Remembering ABS’s Inaugural Season

SF Chronicle February 2 1990 (click to enlarge)

SF Chronicle February 2 1990 (click to enlarge)

Happy New Year!

Our first concert of 2014, “Bach’s Magnificat,” formally kicks off ABS’s 25th consecutive season of subscription concerts from January 24-27. As we look ahead to the fantastic season ahead, we will also periodically revisit some of ABS’s history throughout this benchmark season. For the first look back, we go all the way back to February 1990: President George H.W. Bush had just given his first State of the Union address, a new production of Gounod’s Faust opened at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, Steel Magnolias was dominating the box office in movie theaters around the country, and a new ensemble dedicated to the music of J.S. Bach were preparing to give their inaugural concert.

On February 2 & 3 of 1990, the American Bach Soloists offered their first public concerts at St. Stephen’s Church in Belvedere. Presenting three complete cantatas by J.S. Bach, the first program was an ambitious one:

Wachet! betet! betet! wachet! BWV 70
Meine Seel erhebt den Herren, BWV 10
Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147

The ensemble for the initial concerts included 16 instrumentalists and a chorus of 8 voices. Several of the members of that trailblazing assemblage of artists are still very much a part of ABS: Elizabeth Blumenstock (violin), Lisa Weiss (violin), Katherine Kyme (violin), John Abberger (oboe), Steven Lehning (violone), and Ed Betts (tenor) were among the ensemble. The quartet of vocal soloists was a great one: Judith Nelson (soprano), Jennifer Lane (alto), James Weaver (bass), and our very own Artistic and Music Director Jeffrey Thomas (tenor).


Founding Directors Jeffrey Thomas & Jonathan Dimmock at the 2013 Gala

Nearly three months later on April 27 & 28, the group’s second concerts were offered at St. Stephen’s. That program included four complete cantatas:

Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV 54
Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut, BWV 199
Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht, BWV 55
Ich habe genug, BWV 82

The assembled vocal soloists for the April program constituted another outstanding group: Judith Nelson (soprano), Drew Minter (countertenor), Jeffrey Thomas (tenor), and William Sharp (baritone). Cantatas 54, 55, and 82 were recorded with the same soloists that year, along with Cantata 51 (Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen; Julianne Baird, soprano soloist), for ABS’s first recording: J.S. Bach: Solo Cantatas BWV 54, 55, 82, 199. This recording is now available as Cantatas: Volume I.

ABS’s stellar reputation for presenting the best players and singers in superb, historically informed performances has been well earned over the last quarter-century, but what many may not know is that ABS began at the top. The first concerts in 1990 reflect this in their personnel, challenging programs, and the ecstatic responses and support that immediately followed. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Robert Commanday declared, “A major Bach ensemble has started up in the Bay Area and soon will be a festival feature that people will travel distances to hear.” The Bay Area’s early music community has been an especially rich and enterprising one since the 1980s. In 1990, ABS joined the mix and went straight to the top and have remained there ever since.

The next opportunity to hear ABS will be the all-Bach program titled “Bach’s Magnificat” from January 24-27. Jeffrey Thomas leads the ABS orchestra, the American Bach Choir, and soloists Clara Rottsolk (soprano), Eric Jurenas (countertenor), Guy Cutting (tenor), William Sharp (baritone), and Sandra Miller (flute). See you there!

Bach’s Magnificat – January 24-27 2014