Handel’s L’Allegro! (Daily Festival log, July 19)

Look who stopped by the ABS office! Mary Wilson holds a copy of the new ABS CD, Mary Wilson Sings Handel. She will sign copies of the CD in the Conservatory lobby following tonight’s performance

Look who stopped by the ABS office! Mary Wilson holds a copy of the new ABS CD, Mary Wilson Sings Handel. She will sign copies of the CD in the Conservatory lobby following tonight’s performance

The members of the Academy vocal studio found themselves with another full day of coachings yesterday. Several of the singers took the opportunity to develop their solo repertory in sessions with faculty members Max van Egmond, Judith Malafronte, William Sharp, and Jeffrey Thomas. Master classes with the other studios—strings, low strings, keyboard, winds & brass—occupied the afternoon. The winds & brass master class was open to the public and an attentive audience filled the Osher Salon to watch Sandra Miller, Debra Nagy, and John Thiessen work with the flutes, oboes, and brass, respectively. After working together for almost two straight weeks, the rapport and mutual respect between teacher and student was clear to see.

ABS faculty member Corey Jamason (right) with three Academy harpsichordists: Patrick Parker, John Steven Yeh, and Kyle Collins

ABS faculty member Corey Jamason (right) with three Academy harpsichordists: Patrick Parker, John Steven Yeh, and Kyle Collins

At 5:00 pm, the Osher Salon was packed to the rafters with auditors for Jeffrey Thomas’s lecture about Handel and his librettists. Of course Thomas devoted considerable attention to the literary sources of L’Allegro, by looking closely at the work of Milton and Jennens. This preparation for the evening’s concert gave us all something to think about and discuss over dinner in the remaining hours before the performance at 8:00 pm.

Curtain calls during last night’s triumphant L'Allegro

Curtain calls during last night’s triumphant L’Allegro

In the hour before “curtain,” the lobby of the Conservatory filled with eager concertgoers as well as those hoping to get a ticket to the sold out performance. The mood was festive and reminiscent of the previous Friday when the Festival opened. As with the Bach rehearsals for the Mass in B Minor last week, the preparations for L’Allegro have been intense and led to a splendid performance.

So we have heard exquisite performances of Bach, music by many of his predecessors, an outstanding evening-length work by Handel. What’s next? Mary Wilson with the American Bach Soloists, that’s what!! Tonight’s concert will feature Thomas conducting Wilson and the members of ABS in works by Handel, Vivaldi, and Bach. Following the concert, Ms Wilson will autograph copies of the new ABS CD in the Conservatory lobby. Stick around after the concert and meet this sensational artist.

Continue reading, Day 13.

Master classes and Lectures (Daily Festival log, July 18)

Joshua Keller (viola da gamba, on left) is coached a public master class on Thursday afternoon. On stage are Keller, Kenneth Slowik (ABS Faculty, violoncello), Bryan Anderson (organ), Ben Kazez (baritone), Shawn Alger (contrabass), Sarah Stone (violoncello). Steve Lehning (ABS Faculty, violone) is on the far right

Joshua Keller (viola da gamba, on left) is coached a public master class on Thursday afternoon. On stage are Keller, Kenneth Slowik (ABS Faculty, violoncello), Bryan Anderson (organ), Ben Kazez (baritone), Shawn Alger (contrabass), Sarah Stone (violoncello). Steve Lehning (ABS Faculty, violone) is on the far right

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).

Between rehearsals, Academy participants drop by the ABS office to pick up ABS CDs, water bottles, and sweatshirts

Between rehearsals, Academy participants drop by the ABS office to pick up ABS CDs, water bottles, and sweatshirts

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!

Continue reading, Day 12.

Academy-In-Action continues (Daily Festival log, July 17)

ABS violin faculty Robert Mealy and Elizabeth Blumenstock (seated center) coach violinist Andrew McIntosh in a French dance piece at yesterday’s public master class

ABS violin faculty Robert Mealy and Elizabeth Blumenstock (seated center) coach violinist Andrew McIntosh in a French dance piece at yesterday’s public master class

Augusta McKay-Lodge performs a Bach violin sonata while Mealy, Blumenstock, and members of the audience listen in

Augusta McKay-Lodge performs a Bach violin sonata while Mealy, Blumenstock, and members of the audience listen in

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

Continue reading, Day 11.

Guest Academy blogger: Elise Figa (Daily Festival log, July 16)

Rehearsal for Bach’s BWV 97 no. 8. Left to right: J. Adam Young (violoncello), Elise Figa (soprano), David Dickey and Joel Verkaik (oboes). They will perform the work on Wednesday, July 16

Rehearsal for Bach’s BWV 97 no. 8. Left to right: J. Adam Young (violoncello), Elise Figa (soprano), David Dickey and Joel Verkaik (oboes). They will perform the work on Wednesday, July 16

Since my impressions of the Festival & Academy have dominated these daily missives, I thought it would be fun to temporarily pass the reins to one of our outrageously talented Academy participants, Elise Figa for a new perspective. Take it away, Elise:

“After a full week at ABS, I was ecstatic to perform with my new colleagues at the first Academy in Action concert last night (Monday July 14). The energy in the hall was rich with supportive friends from the program, local early music enthusiasts and our very own ABS faculty. It was especially lovely to see the faculty sitting together and smiling at the success of their students. I also enjoyed our “Social Media” symposium last week and have taken the advice of ABS Executive Director Don Scott Carpenter and have jump started my Twitter account with pictures and updates from the festival. Follow me @elisesoprano if you use Twitter!



“This is my first year being a part of The Academy. As a vocalist who has participated in several other Early Music summer festivals and workshops, I truly believe in the mission of ABS and its dedication to both historically informed and high level performance through education and respect for the talents of young musicians. I have been nothing but impressed with the amount of care and dedication shown by Mr. Thomas and the entire faculty and staff at the American Bach Soloists Academy. I cannot wait to continue with my coachings, lessons, rehearsals and performances this week.”

—Elise Figa, soprano

Soprano Elise Figa and mezzo-soprano Janna Elesia Critz enjoy an ice cream from Smitten Ice Cream near the Conservatory on Tuesday

Soprano Elise Figa and mezzo-soprano Janna Elesia Critz enjoy an ice cream from Smitten Ice Cream near the Conservatory on Tuesday

Another fine night of chamber music was performed by members of the 2014 Academy at last night’s Academy-in-Action concert. The program opened with a major work: Bach’s Concerto in C Major for 3 Harpsichords. The three parts were performed by Patrick Parker, Bryan Anderson, and John Steven Yeh. This was followed by three arias by J.S. Bach performed by countertenor Daniel Cromeenes and tenor Corey Shotwell, flutists Mara Winter and Joshua Romatowski, and continuo by Michael Kaufman (violoncello) and Kyle Collins (harpsichord). Works by Fasch, Telemann, Scarlatti, Janitsch, and Young filled out another impressive program which concluded with Philipp Heinrich Erlebach’s Ouverture V in F Major, a large work that required 24 Academy participants on stage together!

There is only one more chance to hear the outstanding members of the ABS Academy perform these fascinating chamber music programs: tonight’s 8:00 pm Academy-In-Action concert. Don’t miss it!

Continue reading, Day 10.

Academy in Action begins (Daily Festival log, July 15)

Intermission at Sunday’s Mass in B Minor performance (view from Mezzanine seating area). Members of the Academy Festival Orchestra and American Bach Choir

Intermission at Sunday’s Mass in B Minor performance (view from Mezzanine seating area). Members of the Academy Festival Orchestra and American Bach Choir

Monday morning presented an opportunity for Academy participants, faculty, and ABS staff to catch their collective breath after an outstanding opening weekend for the 2014 Festival. Several of the participants took the opportunity to leave the campus, as it were, and get out and explore San Francisco for a few hours. Those who were scheduled to perform in the evening’s Academy in Action concert managed to balance the downtime with some last chamber music rehearsals with their colleagues and even fitting in a coaching or lesson. For all of them, it is a great opportunity to be here and working with ABS so every hour of each day counts and needs to be utilized to the fullest while they are here.

2014.07.15.3

ABS Faculty members Steven Lehning and William Sharp in the concert hall on Monday afternoon

The Academy-In-Action concerts are the first opportunity that Festivalgoers have to hear these extraordinary musicians in chamber music settings where each participant’s talent and contributions can shine in solo and ensemble contexts. I hope everyone has the chance to attend one, two, or all three of them this year. An added treat of the A-I-A concerts is looking around the concert hall and seeing all the ABS Faculty sitting in the audience listening to each selection with pride and showing their support. Those participants who aren’t on stage performing or who might be awaiting their turn can also be seen in the audience.

Academy-in-Action program I - Joshua Keller (viola da gamba), Melissa Niemeyer (harpsichord), and Glenda Bates (oboe) perform Heinichen’s Sonata in C Minor

Academy-in-Action program I – Joshua Keller (viola da gamba), Melissa Niemeyer (harpsichord), and Glenda Bates (oboe) perform Heinichen’s Sonata in C Minor

Last night’s concert kicked off with a flute extravaganza by Boismortier, the Concerto pour 5 flutes-traversieres sans basse, featuring Kelly Roudabush, Alissa Roedig, Mara Winter, Joshua Romatowski, and Sandra Miller. Soprano Elsa Nicol was the vocal soloist in the next selection, also by Boismortier: Diane et Acteon. Performing along with Elsa were Joel Verkaik (oboe), Sadie Glass (horn), Sarah Stone (violoncello) and John Steven Yeh (keyboard). A group of singers next performed Lotti’s La vita caduca (“The Transitory Life”). There were arias by Bach, a trio sonata by Heinichen, a fascinating series of texts with music by Johann Bach (1604-1673), and settings by Luzzaschi, and Legrenzi. Rather than recount each piece on the program, I would just offer that the evening had a great variety of configurations of singers and instrumentalists in music from the Baroque era and earlier. I always appreciate the chance to hear live performances of Monteverdi’s music and there were two lovely madrigals on the program: “Su, su, su, pastorelli vezzosi” with singers Eliza Bagg, Fiona Gillespie, and Gabriela Estephanie Solis with Paul Holmes Morton (guitar) and “Ardo avvampo” with singers Elise Figa, Molly Netter, Travis Hewitt, Nicholas Burns, Corey Shotwell, Jason Rylander, Ben Kazez, David Rugger, accompanied by Kyle Collins (keyboard), Elizabeth Blumenstock, Robert Mealy (violins), and Steven Lehning (violone).

A-I-A continues tonight at 8:00 pm. Again, I hope everyone can attend at least one of these concerts. They offer a great chance to hear exquisite music performed by some fantastic musicians.

The Mass … the pinnacle! (Daily Festival log, July 14)

Janna Elesia Critz and Fiona Gillespie are the vocal soloists in rehearsal of “Christie elesion” on Sunday afternoon

Janna Elesia Critz and Fiona Gillespie are the vocal soloists in rehearsal of “Christie elesion” on Sunday afternoon

The first week of the Academy saw substantial rehearsal time devoted to the music that was performed with amazing clarity and brilliance last night. In fact, I would add to those virtues two more: purpose and passion. It was clear from the expressive opening bars of the Kyrie that Maestro Thomas and the Festival orchestra were committed to presenting a memorable performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor. All those hours of rehearsal and work and we, the audience, share in the reward: a magnificent realization of Bach’s masterpiece. It was a transporting experience that won’t be forgotten by many of us who were present. There will be one more performance of the Mass on July 20 at 2:00, the final performance of the Festival. That performance is completely sold out.

The American Bach Choir join the orchestra and soloists for final rehearsal before the Sold Out Sunday night performance

The American Bach Choir join the orchestra and soloists for last rehearsal before the Sold Out Sunday night performance

The performance of the Mass ended at 9:30 pm and it was great to see nearly everyone in the concert hall lingering around, socializing, and collectively holding onto the experience—like we had all just been through something extraordinary together and didn’t want to let it end just yet. Though the performance felt like a culmination in many ways of everything that has happened thus far in the Academy, there is still so much more to come! Tonight is the first of the Academy-In-Action concerts. Rehearsals for Handel’s L’Allegro resume on Tuesday. Public lectures and master classes happen each day from tomorrow through Saturday. Mary Wilson returns for a highly anticipated concert on Saturday. And, of course, another chance to hear this fine assemblage perform Bach’s Mass on Sunday. Oh yes … the Festival has just gotten started.

Continue reading, Day 8.

Colloquium and Festival Concert (Daily Festival log, July 13)

Harpsichord builder John Phillips discusses his craft during the Public Colloquium, “Baroque Instruments and Performers, Then and Now"

Harpsichord builder John Phillips discusses his craft during the Public Colloquium, “Baroque Instruments and Performers, Then and Now”

The main activity during the day at the Conservatory was the annual Public Colloquium. This year’s discussion covered instruments and how they have changed over the ages or progressed along differing lines in different regions. Organized by ABS faculty member Steven Lehning, this informative group of sessions included all members of the ABS faculty with the addition of harpsichord maker John Phillips. There wasn’t a chair to be had during the packed event and when it ended the conversations continued between the audience, faculty, and Academy participants. Surely many of those discussions continued on through dinner and up to the beginning of the concert.

After an exhilarating concert on Friday night with Bach’s Inspiration – Part I, a sense of expectation and excitement pervaded the atmosphere at the Conservatory all day and throughout the evening for when Part II would be presented. Another fantastic program of works, many of them rarely heard in live performances, was performed by the outstanding musicians of ABS. One work that made a splendid impression was Georg Melchior Hoffmann’s cantata Meine Seele rühmt und Preist. Tenor Derek Chester was the soloist and narrator of this exquisite work by one of Leipzig’s busiest musical figures in the days before Bach came to town.

Flute studio: ABS faculty member Sandra Miller (left) with Kelly Roudabush

Flute studio: ABS faculty member Sandra Miller (left) with Kelly Roudabush

Along with other amazing works by Reincken, Bruhns, and Buxtehude, the Saturday program had a generous helping of music by none other than Johann Sebastian Bach. The first work by Bach on the program, the trio sonata from “The Musical Offering,” was an exquisite example of challenging music performed with apparent ease and near-telepathic interconnection between the musicians. Next, Corey Jamason and William Sharp gave a wonderful performance of Amore traditore. Sharp, who has performed with ABS since the first concerts, gave an impassioned performance in what must be the most unusual text Bach ever set, while Corey Jamason astonished us all with his keyboard virtuosity in the final movement.

The Brandenburg concertos are some of Bach’s most familiar and beloved instrumental works and my own particular favorite is No. 2, and it was featured on last night’s program. To hear Baroque trumpet wizard John Thiessen perform the music in the first and third movements with such grace and authority was a great thrill to experience live after having become so acquainted with his indelible performance on the ABS recording of the piece. With the Brandenburgs, everyone is a soloist and last night the ABS band played with finish and style, all while clearly having a grand time. Great as the CD is, being in the audience for Brandenburg No. 2 is even better.

So Bach’s Inspiration over two nights was pretty amazing and … well, inspiring! Tonight we hear the culmination of all of his influences and professional experiences: the Mass in B Minor. It will also be the first Festival appearance of several of the fantastic musicians who have been working with ABS all week in the Academy. At present, a few tickets remain in the gallery for the event. If you don’t have a ticket, arrive early at the box office to get one; you won’t want to miss it (and next week’s performance is completely sold out).

Continue with Day 7.

2015 ABS Festival Theme Announced

2015 Festival DatesABS is pleased to announce the dates and theme for next summer’s Festival: “Versailles: Parisian Baroque,” August 7-16. The Festival will feature music from the extravagant court of Versailles with glorious works by Lully, Rameau, and Gluck alongside masterpieces by Bach including the annual tradition of presenting his great Mass in B Minor. The 2015 ABS Festival & Academy will occur at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and will feature the same wonderful concerts and free events that Festivalgoers have come to expect. Save the dates now; tickets go on sale early in 2015.

The 2014 ABS Festival & Academy, “Bach’s Inspiration,” is now officially one for the history books and it will go down as an overwhelming success! Jeffrey Thomas, the musicians of American Bach Soloists, the American Bach Choir, and the 62 members of the Academy presented ten incredible days of concerts and free educational events that constituted a truly memorable Festival. Five of the six Festival concerts were completely sold out and the Academy-In-Action concerts drew large, enthusiastic audiences each night to hear the magnificent playing and singing by the Academy participants.

While it may feel like a long time to wait to hear ABS and a new Academy class explore the Parisian Baroque, the 2015 Festival will be here before you know it. In the meantime, ABS has an outstanding season planned for 2014-15. Do you have your subscription and Messiah seats reserved yet? Information available here.

Festival off to a great start (Daily Festival log, July 12)

Ensembles, coachings, and another rehearsal for the Mass filled the Friday morning schedule. Overheard comments from the rehearsal: Elizabeth Blumenstock on rehearsing the “Laudamus te” aria: “If we were the Supremes then this aria would need two Diana Rosses” (referring to the voice and violin soloists); Jeffrey Thomas moments before beginning the “Domine Deus” aria: “Ah, more magic music!” Along with this packed day of collaboration and study, Friday also marked the beginning of the 2014 Festival.

Bach break. Taking a breather during the morning rehearsal of the Mass in B Minor. Anna Gorbachyova and Kyle Collins are standing at the organ while Laura Gaynon (violoncello) goes over some figures. Shawn Alger and Daniel Turkos discuss the bass parts (in the back)

Bach break. Taking a breather during the morning rehearsal of the Mass in B Minor. Anna Gorbachyova and Kyle Collins are standing at the organ while Laura Gaynon (violoncello) goes over some figures. Shawn Alger and Daniel Turkos discuss the bass parts (in the back)

Before heading to the Conservatory for the opening performance, a merry crew of ABS supporters and members of the ABS staff met at Dobbs Ferry restaurant to kick off the 2014 Festival with a celebratory Opening Night dinner. For those who haven’t been to Dobbs Ferry yet, you simply must go! The congenial atmosphere is the perfect compliment to a fine menu, which offers delicious courses of seafood, meat, and vegetarian delights to please any palate. Oh… and save room for desert!

The festive atmosphere was abuzz in the lobby of the Conservatory. In the moments before the concert, the excitement was palpable as enthusiastic Bach lovers and those who were intrigued to hear the works of Buxtehude, Marcello, and others whose works influenced Bach. After all, the opportunity to hear an exceptionally beautiful work like Johann Christoph Bach’s Es erhub sich ein Streit doesn’t come along often enough. Thank you, ABS!

The photo exhibition “ABS – The First 25 Years” on the wall outside the concert hall attracted lots of attention as festivalgoers recalled some of their favorite ABS moments from the past quarter century before filing into the concert hall to hear ABS.

The room was full and the audience roared with appreciation at the conclusion. What a great program of extraordinary works, many of which were from off the beaten path of baroque repertory. All of the performances were magnificent, but the last work on the program, Bach’s transcription of the Pergolesi Stabat Mater, was the perfect closer to Part I of the two-night Bach’s Inspiration program. Soprano Mary Wilson and countertenor Eric Jurenas were the soloists on this glorious work from the mature Bach’s years in Leipzig. Though its music might have sounded familiar at first, Bach’s additions to Pergolesi’s instrumental textures were lovely to hear and added richness, complexity, and were … well, totally Bach! I think I speak for many who were there last night when I say, “Wow!” Off to a great start.

Continue with Day 6.

Day 4 of the Academy; Festival opens tonight! (Daily Festival log, July 11)

Jeffrey Thomas leads the first full rehearsal for the Mass in B Minor in the main concert hall on Wednesday night

Jeffrey Thomas leads the first full rehearsal for the Mass in B Minor in the main concert hall on Wednesday night

Whereas Wednesday was occupied by rehearsals for Bach’s Mass in B Minor, Thursday featured another big rehearsal for Handel’s L’Allegro, which will open the second weekend of performances on Friday, July 18. Just as Bach’s Inspiration will be explored and celebrated during this summer’s festival, Bach’s exact contemporary, George Frideric Handel, will also receive his due with an eagerly anticipated performance of this gorgeous work (you can read more about L’Allegro here). Many of the soloists from the Academy’s vocal studio will enjoy great opportunities to shine in L’Allegro’s many arias. I dropped in on the rehearsal for only a few minutes and heard four exquisite arias sung with great beauty by Michael Jankosky, Ben Kazez, Hailey Fuqua, and Anna Gorbachyova, each supported by a magnificent ensemble of Academy participants and faculty playing side by side. Due to the great demand for tickets to this performance, a few seats have been made available in the gallery seating behind the stage, but these won’t last long. If you don’t have a ticket yet, get one soon before they’re gone; you don’t want to miss this chance to hear one of Handel’s most entrancing works performed by this outstanding assemblage.

A quartet of Academy singers at Thursday's L’Allegro rehearsal: Ben Kazez, Jason Rylander, Hailey Fuqua, and Anna Gorbachyova

A quartet of Academy singers at Thursday’s L’Allegro rehearsal: Ben Kazez, Jason Rylander, Hailey Fuqua, and Anna Gorbachyova

ABS’s Executive Director Don Scott Carpenter introduced a feature of this year’s Academy curriculum: a lecture on the business side of the early music world that explored how emerging artists can best promote their performances and careers as artists. As many of the Academy participants are in various stages of the transition from Conservatory to career, this session’s emphasis on the uses of social media provided Academy participants with some helpful strategies to put into practice immediately. Look for these Academy participants on Twitter; if they weren’t there before, they are now.

L’Allegro rehearsal: Melissa Niemeyer and Arthur Omura are seated at the harpsichords and theorbo player Paul Morton is on the right

L’Allegro rehearsal: Melissa Niemeyer and Arthur Omura are seated at the harpsichords and theorbo player Paul Morton is on the right

The Academy was a beehive of activity all day. Along with leading their sections and master classes, members of the ABS Faculty rehearsed works they will perform at the opening night concert and at Saturday’s continuation of the Bach’s Inspiration program. Visiting soloists Mary Wilson, Eric Jurenas, and Derek Chester are now here and they immediately hopped aboard the Festival & Academy train. Mary and Eric joined the faculty for a rehearsal of Bach’s version of the Pergolesi Stabat Mater and Derek presented a master class for the Academy participants last night. Stay Calm; Festival On!

Continue with Day 5.

Academy intensifies; Festival approaches (Daily Festival log, July 10)

Bach’s Mass in B Minor rehearsal with trumpets: John Thiessen (standing) and Steven Marquardt

Bach’s Mass in B Minor rehearsal with trumpets: John Thiessen (standing) and Steven Marquardt

By now everyone in the Academy—participants and faculty—have really settled into the Academy groove as they shuttle from coachings to master classes to rehearsals, while also managing to grab a sandwich, some conversation, and some laughs in between. It did not take long for a sense of camaraderie and common purpose to arise within this group.

Along with the many other activities of the day—including another Evangelists forum—Bach’s Mass in B Minor was a focus for many of the participants today. The orchestra players who are performing in the Mass had a rehearsal in the morning and, following an evening American Bach Choir rehearsal for Johann Christoph Bach’s Es Erhub sich ein Streit (which will be performed tomorrow at the opening night concert), everybody got together for a “Tutti” rehearsal of the Mass from 7:00 pm until 10:00 pm. This towering masterpiece presents many challenges, yet Maestro Thomas is preparing the full orchestra, choir, and vocal soloists to give an amazing performance on Sunday. Thomas’s Festival performances of the Mass are always a highlight of the musical calendar and this one is shaping up to be another tremendous occasion.

Bach’s Evangelist forum on Tuesday:  David Rugger, Jason Rylander, Arthur Omura, Corey Jamason, Sarah Stone

Bach’s Evangelist forum on Tuesday:
David Rugger, Jason Rylander, Arthur Omura, Corey Jamason, Sarah Stone

Wow! Tomorrow is Friday and the beginning of the Festival. So much has already happened, yet the public side of the Festival is only about to begin. Time is really flying! I hope you all have your tickets for the Bach’s Inspiration programs tomorrow and Saturday. Red ink “Sold Out” signs have already been printed for next weekend’s performances of Handel’s L’Allegro (July 18) and Bach’s Mass in B Minor (July 20), and available seats for the other concerts are going fast. At present, a limited number of seats remain for this weekend’s concerts.

Continue with Day 4.

Day 2 of the Academy (Daily Festival log, July 9)

Jeffrey Thomas rehearsing the Kyrie section of Bach's Mass in B Minor on Monday

Jeffrey Thomas rehearsing the Kyrie section of Bach’s Mass in B Minor on Monday

Whereas the music-making for Academy participants on the first day extended from the early morning until about 4:30 pm, Day 2 marked the beginning of the more typical Academy day: 9:00 am coachings and rehearsals until the final chamber music rehearsals ending at 9:00 pm!

 

At the opening reception for the Academy: Corey Shotwell (tenor), Fiona Gillespie (soprano), Travis Hewitt (countertenor), and Hailey Fuqua (soprano)

At the opening reception for the Academy: Corey Shotwell (tenor), Fiona Gillespie (soprano), Travis Hewitt (countertenor), and Hailey Fuqua (soprano)

The days are undoubtedly long, but it was amazing to see how charged many of the participants were throughout the day. For many, the Academy is exactly the kind of opportunity they have been looking for. Here they get to spend most of their waking hours working in large orchestral rehearsals, sectional master classes, and chamber music sessions with other talented musicians who share their love for the music of the Baroque. All the while, they get to absorb the teachings of some of the most accomplished musicians in the early music community and bounce ideas off everyone else going through this experience with them. For a musician drawn to performing the music of Bach in historically informed performance practice, there is nothing like the ABS Academy.

Academy harpsichordists Arthur Omura and John Steven Yeh

Academy harpsichordists Arthur Omura and John Steven Yeh

Along with the early morning ensembles and vocal coachings, there was a full orchestra rehearsal for the Mass in B Minor from 10:00 until noon. Chamber music and master classes occupied the afternoon period until 5:00 when Jeffrey Thomas led a special forum for the tenors and continuo players titled “Bach’s Evangelists.” For an aspiring tenor, the Evangelists in Bach’s two great Passions are pinnacle roles requiring endurance, expressiveness, and the ability to deliver the story with great impact. Working on this repertory with Thomas, one of the great Bach Evangelists, is an incredible opportunity and yesterday all the Academy faculty participated in the session. Tenor Jason Rylander and baritone David Rugger were the Evangelist and Christus for the forum while Sarah Stone, William Skeen (violoncello), Arthur Omura, Corey Jamason (organ) Daniel Turkos (contrabass), and Steven Lehning (violone) provided the continuo. At one point Steven said, “Our notes have the same grammar as the words,” suggesting how Bach’s musical logic guides performers–vocalists and instrumentalists–through the text; every mark on the page serves the narrative.

Violinists Cynthia Black, Addi Liu, Suhashini Arulanandam, Alexa Cantalupo

Violinists Cynthia Black, Addi Liu, Suhashini Arulanandam, Alexa Cantalupo

The final rehearsal of the day involved those players who will be performing Bach’s Concerto for Three Harpsichords at the Academy-in-Action concert on Tuesday, July 15. To be sure, lots of notes were played, but what amazing talents these young keyboard players are. Don’t miss this performance!!

Continue with Day 3.

The Academy Begins! (Daily Festival log, July 8)

2014 Academy participants getting to know one another

2014 Academy participants getting to know one another

Every summer, ABS welcomes more than 50 instrumentalists and vocalists to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for an intense period of study and performance as participants in the annual Academy. This program, which runs concurrently with ABS’s annual summer Bach Festival is designed to provide opportunities for emerging professionals to engage with and learn from the members of American Bach Soloists in a multi-disciplinary environment.

Orientation meeting at 9:00 am

Orientation meeting at 9:00 am

Yesterday, all 62 members of the 2014 Academy class reported to the lobby of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to begin their Academy experience with an orientation meeting at 9:00 am. This is always an exciting time and a highlight of the musical year for all of us at ABS as it is a moment loaded with potential and expectation. Above all, it is a thrill to meet these aspiring early music players and to watch them get acquainted with one another. This year’s class has a few returning participants from last summer and they seemed to settle in quickly. Most of this year’s participants are new to the Academy and new to San Francisco. They could be observed gazing all around the spacious Conservatory lobby, taking it all in.

The ABS Academy Faculty

The ABS Academy Faculty

Once schedules and ground rules were covered in the orientation meeting with the ABS faculty, the music-making began almost immediately: the first orchestra rehearsal for Bach’s Mass in B Minor started at 10:00 am! At that point the 22 singers went off to meet with the members of the voice faculty: Judith Malafronte, Max van Egmond, and William Sharp. After lunch, master classes and chamber music rehearsals occupied the afternoon hours for all the participants. The chamber works they began rehearsing together will be heard next week from Monday through Wednesday (July 14-16) in the Academy-in-Action concerts. At 5:00 pm, all participants, faculty, ABS staff, and many of the generous supporters who make the Academy possible met on the top floor of the Conservatory for a reception. This opportunity to celebrate the conclusion of a busy and exciting first day is always a fun occasion and last night was no exception. The Academy participants were clearly hungry for the musical experience they had embraced throughout the day… and also hungry for the refreshments at the reception. Though the participants had the rest of the evening off, the singers of the American Bach Choir arrived for an evening rehearsal for Handel’s L’Allegro and the ABS faculty went from the reception right into an evening of rehearsals for the Bach’s Inspiration programs on Friday and Saturday. As ever, it was a great beginning!

Continue with Day 2.

Interview with Mary Wilson

Mary Wilson at Belvedere's Old St. Hilary's ChurchSoprano Mary Wilson is no stranger to American Bach Soloists audiences. Since her 2003 debut with ABS in Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral, she has thrilled concertgoers with her dazzling performances of some of the most challenging and exciting vocal works of the Baroque era. Ms Wilson will return this summer as the Distinguished Artist for the 2014 ABS Festival & Academy and will appear, along with countertenor Eric Jurenas, as a soloist in Bach’s transcription of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater at the opening night concert, “Bach’s Inspiration – Part I” on July 11. As the 2014 Distinguished Artist, she will also be featured in an extraordinary program dedicated to exhibiting her unique talents and artistry on July 19. Following the concert, Ms Wilson will sign copies of her critically acclaimed debut CD with American Bach Soloists, “Mary Wilson Sings Handel.”

How did you get started in music?

My parents are both music teachers, so I knew my musical notes basically before my ABCs. I studied flute and piano leading into college and decided to get a vocal performance degree; I wanted to be a back up and commercial singer. I went to St. Olaf College in order to sing with their world famous choir. It was fabulous!  The more I studied vocal music, the more I was hooked and wanted to keep learning and discovering.

How did St. Olaf prepare you for your career?

Soprano Mary Wilson

St. Olaf taught me to love performing. I’ve always loved being on a stage, but I learned to serve the music and try to communicate something to an audience. People come to concerts to be moved and to experience something. Our job is to say something, not just make a pretty noise. We have to make things personal and unique.

How did you learn about ABS and Jeffrey Thomas?

In discovering this repertoire, I acquired a bunch of ABS CDs and was always a huge fan of ABS! I watched who was getting the solo work and saw that I knew some of them and had sung with them. It just became this obsessive pursuit to try and work with ABS. I am pretty sure Jeffrey Thomas gave me my first job just to shut me up!  I relentlessly pursued him to get an audition and give me a chance. I remember turning around after hearing the choir for the first time and telling Jeffrey I’m going to get fired because everyone was so amazing!

What do you like most about performing with ABS?

I love that everyone is so involved in the music. There are no egos to get in the way—everyone is there to serve the music and the talent is amazing. I am always so uplifted and inspired after spending time with ABS.

Are Bay Area early music fans different from those elsewhere?

The audience members are appreciative, but also knowledgeable. I always get a little nervous. I know they’ll be supportive, but they also know good quality and they expect it since that’s what they always get from ABS! It’s a grand challenge to try and keep that music-making level high and meet or even exceed expectations! On a personal note, since I’ve been lucky enough to be around for a while, I’ve gotten to know many audience members really well and consider them friends; some of them I consider family.

Who are your favorite composers and what are your favorite works?

Mary Wilson, soprano

I adore Handel and Bach … and Mozart, too! I love lots of different kinds of music … U2, Led Zeppelin, Prince, Barry Manilow.

I am in a very unique and strange position in the vocal world. In Mozart’s time I would have been a Donna Anna [in Don Giovanni] and a Fiordiligi [in Cosí fan tutte], but nowadays my voice would be considered to be too small. So strange. I am lucky in my career that I get to sing a broad range of rep. I work with a lot of period instrument orchestras and I’m always told my voice is so big and operatic and then when I work with a modern instrument orchestra I am told my voice is so sweet and little. It’s an interesting life straddling those two worlds!

Is there anything about Handel’s work that you find particularly satisfying to sing?

Handel has the greatest gift for illuminating and illustrating a text and, even more importantly, an emotion. I find Handel difficult and yet his music makes sense when you sit down and look at it!

I am so excited and thrilled that people like and are buying our Handel CD [American Bach Soloists: Mary Wilson Sings Handel]!  I was afraid only my mom would buy it! So THANK YOU to all the ABS supporters who have always been so amazingly kind and supportive. I am deeply grateful and overwhelmed.

Do you have a favorite movie?

WilsonMary-by-JacqueBrund2I haven’t seen a movie in a movie theater in a long time. I only get to see kids movies these days, but I can recite the entire Lego Movie. I am currently binge watching Game of Thrones and loving it!

What books have you recently enjoyed?

I just finished Natchez Burning by Greg Iles. Love his books! I just finished the Divergent Trilogy and am now reading some of the David Baldacci’s King and Maxwell books. I like escapism!

Do you utilize Social Media to stay in touch with audiences?

That makes me laugh! I am a Facebook addict and stay in touch with people and friends from all overthe world. I’m that annoying mom posting about my 6 year old son and 2dogs!

1900: The First American Performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor

One of the musical highlights of a summer in San Francisco is the opportunity to hear Jeffrey Thomas conduct the ABS Festival Orchestra and the American Bach Choir in Bach’s magnificent Mass in B Minor. In fact, as part of its annual San Francisco Summer Bach Festival, ABS offers two chances to hear the timeless work each summer and both performances sell out year after year. The Mass’s richness, expressivity, complexity, and the awe-inspiring genius of its composer are all attributes that pay dividends of insight and satisfaction when revisited regularly. At present, tickets are still available for the two performances on July 13 at 7:00 pm and July 20 at 2:00 pm.

The idea of performing Bach’s Mass in B Minor annually has been a mainstay in European musical communities since the mid-nineteenth century. In the United States, the tradition of yearly performances began with the very first American performance of the entire work on March 27, 1900, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Before the tradition could take root, however, the difficulty of mounting the work and introducing it to domestic audiences proved a significant challenge.

An Ambitious Bach Conductor

Fred Wolle

Fred Wolle

During the last months of 1898, the organist of the Moravian Church in Bethlehem, Dr. J. Fred Wolle, began recruiting singers for what would eventually become known as the Bethlehem Bach Choir, a musical entity that continues performing, among other works, the Mass in B Minor in Eastern Pennsylvania to this day. Ten years before the genesis of the Bach Choir, Dr. Wolle had led Bethlehem’s Choral Union, an ensemble that performed the great oratorios of Handel, Mendelssohn, and others, and also introduced Pennsylvanians to the large-scale works of Bach. In the latter area, the Union, supplemented by instrumentalists from nearby Philadelphia, distinguished itself with the U.S. premiere of the St. John Passion (1888) and an acclaimed performance of the St. Matthew Passion (1892). Following their successes, Wolle aspired to present the Mass in B Minor, but his singers did not share his zeal. In fact, the work terrified them! When shown the score, the group’s enthusiasm wilted at the challenging music and the Union quietly disbanded in 1892.

Dr. Wolle did not give up on his ambition to present the Mass in B Minor, but he had to wait eight years for a better opportunity and better musicians. Starting with his congregational choir at the Moravian Church as the core, he began recruiting singers in late 1898 for his project. On December 5, he had amassed 80 singers and the Bethlehem Bach Choir was born. Nearly a year later, Wolle and his ensemble were still preparing the Mass for performance and the leader released a statement to the local paper:

Bethlehem Bach Choir 1917

Bethlehem Bach Choir 1917

The ‘Mass,’ owing to its huge proportions, its well nigh insuperable difficulties, and the almost inaccessible height of artistic plan, makes unusual demands and will yield to nothing short of complete surrender of the singers’ time, industry and patience. The question whether in any sense of the word it pays to devote one’s self so thoroughly to the performance of a work beset with obstacles can best be answered by those members of the chorus who, since last December, have braved the difficulties, and who, with keen artistic insight, doubtless ere this have had revealed to them unsuspected beauties in unlooked for places in this veritable masterpiece of unspeakable power and imperishable glory.

After fourteen months of preparation, Dr. Wolle and the Bethlehem Bach Choir gave the premiere of Bach’s towering masterpiece on March 27, 1900. Though the event failed to draw many of the leading critics, the performance was a great success and took on an almost mythical status throughout the year, overshadowing the New York Oratorio Society’s performance of the work at Carnegie Hall in early April. With a reputation that extended far beyond Pennsylvania, Wolle and his Bach Choir returned in 1901 for Bethlehem’s Second Bach Festival from May 23-25. This time the Festival featured three works by Bach: “Christmas Oratorio,” St. Matthew Passion, and the Mass in B Minor, all in just three days!

The Bach Festival tradition, which began in this country 114 years ago in Pennsylvania, has proliferated in musical communities around Europe, the United States, and the entire world. Here in San Francisco, we have one of the younger Bach Festivals–2014 will be ABS’s 5th annual event–but it is a great one that, like that 1900 festival in Bethlehem, has been making waves and drawing music lovers from all around. Tickets are available for the Festival performances from July 11-20, but they won’t last long. Get your tickets to the Mass in B Minor now, while they are still available.

ABS 2014 Festival opens July 11th & 12th with “Bach’s Inspiration”

Do you have your tickets for the 5th annual ABS Festival & Academy yet? This summer’s event, which will take place at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music from July 11-20, promises to be the best Festival ABS has offered to date. Titled “Bach’s Inspiration,” the 9 performances, 5 lectures, 5 master classes, and a public colloquium titled “Baroque Instruments and Performers, Then and Now: Creating a New Fusion of Styles and Tastes” comprise a 10-day immersion in the music and culture of the Baroque, specifically the works that inspired ABS’s namesake, J.S. Bach. Musical delights and discoveries await Baroque music connoisseurs and newcomers alike.

Mary Wilson, soprano

Mary Wilson, soprano

As in year’s past, Festival concerts will attract music lovers from far and wide. The opera / oratorio program this year will be Handel’s pastoral ode L’Allegro, Il Penseroso ed il Moderato, there will be two performances of Bach’s great Mass in B Minor, and 2014 Distinguished Artist soprano Mary Wilson will be featured in a program highlighting the “Italian side” of Bach. There will also be three evenings of “Academy-in-Action” concerts to showcase the talents of the emerging artists participating in the ABS Academy who are poised to become the next generation of Early Music stars.

2014 Festival Opening Night: Bach’s Inspiration, Part I

To inaugurate this year’s Festival, a special 2-part program curated by ABS Artistic & Music Director Jeffrey Thomas will present a host of selections over two evenings featuring the work of composers who directly influenced and inspired the young Bach. In “Bach’s Inspiration Parts I & II” on Friday July 11 and Saturday July 12, compositions by Dieterich Buxtehude, Alessandro Marcello, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Georg Melchior Hoffmann, and many others, including Bach’s uncle Johann Christoph, will be performed alongside works by J.S. Bach.

Oboe Concerto by Marcello became Bach Harpsichord Concerto

Marcello

Alessandro Marcello

Among the highlights of the first night will be Alessandro Marcello’s Concerto for Oboe in D Minor, a piece that Bach would later rearrange for harpsichord solo (BWV 974). While Bach’s piece has become famous in our time (the second movement especially is often heard as an encore by concert pianists, and Glenn Gould made a famous recording of the complete work), the original oboe concerto is a rare delight that is infrequently performed. On opening night ABS oboist Debra Nagy will be the soloist as Jeffrey Thomas and ABS perform this Italian work which clearly fired Bach’s imagination and which is still an extraordinarily beautiful composition to experience hundreds of years later.

Bach Adapts Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater

Pergolesi

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

Also on opening night, two fantastic vocal soloists, soprano Mary Wilson and countertenor Eric Jurenas, will join Thomas and ABS for a performance of Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, Bach’s transcription and arrangement of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. Pergolesi managed to compose several important works during his brief life (he died of tuberculosis at the age of 26), but his Stabat Mater for soprano, alto, and string orchestra with basso continuo is arguable his most enduring work. Bach took the young Italian’s soaring operatic lines and added his own inimitable penchant for counterpoint and texture to create a new work that yields an entirely different kind of impact and effect. With soloists like Wilson and Jurenas singing before the outstanding forces of ABS, this will surely be one of the hottest tickets of the summer!

Saturday Night – Bach’s Inspiration continues with Part II

Derek Chester, tenor

Derek Chester, tenor

Saturday night continues the exploration of works by composers who inspired Bach with another outstanding program. Among many other exquisite works will be Meine Seele rühmt und preist, an emotionally charged cantata by Georg Melchior Hoffmann. Hoffmann was an active musical figure in Leipzig in the years before Bach arrived, playing in the city’s collegium musicum and eventually succeeding its founder, Georg Philipp Telemann, as director. He also succeeded Telemann as the music director of the Neukirche, while also conducting performances of his own operas at the Leipzig civic opera in the first decades of the eighteenth century. Like Pergolesi, Hoffmann also died young (in 1715 at the age of 37) and his death left a tremendous void in Leipzig’s musical life, a space that would soon be filled when Bach became Thomaskirche Cantor in 1723. Despite a prodigious output, very little of Hoffmann’s music survives and the authorship of some of his sacred works has been confused with Bach’s works. The performance of Hoffmann’s cantata, a piece long thought to be one of Bach’s, will feature tenor Derek Chester as soloist with Thomas leading the ABS orchestra.

Also on the program will be two works—Mit Fried un Freud ich far dahin and Klaglied—by one of Bach’s idols, Dieterich Buxtehude. Nicolaus Bruhns, a pupil of Buxtehude, and Johann Adam Reincken, one of the Lübeck organist’s associates, will be represented by a sacred aria and partita, respectively. All three of these prominent North German musicians exerted powerful influences upon J.S. Bach.

And finally: Bach!

William Sharp, baritone

William Sharp, baritone

After intermission of the July 12 concert, ABS will perform mature works by Bach composed after he had absorbed all he could from his forebears, peers, and colleagues. Baroque trumpet virtuoso John Thiessen will be one of the soloists on Bach’s second Brandenburg Concerto, the heart-rending secular cantata Amore traditore will feature baritone William Sharp and harpsichord Corey Jamason as dual-soloists, and the fiendishly difficult trio sonata from the “Musical Offering” all will serve as examples of Bach’s mastery of all he had learned as well as his ability to thrill musicians and audiences all these years later in 2014.

The full programs of “Bach’s Inspiration Parts I & II” and tickets may be found on our website, sfbachfestival.org or by calling the ABS Office at (415) 621-7900.

ABS Festival Attraction: Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato

John Milton

John Milton

Opera / Oratorio night at the ABS Festival & Academy is always a musical highlight. This summer’s program on Friday July 18 will be no different as ABS and the Festival Orchestra under the direction of Jeffrey Thomas will present Handel’s 1740 pastoral ode, L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato.

The work is neither opera nor oratorio, but rather a meditation on the quixotic nature of humanity. It has no roles; each vocal soloist embodies a different element of the ode’s text and sings arias that more closely resemble poetic recitation. The work synthesizes John Milton’s poems L’Allegro (“the joyous one”) and Il Penseroso (“the pensive one”) into a single work along with a third voice, Il Moderato (“the moderate one”), contributed by Charles Jennens. A few years after creating L’Allegro together, Jennens and Handel would collaborate again on Messiah.

One of Handel’s most popular works during his lifetime

Charles Jennens

Charles Jennens

L’Allegro was an immensely popular work during Handel’s lifetime. Like Messiah, the composer did not labor long over its creation, composing and orchestrating L’Allegro between January 19th and February 9th, 1740. The work premiered a few weeks later on February 27 at London’s Royal Theatre, receiving a total of five performances that season. Handel’s concerti grossi were played between the different parts and the last part was introduced by his Organ Concerto in B flat. L’Allegro was a hit and revived in London in 1741 and 1743 and, along with his classic pastorale Acis and Galatea, featured heavily in Handel’s 1741-42 sojourn in Ireland. Following its premiere, L’Allegro proved to be a malleable work and its essence was not diminished or hindered by the integration of different instrumental works between the scenes or when given without the Il Moderato section.

George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel

While Milton’s poetry was held in high esteem throughout eighteenth-century in London, Handel’s reputation was undergoing a dramatic reappraisal in 1740. Having withdrawn from the field of Italian opera, Handel virtually created his career anew at this time as an oratorio composer. Musical London was not wholly behind Handel’s efforts at the beginning. One Handel advocate wrote an anonymous letter to the London Daily Post on April 4, 1741, defending the composer against a cabal that was brewing in the city. Among his entreaties to civility among the pro- and contra- partisans, the observer included a brief review of a performance of L’Allegro:

The Performance itself (the Musick as well as the Poetry) is noble and elevated, well devised, and of great Propriety. The Musician and the Poet walk Hand in Hand, and seem to vie which shall better express that beautiful Contrast of Mirth and Melancholy, which you have quite thro’ the “Allegro” and “Il Penseroso,” and the happy Success which Mr. Handel has had in the Composition of this particular Piece, will appear, to any one, who listens with Attention to it, the strongest Argument for the Truth of what I have said, That Musick is really a Language understood by the Soul, tho’ only a pleasing Sound to the Ear.

L’Allegro continues to be one of Handel’s most beloved works centuries later. Of all his large-scale works, musicians and audiences alike are drawn to the work for its gentle mirth and wit, and its gorgeous melodies are among the composer’s best. Indeed, L’Allegro conveys its humanist message with both power and subtlety and yields a stirring effect. ABS’s single July 18 performance of Handel’s ode to humanity and its many moods will undoubtedly draw a tremendous crowd. Be sure to get your tickets for L’Allegro and other Festival attractions now, before it’s too late.

Inspiration… How far will you go to get it?

Dieterich Buxtehude

Dieterich Buxtehude

At the age of 18, Bach was offered the job of organist at St. Boniface’s Church in Arnstadt. In spite of a rather generous salary for so young a musician, he bristled at the poor quality of singers in his choir and the appointment only lasted a few years. In October 1705 Bach requested leave to travel to the northern city of Lübeck to hear the great organist and composer, Dieterich Buxtehude, and “take in all I can of his art.” Granted four weeks off, he set out for Lübeck to meet his idol, traversing the 260 miles in early winter and reportedly on foot! Instead of a month, Bach ended up staying three months before returning to Arnstadt a changed man; he had found his inspiration.

While Bach undoubtedly longed to meet the famous organist, Buxtehude’s Abendmusik concerts at St. Mary’s church were likely what precipitated the teenaged Bach’s road trip. Under Buxtehude’s watch, the Abendmusik concerts—privately funded musical programs featuring a highly skilled group of municipal players performing stunning, new instrumental and vocal works by the town’s famous music master—had developed into significant annual attractions. In 1697, several years before Bach’s visit, a travel writer noted the organist and his concerts as one of Lübeck’s principal draws:

“On the west side, between the two pillars under the towers, one can see the large and magnificent organ, which, like the small organ, is now presided over by the world-famous organist and composer Dietrich Buxtehude. Of particular note is the great Abend-Music, consisting of pleasant vocal and instrumental music, presented yearly on five Sundays between St. Martin’s and Christmas, following the Sunday vesper sermon, from 4 to 5 o’clock, by the aforementioned organist as director, in an artistic and praiseworthy manner. This happens nowhere else.”

Though not bound by liturgical concerns, the Abendmusiken occurred each year on the final two Sundays of Trinity and first three Sundays of Advent, so roughly once a week from throughout November and December, excluding the week of Christmas. The events had begun under the stewardship of Buxtehude’s predecessor, Franz Tunder, but developed considerably in the late seventeenth century and continued long after Buxtehude’s death. In 1752, one writer recounted the history of the concerts, especially their development over the years from humble beginnings:

“In former times the citizenry, before going to the stock market, had the praiseworthy custom of assembling in St. Mary’s Church, and the organist [Tunder] sometimes played something on the organ for their pleasure, to pass the time and to make himself popular with the citizenry. This was well received, and several rich people, who were also lovers of music, gave him gifts. The organist was thus encouraged, first to add a few violins and then singers as well, until finally it had become a large performance, which was moved to the aforementioned Sundays of Trinity and Advent. The famous organist Diederich Buxtehude decorated the Abendmuisken magnificently already in his day. His successor, Mr. Schiefferdecker, did not fail to maintain the reputation of these concerts and even augment it. But our admirable Mr. Kuntze has brought them to the highest level. He has gotten the most famous singers [both male and female] from the Hamburg opera; he has even employed Italian women.”

The Bachkirche (Bach Church) in Arntadt

The Bachkirche (Bach Church) in Arnstadt

Like most musically inclined Germans in the early 1700s, Bach knew about the Abendmusik concerts and undoubtedly timed his visit to Lübeck accordingly. He also must have known that a four-week leave would not be adequate to fully take in the concerts, but he failed to mention this detail before leaving. Bach was not entirely happy with his post in Arnstadt, so missing more than a month of work bothered him less than it upset his employers. Interestingly, however, when Bach returned and was reprimanded, his most serious offense was not his AWOL status; it was for introducing strange notes and musical gestures into his services in January and February 1706! The experience of hearing and playing Buxtehude’s music in the Abendmusiken (some have suggested that he performed in some of the concerts) had inspired Bach and directly influenced his musical voice and ambition.

This July, ABS will celebrate this and other similar occurrences in the career of J.S. Bach during the ABS Festival & Academy, subtitled “Bach’s Inspiration.” The Festival opens with a fantastic two-part survey of the influences upon Bach along with examples of the master’s works. These two concerts, “Bach’s Inspiration – I & II”

Exciting Performances and Events Coming Up for ABS

The thrilling performances of ABS continue through the year and on into 2015. With the 25th subscription season performances ending on an especially glorious high point with “Bach’s Legacy” last month, it is great to look at what is coming up next for ABS.

2014 ABS Festival & Academy “Bach’s Inspiration”

A performance at the ABS Summer Bach Festival

A performance at the ABS Summer Bach Festival

In July ABS returns to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music from July 11-20 for the ABS Festival & Academy. This annual Baroque extravaganza—6 main stage concerts, 3 Academy-in-Action programs, and several free public lectures, master classes, and colloquia—has grown every year since its founding in 2010 and attracts music lovers from around the country and abroad to hear Jeffrey Thomas and ABS perform the masterpieces and little-known gems of the Baroque. Every concert of the 2013 Festival sold out, so it is never too early to get your tickets for this year’s event, which promises to be the best yet! Titled “Bach’s Inspiration,” the 2014 Festival features works by Bach and composers who influenced his music. Tickets and a full schedule are available on our website: sfbachfestival.org.

2014-15 season subscriptions are now available

Baritone Jesse Blumberg returns to Grace Cathedral for Handel's Messiah

Baritone Jesse Blumberg returns to Grace Cathedral for Handel’s Messiah

Subscriptions for ABS’s 26th season are now available online. The subscription season begin in January 2015 with “Bach & Handel,” followed by Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in February, and “Bach & Vivaldi” in May. Subscribers also receive priority seating for our December performances of Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral. Single tickets for subscription concerts and Messiah performances go on sale to the general public on July 1, so act now for the best seats at the lowest prices. Remember, subscribers never pay handling fees and may exchange tickets at any time. Full details about the season are available at americanbach.org.

Save the Date! Saturday September 20, 2014
Tickets to ABS’s annual gala, “A Red Carpet Evening,” are now on sale

Corey Jamason, Kyle Stegall, and Nola Richardson performing at the 2013 Gala

Corey Jamason, Kyle Stegall, and Nola Richardson performing at the 2013 Gala

The annual gala auction, concert, and dinner will occur on September 20, 2014, at St. Stephen’s Church in Belvedere. “A Red Carpet Evening” awaits you at this year’s annual American Bach Soloists auction, concert, and dinner! Our red carpet will lead you to exclusive auction items, with food and drink from Delicious! Catering and a special ABS performance to enjoy along the way. Don’t miss this intimate opportunity to mingle with your favorite ABS artists and fellow supporters, all while supporting the artistic and educational initiatives of ABS. Reserve your tickets today for ABS’s unparalleled Red Carpet Evening! Invitation will be mailed in July, but you can make reservations at any time by visiting our gala homepage or call the ABS office at 415-621-7900.

2014 is off to a great start and there are still many more opportunities to catch up with ABS. We look forward to seeing you all at the Festival this summer, the gala in September.

“ABS – The First 25 Years” Photo Exhibition

ABS in Singapore 1996

ABS in Singapore 1996

As ABS commences its next 25 years, it also celebrates the illustrious first quarter-century of performances, recordings, community engagement, and success in training the next generation of early music virtuosi. A retrospective photo and ephemera exhibition entitled “ABS – The First 25 Years” will be on view May 11 – June 29 exclusively at The Musical Offering Classical Record Shop & Café, 2430 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, California 94704.

ABS Fireworks Concert in Grace Cathedral

ABS Fireworks Concert in Grace Cathedral

Whether you have been attending ABS events since the inaugural concert in 1990, or were introduced to the ensemble at last week’s “Bach’s Legacy,” this exhibition will provide a visually engaging history of the ensemble with something for everyone. Photos of the ABS musicians in the early days and from recent seasons will be installed on the walls along with mementos celebrating impressive benchmarks such as the tours to Singapore and Regensburg, Germany. The images document ABS in their annual performances of Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral, great moments in St. Stephen’s Church and First Congregational Church, highlights from the ABS Festival & Academy, and many other ABS events.

The Musical Offering is one of Northern California’s great gathering places for Classical music fans, especially those who love Baroque music. The space operates as both a Classical CD shop and a Café-Bistro. The CD store has a great selection of both new and used recordings for sale and its knowledgeable staff is always on hand to help you find a specific CD or provide recommendations.

ABS outside St. Stephen's Church

ABS outside St. Stephen’s Church

During the day, the Café portion of The Musical Offering is a favorite study spot for UC Berkeley students, but in the evenings it becomes an charming bistro for concertgoers. Be sure to call ahead and make a reservation if you plan to have dinner at The Musical Offering as this cozy room is often the top choice on concert nights for audience members attending events at First Congregational Church, Zellerbach Hall, Hertz Hall, or any other venue in the vicinity.