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.