After the Wednesday night Bach Bonanza at the third and last Academy-in-Action concert, it seemed like those ABS Academy participants who were in the Conservatory cafeteria early on Thursday morning were there through sheer will power and perhaps some residual adrenaline. Such devotion, time, and care had been given to their chamber music assignments of the previous three evenings that the morning meant the end of one facet of the Academy experience and the continuation of the others (coachings, master classes, Handel and Bach rehearsals) with the knowledge that Sunday–and the end of the 2014 Academy–was coming. Singers got their coffees and rushed off to voice coachings and orchestral musicians gathered themselves for a full day for L’Allegro rehearsals.
Yesterday’s public master class was devoted to the low strings instruments: Violone, contrabass, violoncello, and viola da gamba. Faculty members Steven Lehning, Kenneth Slowik, and William Skeen worked with a series of Academy participants on matters of interpretation to take their already accomplished performances to the next level. I watched viola da gamba player Joshua Keller perform “Komm süßes Kreuz” from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with a full contingent of players: Ben Kazez (baritone), Sarah Stone (violoncello), Shawn Alger (contrabass), Bryan Anderson (organ).
The aria, which Keller introduced as “the bread and butter of every gamba player” was performed with great skill and assurance. Lehning, Slowik, and Skeen offered suggestions of how to perform the opening section and Lehning discussed the possible reasons why Bach wrote the aria to be accompanied by gamba, an instrument that was already considered archaic in Bach’s day. When Keller and the ensemble played through parts of the aria again, applying some of the faculty’s suggestions, we in the audience were all shaking our heads in affirmation—Keller’s slight adjustments had made the performance even more touching. Taking up where Slowik and Robert Mealy left off in their superb lectures about Bach on Tuesday and Wednesday, Corey Jamason explored the composer’s tendency to recreate and develop everything that he inherited from his artistic forebears and antecedents. Tonight at 5:00 pm, Jeffrey Thomas will shift gears slightly in his lecture focusing on Handel and that composer’s literary collaborators. It will surely be an excellent precursor to the evening’s performance of Handel’s L’Allegro at 8:00 pm.
There was no scheduled Thursday evening performance, so Thomas led a tutti rehearsal for Handel’s L’Allegro from 7:00-10:00 in the main concert hall. By now, the ABS Festival Orchestra, American Bach Choir, and all soloists know this work intimately and understand how to pace themselves through a full performance of it. Tonight we have the pleasure of hearing this glorious work!