ABS Chorus members to reflect on their experiences with these works, so I sent out a number of questions and here are some of the responses I received.

Nearly everyone had their first experience with these works while they were in college.

For me that was the case—although my experience was as a continuo instrumentalist, not a singer. Several singers remember that they were required to perform them from memory, and because of that these works have remained with them in a way others have not. Cheryl Cain (soprano) even goes so far as to say that, because of the impact they had on her when she was younger, they have become part of her musical psyche!

While many remember singing these works as students, when asked how often they have the opportunity to perform them as professionals a very different picture emerges. Most admit to having sung one or two only once every four or five years. Allison Zelles Lloyd (soprano) replied:

  • “How often? Not often enough.”

Elizabeth Eliassen (alto) wrote:

  • “It is seldom that one hears more than one on the program offered by a choir of volunteers; in such cases, only the most muscular among the motets are programmed, mostly as if to say, “See, we can do it!”

Perhaps this is because they are considered so technically demanding. Elizabeth goes on:

  • “But, lay these works end on end, and one is hard pressed to hear anything but the sheer variety and depth of ways in which Bach was able to convey hope, assurance, faith, release and joy, setting scripture, paraphrases of scripture and hymn texts. We will experience emotions from poignant to ecstatic, range from lipid meditation to playful musical filigree to loud and echoing testimony.”​

When asked about Bach’s vocal writing compared to other choral repertoire, the opinion is nearly unanimous. As much as it is rewarding to sing, the music is very demanding. Tom Hart (bass) feels that:

  • “As a performer, your mind, voice and body have to be aligned to enable you to sing Bach well. As far as the motets are concerned, I look at each one as a perfectly constructed masterpiece.”

Daniel Cromeenes (countertenor) agrees, saying:

  • “The craftsmanship of Bach leaves little room for error, so you have to be on top of your game in both vocal technique and mental alertness. Also, while some [other] repertoire practically sings itself, Bach’s works usually require some digging in and studying in order to discern all the facets and intricacies of his music.”

Allison Zelles Lloyd is more philosophical with her opinion:

  • “There is a precision and an elegant pacing in performing the motets. Bach composes the phrasing, the imitation, the counterpoint, harmonic progressions, rhythmic proportions, the dissonances and resolutions in such a mathematically balanced way, that I am left feeling after singing it in performance, that all is right in the world.  It is a deeply satisfying experience. Bach further performs a balancing act with the overall structure of the motets by contrasting the florid passages with the syllabic chorales.  … I sometimes imagine the choir as a congregation—as human—while singing the chorales, and during the florid passages, as the angelic host.”

So, what is it about these pieces that makes them so demanding? As Ed Betts (tenor) so concisely puts it:

  • “The motets are exceptionally transparent and exposed, both musically and emotionally. There’s no hiding when you perform them!”

When Tom Hart was asked if there are challenges, he replied:

  • “Absolutely—especially the florid passages which usually move from section to section. They are soloistic in difficulty and yet demand an additional level of precision since other sections are singing much the same thing at the same time. Additionally, an overlying arc of lyrical movement is necessary to prevent the melismas from sounding mechanical. That is the challenge for me—to be able to create crystal clear movement that possesses human feeling.”

Elisabeth Eliassen agrees with Tom’s assessment that the singing must not sound perfunctory, but takes it beyond simply sounding human.

  • “Many of these motets contain challenging leaps and lines, requiring the utmost control, even restraint; you can’t over do, but you also can’t be stiff and stifled. Singing this music involves a great deal of mental energy, but it is also very physical. The shifts in mood conveyed by the music and text require a complementary shift in spiritual attitude, as well as a willingness to be vocally and spiritually exposed—a willingness to be used as an earthly instrument to a heavenly purpose.”​​

But, ABS is all about Bach, so how does our specific mission color these performances? Again, the opinion of our musicians is undivided.

  • “It is such a gratifying part of my life to perform with the musicians of ABS and under the direction of Jeffrey Thomas. The level of professionalism, commitment to the music, the performance, to each other, is like no other. The supporting staff are also incredibly nice and dedicated to the organization. It’s been amazing to watch ABS grow and flourish in the Bay Area over the last 20+ years. The depth of interpretation that Jeffrey takes us to is a remarkable feature of ABS. Each note knows its role in the work by the time we are done rehearsing: structural, passing tone, harmony, rhythmic, ornament, emotional, etc. When the orchestra plays, it is clear that they are actually phrasing based on the text delivery which unifies the delivery of Bach’s musical intentions.” (Allison Zelles Lloyd).
  • “We spend more time pulling out the musicality and rhetoric of a piece rather than just being content with getting all the notes in at the right times with some generic dynamics.” (Daniel Cromeenes).
  • “Jeffrey’s sensibilities as a musician and vocalist as well as his attention to detail let him know what is possible. It’s so rewarding to work with someone who doesn’t settle for ‘good enough’.” (Mark Mueller, tenor).
  • His “… approach to each work is as unique as each piece. We singers know that years and years of thought, performance experience, and the hearing of many interpretations informs the way in which he chooses to nuance phrases. Attention to ensemble is so vital; we endeavor to prepare our ensemble to breathe as a single organism, if possible, so we can allow the music to escape from the boundaries of the page and flow from us with as much control, grace and artistry as we can muster.” (Elisabeth Eliassen).
With tremendous succinctness Ed Betts states:
  • “There’s nothing to compare with performing the Bach motets with Jeffrey and the singers of ABS! It’s in a class all by itself.”

So, to sum up; as we (the ABS musicians) look forward to performing the Bach motets, Amelia Triest (alto) says:

  • “I would never pass up a chance to do the motets— there are very few other pieces that demand such intricacy and collaboration among the singers.  The challenges are great, but so are the rewards.”
And I think Mark Mueller speaks for all of us when he says:
  • “They’re as dense as diamonds and just as precious. Can’t wait!”
​— Steven Lehning

Friday March 31 2017 8:00 pm St. Stephen’s Church, Belvedere
Saturday April 1 2017 8:00 pm First Presbyterian Church, Berkeley
Sunday April 2 2017 4:00 pm St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, San Francisco
Monday April 3 2017 7:00 pm ​Davis Community Church, Davis

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: aryehnussbaumcohen.com

2017-2018 – American Bach Soloists Announce Their 29th Season

ABS’s 2017-2018 Season offers Musical Masterworks of the Baroque that have taken their places in the hearts of music lovers for all time.




Suzanne Karpov soprano (debut)
Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen countertenor (debut)
Zachary Wilder tenor
Hadleigh Adams baritone (debut)
American Bach Choir
Jeffrey Thomas conductor

American Bach Soloists, led by Artistic & Music Director Jeffrey Thomas, present their annual performances of Handel’s masterpiece, Messiah, in one of San Francisco’s most awe-inspiring, sacred spaces. ABS, Handel, and Grace Cathedral are perennially a winning combination and a highlight of the holiday season. Since 1998, ABS has presented Messiah in San Francisco’s historic Grace Cathedral to more than 40,000 attendees. A Bay Area holiday tradition now in its 20th consecutive year, ABS’s performances of Handel’s timeless work attract music lovers from around the world.

  • “What safeguards the tradition are performers as engaged and provocative as Jeffrey Thomas and the American Bach Soloists.” Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

ABS’s performances of Messiah have become an essential part of the musical year for many music lovers. Voted “Best of the Bay” by the readers of San Francisco Classical Voice, the Bay Area Reporter observed, “For those who treasure Messiah, Thomas’ version is revelatory.” Maestro Thomas will conduct the period-instrument specialists of ABS, the renowned American Bach Choir, and an internationally acclaimed quartet of brilliant vocal soloists.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017, 7:30 p.m. – Grace Cathedral, San Francisco
Thursday, December 14, 2017, 7:30 p.m. – Grace Cathedral, San Francisco
Friday, December 15, 2017, 7:30 p.m. – Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

Additional Performance:
Sunday, December 17, 2017, 4:00 p.m. – Mondavi Center, Davis

Suzanne Karpov - Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen

Suzanne Karpov & Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen

Zachary Wilder & Hadleigh AdamsZachary Wilder & Hadleigh Adams


St. John Passion

Aaron Sheehan, Evangelista tenor
William Sharp, Christus baritone
Hélène Brunet soprano
Robin Bier alto (debut)
Jesse Blumberg baritone
American Bach Choir
Jeffrey Thomas conductor

The great Passions of J. S. Bach remain unparalleled in their dramatic impact and universally experienced emotional effects. Bach took the genre to new worlds of expression, incorporating the Lutheran tradition of chorales with newer, Italianate operatic elements. The result is a powerful force of rhetoric that tells the Passion story reinforced by personalized illuminations of onlookers. This is music that transcends cultural, religious, and theatrical boundaries between performers and audience members, drawing in listeners as historical participants. Maestro Thomas, one of the Baroque music world’s most celebrated Bach specialists, brings his unique and insightful perspectives to the podium in definitive performances that are profoundly beautiful and moving.

  • “When I heard the American Bach Soloists perform the St. John Passion in Belvedere Friday, the unashamed earnestness of their presentation was a powerful example of how persuasive and even seductive this music can be when under the care of great performers.”      San Francisco Classical Voice

Friday, February 23, 2018, 8:00 pm – St. Stephen’s Church, Belvedere
Saturday, February 24, 2018, 8:00 pm – First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Sunday, February 25, 2018, 4:00 pm – St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, San Francisco
Monday, February 26, 2018, 7:00 pm – Davis Community Church, Davis

Aaron Sheehan & William SharpAaron Sheehan & William Sharp

Helene Brunet & Robin BierHélène Brunet & Robin Bier

Jesse Blumberg & Jeffrey ThomasJesse Blumberg & Jeffrey Thomas

APRIL 2018

Vespro della Beata Vergine (“Vespers of 1610”)
Magnificat a 6 voci

Nils Brown tenor
American Bach Choir
Jeffrey Thomas conductor

Like the most treasured works of art and spectacular architectural wonders, a handful of musical masterworks of the Baroque have taken their places in the hearts of music lovers for all time.  Our 29th subscription season continues with Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine (also known as the “Vespers of 1610”), a monumental work that displays its composer’s brilliant assimilation of styles—old and new, sacred and secular—and his masterful command of a wide palette of musical structures including psalm settings, sacred concertos, hymns, motets, and sonatas, all bound together by Gregorian chant. Last performed by ABS in 2010, audiences can expect the American Bach Soloists and the American Bach Choir to deliver an extraordinary performance of this splendid music from the Venetian school.

  • “It was a stunning performance … Mr. Thomas’ deep knowledge of the work gave him the ability to draw both subtleties and the rich sonorities to bring out the sheer majesty of Monteverdi … The large audience was transfixed.”      Classical Sonoma

Friday, April 6, 2018, 8:00 pm – St. Stephen’s Church, Belvedere
Saturday, April 7, 2018, 8:00 pm – First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Sunday, April 8, 2018, 4:00 pm – St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, San Francisco
Monday, April 9, 2018, 7:00 pm – Davis Community Church, Davis

Nils Brown & American Bach ChoirNils Brown & American Bach Choir

MAY 2018

Orchestral Overtures & Suites

Sandra Miller flute
Debra Nagy & Stephen Bard oboes
Dominic Teresi bassoon
John Thiessen trumpet
Jeffrey Thomas conductor

The musical forms of dance were the most essential and permeating components of music from the Baroque era. Those clearly defined elements determined tempos, moods or affects, and the structural architectures of the vast majority of Baroque musical works, both with texts and purely instrumental. Historians have noted that Bach’s music is intensely infused with the spirit of dance, whether expressing joy, felicity, sorrow, or devotion, Bach’s suites not only celebrate the dance, but also the phenomenal technical abilities of his musicians. All four Orchestral Suites will be presented in these concerts, full of exuberant sonority, captivating melody, and displays of virtuosity from ABS’s famous roster of “the best American specialists in early music” (The Washington Post).

  • “The dotted rhythms of the Ouverture came off with a jaunty elegance … sparkled with variety as it charmed and beguiled from beginning to end.”     San Francisco Classical Voice

Friday, May 11, 2018, 8:00 pm – St. Stephen’s Church, Belvedere
Saturday, May 12, 2018, 8:00 pm – First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Sunday, May 13, 2018, 4:00 pm – St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, San Francisco
Monday, May 14, 2018, 7:00 pm – Davis Community Church, Davis

Sandra Miller & Debra NagySandra Miller & Debra Nagy

Dominic Teresi & John ThiessenDominic Teresi & John Thiessen

American Bach Soloists 2017-2018 Season



Single tickets $20–$125
Subscribers receive a 15% discount.

For more information, visit americanbach.org or call 415-621-7900.

2017 American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy Tickets Now on Sale

Theme for 8th Annual Festival is

August 4-13 in Two Superb San Francisco Venues 

Tickets for the 8th annual American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy—San Francisco’s Summer Bach Festival—are now on sale. Titled “ENGLISH MAJESTY,” the 2017 Festival will feature concerts, lectures, and colloquia that extol the masterful achievements of London’s most celebrated Baroque composers. Along with a commemoration of the famous performance of Handel’s Water Music on the Thames 300 years ago in 1717, Artistic & Music Director Jeffrey Thomas will lead the ABS Festival Orchestra in two delightful performances of Purcell’s King Arthur and two performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor. Additionally, the “period style all-stars” (San Francisco Examiner) of ABS will offer “Bach & Sons,” a program that honors J.S. Bach and his most illustrious composer offspring, and the Academy Faculty, a distinguished roster of performers, will offer “Orpheus in Britannia” featuring works by some of the greatest composers of the English Baroque.

FRIDAY AUGUST 4 8:00 p.m.

This year marks the 300th anniversary of the legendary performance of George Frideric Handel’s world famous Water Music that was performed for King George I during an evening on the River Thames. Wanting to impress his close aristocratic friends and all of London at the same time, the King and his party boarded a royal barge at Whitehall Palace destined for Chelsea, where dinner would be served. According to the first British newspaper (The Daily Courant), “the whole River in a manner was covered” with boats and barges of onlookers and those seeking an extraordinary (and free!) outdoor concert. The music was an instant hit and is now among the most recognizable music of the Baroque era. Paired with Handel’s music for a river is Telemann’s music about a river, in this case the Elbe as it flows through the city of Hamburg. “Hamburger Ebb’ und Fluth” (“Hamburg’s Ebb and Flood”) paints nautical scenes of mythological deities—Thetis, Neptune, Naiads, Triton, Aeolus, and Zephir—culminating with a joyful movement about sailors (“Die lustigen Boots Leute” or “The merry Boat People”).

George Frideric Handel: Water Music Suites in F Major & G Major
Georg Philipp Telemann: Hamburger Ebb’ und Fluth (also known as “Water Music”)
American Bach Soloists • Jeffrey Thomas, conductor
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church • 1111 O’Farrell Street • San Francisco


The ABS Summer Festival runs concurrently with the ABS Academy, a prestigious training program that features one of the most distinguished faculty of Early Music performers to be found anywhere. Each musician, highly celebrated worldwide, is a renowned artist, expert in the performance traditions of Baroque Music. This program, designed specifically to spotlight their gifts as powerful and dramatic performers, takes its name from the legendary ancient Greek hero who was endowed with superhuman musical skills that could move all living things, charm wild beasts, and even coax rocks and trees into movement. Selections by the greatest composers of the English Baroque—including Purcell, Jenkins, and Handel, among others—will present the unique artistry of the Academy Faculty in an enthralling showcase.

Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin & viola • Max van Egmond, baritone
Corey Jamason, harpsichord
Steven Lehning, violone & contrabass • Judith Malafronte, contralto
Robert Mealy, violin & viola • Sandra Miller, flute
Debra Nagy, oboe & recorder • William Sharp, baritone
William Skeen, violoncello & viola da gamba
Kenneth Slowik, violoncello & viola da gamba • Dominic Teresi, bassoon
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church • 1111 O’Farrell Street • San Francisco

SUNDAY AUGUST 6 7:00 p.m.
SUNDAY AUGUST 13 2:00 p.m.

Jeffrey Thomas leads the ABS Festival Orchestra and American Bach Choir in performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor on each Festival Sunday. A beloved tradition, the annual performances of this pinnacle work of the repertory feature instrumental and vocal soloists from the ABS Academy.

ABS Academy Festival Orchestra • American Bach Choir
with soloists from the ABS Academy
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church • 1111 O’Farrell Street • San Francisco (August 6)
San Francisco Conservatory of Music • 50 Oak Street • San Francisco (August 13)

THURSDAY AUGUST 10 8:00 p.m.
FRIDAY AUGUST 11 8:00 p.m.

Henry Purcell’s King Arthur, considered a “semi-opera”—a work that includes arias and choruses, spoken dialogue, and dance music—is a setting of a libretto by the great English poet, literary critic, translator, and playright John Dryden (1631-1700), named England’s first Poet Laureate in 1668. The plot revolves around episodes in the battles between King Arthur’s Britons and the Saxons, centering primarily on Arthur’s efforts to recover Princess Emmeline, his fiancée who had been captured by his arch-enemy, the Saxon King Oswald. The music is a colorful anthology of songs, dances, and choruses, certainly ranking at the top of all theatrical music from the period of Restoration England, and features some of Purcell’s most beautiful, lyrical, and recognizable works including the serenely beautiful aria, “Fairest Isle.”

ABS Academy Festival Orchestra with soloists from the ABS Academy
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor
San Francisco Conservatory of Music • 50 Oak Street • San Francisco

SATURDAY AUGUST 12 8:00 p.m.

The fame of Johann Sebastian Bach—the keystone of a multi-generational musical dynasty—gave permanence to the careers and legacies of his forebears and sons. This program features some of Bach’s most profound music including orchestral transcriptions of selections from his most important musical creations including The Musical Offering, Clavier Übung III, and the monumental Passacaglia in C Minor. Then, following performances of Sinfonias from some of Bach’s best cantatas, the virtuosi of American Bach Soloists will then turn their attentions to Bach’s most successful progeny. Carl Philipp Emanuel will be represented by a tour-de-force concerto for flauto traverso; Wilhelm Friedemann’s Sinfonia in F features the strings of the ABS orchestra; and a rarely performed Trio for Strings by Johann Christian (known as “the English Bach”) will illuminate the importance of Bach’s offspring.

Johann Sebastian Bach: Transcriptions
    Ricercar a 6 (from “The Musical Offering”)
    Passacaglia in C Minor
    “Wir gläuben all an einen Gott” (from Clavier Übung III)
Johann Sebastian Bach: Sinfonias from Cantatas
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach:  Sinfonia in F Major for Strings
Johann Christian Bach: Trio for Strings in D Major
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Concerto in A Major for Flute

Sandra Miller, flauto traverso
American Bach Soloists • Jeffrey Thomas, conductor
San Francisco Conservatory of Music • 50 Oak Street • San Francisco

The participants of the 2017 ABS Academy will also be featured on August 7 & 8 in a free, three-part Academy-in-Action “Baroque Marathon” featuring favorite works and lesser known gems from the Baroque. Engaging with the theme of the Festival, the sessions of the “Baroque Marathon” will feature works by English composers along with compositions by J.S. Bach and others.

A host of free lectures, master classes, and a public colloquium complement the evening concerts, allowing for an immersive experience of music, learning, and inspiration that have made the ABS Festival & Academy a highlight of the Bay Area’s summer musical calendar in recent years.


Single tickets $30–$95
Purchasers of all 5 Festival productions receive a 15% subscribers discount.
For more information, visit sfbachfestival.org or americanbach.org call 415-621-7900.


August 4–13, 2017
Concerts will be held at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church (1111 O’Farrell Street) and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (50 Oak Street) in San Francisco

All free events will be held at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (50 Oak Street)

Friday August 4 2017 – St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, SF
5:00 p.m. Opening Night Gala Dinner at Dobbs Ferry of San Francisco
8:00 p.m. All Aboard! Water Music by Handel & Telemann

Saturday August 5 2017 – St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, SF
2:00 p.m. Public Colloquium (free)
  • Music’s “Fairest Isle” – Voices, Viols, & Visitors
8:00 p.m Orpheus in Britannia

Sunday August 6 2017 – St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, SF
7:00 p.m. Bach: Mass in B Minor

Monday August 7 2017 – San Francisco Conservatory of Music
3:00 p.m. Baroque Marathon – Academy-in-Action Concert I
8:00 p.m. Baroque Marathon – Academy-in-Action Concert II

Tuesday August 8 2017 – San Francisco Conservatory of Music
3:00 p.m. Master Class – Harpsichord (free)
5:00 p.m. Lecture Series (free)
 • Winds on the Water: Grand Music for the Great Outdoors – Debra Nagy
8:00 p.m. Baroque Marathon – Academy-in-Action Concert III

Wednesday August 9 2017 – San Francisco Conservatory of Music
3:00 p.m. Master Class – Violin & Viola (free)
5:00 p.m. Lecture Series (free)
  • Bach’s Mass in B Minor: A Look from the Inside – Jeffrey Thomas

Thursday August 10 2017 – San Francisco Conservatory of Music
3:00 p.m. Master Class – Violoncello, Viola da gamba, Violone, & Contrabass (free)
5:00 p.m. Lecture Series (free)
  • “O come let us howl”: English Theater Music in the 17th Century – Judith Malafronte
8:00 p.m. Henry Purcell: King Arthur

Friday August 11 2017 – San Francisco Conservatory of Music
3:00 p.m. Master Class – Winds & Brass (free)
5:00 p.m. Lecture Series (free)
  • King Arthur and Purcell’s French and Italian Influences – Robert Mealy
8:00 p.m. Henry Purcell: King Arthur

Saturday August 12 2017 – San Francisco Conservatory of Music
3:00 p.m. Master Class – Voice (free)
5:00 p.m. Lecture Series (free)
 • Bach & Sons: A Musical Dynasty – Kenneth Slowik
8:00 p.m. Bach & Sons: Sinfonias, Concertos, and Transcriptions

Sunday August 13 2017 – San Francisco Conservatory of Music
2:00 p.m. Bach: Mass in B Minor

Steven Lehning Will Give Free ABS Master Class On Monday March 13th

The second in the 2017 series of American Bach Soloists Free Master Classes will take place next Monday on March 13th at 7:30 p.m. in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak Street at Van Ness.

We asked Steven Lehning about his experiences in master classes with talented young artists. Here’s what he told us:

What type of master class is this, and what music will you focus on?

  • Students at the conservatory will be presenting arias from their March 11th performance of Handel’s Opera, Atalanta. I will be suggesting ideas about how to approach continuo playing for this music, with particular attention to the non-keyboard players: the cellos and double basses. There is a tremendous amount of historic material available to those who realize the figured basses (keyboards and lutes for example), but surprisingly little directed specifically to the string players who also make up the continuo ensemble.

What is your approach to this music?

  • Baroque music is all about rhetoric. The classical rhetorical figures are easily discernible in the shapes of the composers’ melodies. Continuo playing clearly needs to support this, but how? I like to suggest that the bass players need to think about these things. For example: They must know and understand the texts and how they are set against the harmony and rhythm of the bass lines. If the music is based on a dance form, how (as bass line players) should we help define those specific characteristics? I ask them to consider music as a language and, as such, I would suggest to players that the continuo lines supply the grammatical structure without which the musical meaning is at its best vague and at its worst incomprehensible.

How has your approach changed over the years?

  • Like just about everything in life, the more you live or work with something, the more there is to learn. When I first started thinking about my role as a bass player in Baroque music, it seemed to be enough to understand that my job was to support the music as if I were a solid foundation, a frame over which the “more interesting” parts could show their stuff. But the bass parts themselves were so interesting! . . . that alone couldn’t be all there was. I have been very lucky to have worked from the beginning with very talented singers. Instinctively, I learned the importance of understanding the text and that my playing could support or confuse it. I also was lucky early on to perform many Bach cantatas. Those bass lines so express the harmonic rhythm, and I realized that making that understandable, too, was extremely important. Over the years, I have tried more and more in my playing to synthesize all aspects of Baroque rhetoric as it is manifested in the music. It is something that continually is teaching me—if I ever feel I’m no longer learning something, that will be the time to quit.

What do you hope the participants will take away?

  • It is always my goal in teaching and coaching to help students look to broader horizons in their performance practices. For bass players, that means understanding the tremendous impact on what and how they play has on those they accompany. It isn’t enough to play your part as it stands. There is a constant need look to the rhetoric of the entire work and to learn where and how their individual parts fit in to the whole. The impact of their playing greatly enriches the performance experience not only for themselves and their musical colleagues, but for the audiences they play for as well. I am convinced that in Baroque music, everything the composer wants to express is on the page, and hopefully I will be able to generate enough contagious enthusiasm in these young players that they leave the master class excited and with a new drive to look for those things in this great music and to integrate them in their performances. Someone once said of Historically Informed Performance Practice that a goal couldn’t be to play music from earlier periods the way that they did, but rather to play in such a way that if they were to hear it, they would at least recognize it!

What do you hope the audience will take away?

  • Those who come to master classes as audience members do so for many reasons. Some of them are musicians themselves (students, professionals, and amateurs), some are friends and supporters of the participants, and some are there to support the educational institutions that present these classes. All, however, are curious and want to take away something that they didn’t know, or they are interested in learning new ways to think about this music. Just as I hope my enthusiasm for this music is contagious for the participants, so also do I hope this will be true for the audiences. I wrote above about music being a language. Hearing about some details players might think about when they work through the pieces they perform hopefully will inspire audience members to listen in a novel way and, with luck, deepen their own experience as listeners and supporters of the arts.

Free Admission
MONDAY MARCH 13th 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music
50 Oak Street at Van Ness

Works from
Handel’s Atalanta


Steven Lehning (violone & contrabass) was attending Pacific Lutheran University as an undergraduate when he stumbled upon a used book store that had a nearly complete collection of the Bach-Gesellschaft edition of Bach Cantatas in mini-score; each for only a nickel! Finding these while taking a class in Lutheran theology set him on a trajectory that prepared him to eventually become one of the founding members of the American Bach Soloists.

A remarkable and versatile musician who is equally at home with violas da gamba, violones, contrabass, and historical keyboards, he has worked with many of the luminaries of the early music world including Jeffrey Thomas, John Butt, Andrew Parrott, and Ton Koopman. He has performed at the acclaimed Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, as well as the Early Music Festivals in Boston and Berkeley.

After finishing his undergraduate degree and while waiting to see what performances might come his way, he worked as an apprentice learning the art of French bread and pastry. Always curious about the entirety of the world in which the music he plays came from, he dove into many aspects of early music. In addition to performing with ABS, he is the Artistic Administrator, serves as librarian, and tunes harpsichords and organs for rehearsals and performances. On the scholarship side, he has pursued graduate studies in musicology at the University of California (Davis). Steve has recorded on the American Bach Soloists, Delos, EMI, Harmonia Mundi, and Koch Labels.