Last night’s Academy-In-Action concert was a Bach lover’s dream! Arias from Cantatas 8, 9, 30, 32, 43, 79, 80, 86, 93, 97, 109, 168 and Cantata 18, Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel Fällt, in its entirety. This gorgeous music was complemented by musical delights from other composers including an aria from Handel’s Giulio Cesare and instrumental works by Telemann and Blavet. The concert closed with Telemann’s Völker-Ouverture with 24 Academy instrumentalists on the stage playing the series of dances magnificently. I hope everyone was able to hear at least some of the 2014 Academy-in-Action presentations—so much fabulous music played by our 62 Academy participants and, occasionally, members of the faculty. It won’t be long before you’re saying of this emerging artists, “I heard them when …”
Along with A-I-A, this week’s free daytime events have been terrific and well attended. On Tuesday, Kenneth Slowik spoke about Bach as “the greatest musical orator who ever lived” and yesterday Robert Mealy gave a lecture on Bach’s musical antecedents and influences. 10 out of 10 times, these lectures by the faculty add something to how I experience the music ABS performs. They often make connections with earlier and later musical creations that I had neither known nor suspected. Later today ABS keyboard player extraordinaire, Corey Jamason, will present a lecture about postmodern Bach that explores how the composer absorbed, transformed, and reinvented the styles of his predecessors. Tomorrow Jeffrey Thomas will explore Handel’s literary collaborators in preparation for the evening’s performance of L’Allegro. On Saturday, Debra Nagy will discuss pre-Bach musical settings of the Passion narrative which will, undoubtedly, attract many ABS subscribers who will be hearing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in February-March 2015.
Speaking of L’Allegro … the rehearsals for this work have been a revelation and I, for one, am looking forward to Friday with great anticipation. This work truly is Handel at his very best. Each aria stands out from the one that preceded it by introducing a fresh instrumental support, rhythmic feel, and/or mood—it is a buoyant work of joyful variety and, above all, charm. The English text is based on the poems by Milton. I would recommend spending some time with these poems before Friday as the language, while beautiful in its own right, requires focus and a certain kind of Miltonian recalibration to get into the spirit of its 17th Century English. Look ahead in your ABS Festival programs to Friday and you will find that the L’Allegro texts are annotated for easier study.
L’Allegro is just the beginning of an exciting weekend of master classes, lectures, and performances including Mary Wilson’s return on Saturday night and the concluding Festival performance of the Mass in B Minor on Sunday. Stay tuned here for the daily schedules or visit the Festival web site at sfbachfestival.org