ABS Festival & Academy wrap-up

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

August 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

Welcome reception at the end of first day.

Welcome reception at the end of first day.

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

August 7, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 9, 2015

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

Julianna Emanski, soprano

Julianna Emanski, soprano

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

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

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

Julianna Emanski

August 10, 2015

Mass in B Minor rehearsal with Jeffrey Thomas conducting.

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

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

Louie Eckhardt, trumpet

Louie Eckhardt, trumpet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louie Eckhardt
August 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

Grace Srinivasan, soprano (and friends)

Grace Srinivasan, soprano (and friends)

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

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

Grace Srinivasan

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