This season’s December 11 & 12 performances of Messiah mark the 15th year of ABS’s presentations of Handel’s masterpiece in San Francisco’s most awe-inspiring venue, Grace Cathedral. ABS’s first presentation in this glorious landmark was a single performance on Tuesday, December 22, 1998. The ensemble offered performances in San Rafael and Berkeley on preceding nights, so the Cathedral event was the culmination of the series. Who knew it would also mark the beginning of a beloved Bay Area tradition that continues to delight and attract thousands of music fans fifteen years later?
For the inaugural 1998 performance, the soloists were soprano Emily van Evera, alto Judith Malafronte, tenor Nils Brown, and baritone David Arnold. ABS Artistic and Music Director Jeffrey Thomas, who sang the tenor part in two Messiah performances a week earlier at St. Thomas’s Church in New York City, returned to the west coast just in time to lead the ABS forces in all three performances. The St. Thomas performances, by the way, featured Gerre Hancock conducting Concert Royal, an excellent period-instrument ensemble that had future ABS Baroque trumpet virtuoso John Thiessen playing “The Trumpet Shall Sound.”
From the beginning, ABS has assembled outstanding Baroque specialists year after year for their annual visits to Grace Cathedral. Messiah soloists over the years include:
Sopranos: Emily van Evera (98, 99), Catherine Bott (00, 01), Ellen Hargis (02), Mary Wilson (03, 11, 12), Arianna Zukerman (04, 10), Shawnette Sulker (05), Elizabeth Weigle (06), Christine Brandes (07), Tamara Matthews (08), Yulia van Doren (09),
Altos/Countertenors: Judith Malafronte (98), Katherine McKee (99), Stephanie Novacek (00), Daniel Gundlach (01), Jennifer Lane (02, 10), Marietta Simpson (03), Daniel Bubeck (04), Rosemarie van der Hooft (05), Katherine Growdon (06), Jennifer Hines (07), Ian Howell (08, 09, 11, 12), Jennifer Lane (10)
Tenors: Nils Brown (98, 99, 01), Norman Shankle (00), Sean Fallen (02), Wesley Rogers (03, 07, 09, 10, 12), Stephen Tharp (04, 05), Benjamin Butterfield (06), Aaron Sheehan (08), Charles Blandy (11)
Basses/Baritones: David Arnold (98), David Thomas (99), Nathaniel Watson (00), Thomas Meglioranza (01), Vitali Rozynko (02), Aaron Engebreth (03), William Sharp (04, 05), Jeremy Galyon (07), Jesse Blumberg (08, 09, 11, 12), James Maddalena (06, 10)
Beyond the annual December performances at Grace Cathedral, ABS has offered many special concerts in that space over the years. Some highlights include a full cycle of Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Violoncello, Bach’s Magnificat, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Couperin’s Leçons de Ténèbres Les Apotheoses, Bach’s complete Motets, and music by Buxtehude, Telemann, Corelli, Muffat, Mozart, and Schubert. One extraordinary event in the Cathedral many ABS fans will remember was Handel’s Fireworks Celebration, a festive event celebrating the 325th anniversary of Handel’s birth. This collaboration with the Cathedral opened with Coronation Anthem No. 1 from Zadok, the Priest and Laudate pueri, Dominum (Abigail Haynes Lennox, soprano soloist) and continued with Suites Nos 2 and 3 from Water Music and The Music for the Royal Fireworks. The finale, accompanied by a laser fireworks show all around the inside of the Cathedral, made an unforgettable conclusion to this festive event.
ABS’s 2013 performances of Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral boast a tremendous line-up with Maestro Thomas leading ABS, the American Bach Choir, and four superb soloists: soprano Shawnette Sulker, countertenor Eric Jurenas, tenor Aaron Sheehan, and baritone Mischa Bouvier. See you there!