Meet the Messiah Soloists

“Rejoice greatly!” On December 16, 18, & 19 Jeffrey Thomas will lead three performances of Handel’s Messiah at San Francisco’s magnificent Grace Cathedral—a beloved annual tradition now entering its 16th year! These performances will be recorded live in high definition for future release. Tickets are going fast, but it’s not too late to reserve seats at this year’s event.

Along with this year’s highly anticipated appearances at the Cathedral, Maestro Thomas and ABS will also perform Handel’s masterpiece at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis on December 14 and the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park on December 21.

Lets meet the soloists: Mary Wilson (soprano), Eric Jurenas (countertenor), Wesley Rogers (tenor), and Jesse Blumberg (baritone).

What is your favorite music to listen to in your free time?

Mary Wilson, soprano

Mary Wilson, soprano

Mary Wilson: I like a great variety of music. I listen to a lot of choral music, and a lot of old rock. I’m a huge fan of Led Zeppelin, the Stones, U2, and Prince!

Eric Jurenas: I actually listen to classical music way too much—there’s just so much interesting stuff to check out. I tend to be obsessed with an album for weeks at a time. This year I found myself attached to Bach’s Orchestral Suites, John Adams’ works, and the Brahms German Requiem. Most recently I have not been able to escape Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde while exploring its history—it’s so fascinating to see how influential that opera was on all music everywhere! Of more popular genres, Tower of Power is on the top of the list. Jazz is also a favorite: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Keith Jarrett. I skip over most pop, but I love atmospheric music from groups like Hammock or Jon Hopkins. My plan is to keep listening.

Wesley Rogers: My favorite music to listen to in my free time is varied.  Right now I listen to Jason Isbell a lot. He is sort of alt/country. I’ve also been listening to Ben Howard and James Vincent McMorrow.

Jesse Blumberg: Free time, what’s that?  In truth, though, I’m not nearly the audiophile I wish I were.  If I had a car it’d be easier to find time to listen, but sometimes in a rental car I’ll just put on a pop radio station to zone out a bit.  At least then I’ll know “what the kids are into these days.”

What are some of your favorite things to do in San Francisco?

Mary Wilson: SHOP!  Oy, I certainly help stimulate the local economy! I never take the time when I’m home and there just aren’t that many good places in Memphis so I shop when I’m on the road.

Eric Jurenas, countertenor

Eric Jurenas, countertenor

Eric Jurenas: Eating. There are so many fabulous restaurants in the city. I live in New York City and frequent many great restaurants, but San Francisco also has some incredible places. One area where San Francisco ultimately beats New York is the view of the city from afar; it is one of the most spectacular things I’ve seen.

Wesley Rogers: I really love Muir Woods. I always enjoy hanging out in Mill Valley and taking a trip to Stinson Beach.

Jesse Blumberg: It’s one of my favorite cities in the world, and I’m fortunate to get here a few times a year.  I’m sure I’ve missed some obvious touring spots, but lately I just try to explore and get down to the water somehow, whether it’s just coffee or a snack at the Ferry Building, or a ferry ride over to Marin. And when it’s Messiah time, I try to take the cable car up to Grace at least once—just seems like the most festive way to arrive!

What do you like most about performing Handel’s Messiah?

Mary Wilson: There is always something new. A harmony I’ve never heard before, the way another soloists will bring out a line of text, the joy and energy with which that AMAZING ABS choir sings—it’s always different. Each year I eagerly look forward to returning to my old friend—it’s just not December without it.

Eric Jurenas: I love the variety. As a singer, it allows me to show different aspects of my voice. There are dramatic moments as well as contained moments. Handel crafts it so well for each solo voice part.

Wesley Rogers, tenor

Wesley Rogers, tenor

Wesley Rogers: My favorite part about performing Messiah is being in the middle of those beautiful choruses. The Amen is almost overwhelmingly dramatic and beautiful and Jeffrey Thomas does an amazing job with his interpretation of it.

Jesse Blumberg: Singing bass arias in Messiah gives you lots of great challenges across a pretty wide range of vocal writing. It also gives you lots of time to sit back and listen to your colleagues making music, and those moments at ABS are some of my favorites every season. The singers and players Jeffrey assembles are truly some of the very best around. It’s always a pleasure to experience big chunks of Messiah as an audience member, only with the best seat in the house.

Besides Handel, what favorite composer or favorite piece of music do you like to sing?

Mary Wilson: I like to sing a lot of Mozart and Bach. I’m having a love affair with the Rossini Stabat Mater and Beethoven Missa Solemnis—they are such fun to sing!

Eric Jurenas: Let’s say besides Bach too, because that is the obvious first choice. Vivaldi and Purcell are also pretty high on the list, but I have a large attraction to German art song. I have fallen in love with Schubert Lieder as of late, which I used to find boring. Mendelssohn is largely ignored, which is a shame, and Brahms is irresistible. Brahms was such a terrible text setter and had no idea what he was doing with the voice, but his songs are still amazing. And of course, every now and again, I sing Beyoncé.

Wesley Rogers: I have always really enjoyed singing and working on Benjamin Britten. I would love to sing his War Requiem again.

Jesse Blumberg, baritone Photo: Arielle Doneson

Jesse Blumberg, baritone
Photo: Arielle Doneson

Jesse Blumberg: Tough question!  Other Handel favorites would have to include Apollo and Daphne, Dixit Dominus, and I loved the Birthday Ode for Queen Anne that we did at ABS a few years back.  I just toured a Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 for three weeks, and that’s a piece that could never get old even after 11 performances.  Life without Bach and Mozart is pretty unthinkable, of course, but as a self-identifying Lieder geek, I certainly couldn’t do without Schubert, Schumann, and Wolf. I’d better stop here!

Hear ABS perform Messiah this December live. Tickets are available online or by calling (415) 621-7900.