Following on the heels of their 17th-century predecessors, Bach, Handel, and Telemann developed a plentiful legacy of brilliantly composed works that have inspired centuries of listeners. Two concertos for three violins, an elegant sonata for viola da gamba and continuo, one of Handel's most beautiful Concerti Grossi, and an exquisite aria from Bach's "Easter Oratorio" transcribed for viola and strings will celebrate the great culmination of the Baroque era.
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Concerto for 3 Violins in F Major, TWV 53:F1
The solo concerto was one of the most significant musical developments of the Baroque era. Certainly, Vivaldi is remembered for his gargantuan contribution to the genre, having composed about 350 solo concertos (230 for violin) and some 45 double concertos, half of which are for two violins. Although Telemann probably wrote more compositions—most recently numbered at over 3,000—he wrote fewer solo concertos than Vivaldi. Fifty or so are known, along with 15 double concertos, 7 triple concertos, and 4 using four or more solo instruments. Bach, too, was captivated by the idea of double and triple concertos, and extended his interest to a concerto for four harpsichords which is a more-or-less direct transcription of a concerto by Vivaldi for four violins. The question of equal versus unequal distribution of technical demands comes to mind quickly, as it would have been considered carefully by the composer. In Telemann's Concerto for 3 Violins in F Major, the calls for virtuosity are quite evenly shared among all three soloists. In fact, an impression of musical egalitarianism is one of the first things that one notices about this particular composition. Collaboration seems to be the theme, and it is always noticeable. Solo passages are never more than a few measures long, and the central movement brings the three soloists together in a most collaborative way. Moving further toward shared responsibilities (and shared riches), the final movement seems to be hardly a concerto at all, rather more like a grand sinfonia for all the participants. That final Allegro has a particularly palpable joie de vivre and melds the full ensemble together into an especially enthusiastic sense of unity.
Dieterich Buxtehude (circa 1637-1707)
Sonata in B-flat Major, BuxWV 273
Buxtehude was certainly Bach's greatest inspiration. It was in 1705 that Bach, then only 20 years old, traveled over 250 on foot to hear the famous North German composer perform. Buxtehude was nearly 50 years older at the time, and his music so greatly influenced Bach that we hear evidence of that impact even at the end of Bach's career. While Buxtehude is certainly not a late Baroque composer, we include his music on this program because of the profound effect that it had on Bach. The Sonata in B-flat Major begins with a 14-note theme played 32 times by the bass instruments (violone and harpsichord), while a solo violin and solo viola da gamba perform variations above the repeated bass line, all of this amounting to a kind of chaconne. A sequence of shorter sections brings the sonata portion to its close, but a suite of dances follows, perhaps following in suit to the opening chaconne, that includes an Allemand, a Courant, a Saraband, and a sprightly Gigue. Listen carefully to the second half of the Gigue: It begins with a 2-bar motif that Bach would later utilize in the final movement of his Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, certainly as an homage to the composer that he so greatly revered.
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Concerto Grosso No. 6 in G Minor Op. 6 HWV 324
The Concerto Grosso was one of the primary and most often employed musical formats during the Baroque era, much the same as the symphony format identified the Classical era. While there was a great variety among the concertos in terms of the number of sections, the tempos of those various movements, and the inclusion (or not) of dances or even a suite of dances, almost all concerti grossi featured a small contingent of soloists usually comprised of two violins, and one violoncello—called the "concertino" group—accompanied by harpsichord. Those players were given the spotlight due to the usually more demanding parts that were written for them, and those calls upon their virtuosity were usually very evenly distributed. In the case of the standard group of soloists, the two violinists would often play together in duet. By contrast, a larger group of instrumentalists would be heard at the beginnings, ends, and either intermittently or almost continuously throughout each movement and would fill out the sound when they joined in. The Italian word for that larger contingent is ripieno, which in modern usage means "stuffing" or "filling" and is often used in descriptions of foods, such as the ripieno alla crema that one finds inside a delicious pastry. Only occasionally would the ripienists remain silent for an entire movement. The contrast of soloists vs. ripienists provided both contrasts of sonority and emphasis on the solo group. In terms of function, concerti grossi could be played before or after larger works, such as an opera or oratorio, or even as an entr'acte or intermezzo between the acts. Handel is among the group of composers who most famously utilized the concerto grosso format. Some of the others were Corelli, Scarlatti, and Geminiani, and if you notice a predominance of Italian names, that is because the format is clearly of Italian origin. Handel became familiar with it during his first sojourn in Italy when he was 21–24 years old, and despite his non-Italian (German) nationality, or perhaps because of his German-style approach to harmony and melody, Handel brought a richness of color to his concerti grossi that embellished the more uniform sound of the Italian models. The work performed on this program is one of Handel's most imaginative examples of the genre. The contrasts between movements are quite pronounced, and the variety of sonorities is especially satisfying. A brooding opening movement followed by a fugue-like section (with an interestingly chromatic descending "subject") is followed by an exquisite central movement in the warm key of E-flat major. Given the title of "Musette"—which refers to a bagpipe-like instrument that had a much more elegant tone than its rustic predecessors and was quite fashionable in the French courts—the middle movement is characterized at the start by a sustained "pedal tone" in the bass over which the melody begins its lovely wanderings. But its middle section, animated and having a tone of contrast and briskness, and in conjunction with the outer and more serene sections, reminds some of the great aria from Messiah, "He was despised," which shares the same key of E-flat, the same structure, the same contrast of tempi, and the same breadth of scale. To close, Handel composed a pair of Allegro movements, the second of which is an elegant minuet.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
“Aria” from the "Easter Oratorio" BWV 249
Throughout the last five centuries, the musical styles applied by composers to sacred works has sometimes looked backward and sometimes looked forward. For example, in the 17th century, composers would frequently adopt older styles for their sacred works as a way to impose a kind of conservatism to their settings of masses. But in the 18th century, composers—including Bach—would frequently apply newer and more "operatic" styles to sacred settings. This opened up a cornucopia of options that could be utilized, and in the case of Bach's cantatas, the operatic format of the da capo aria offered a richness of possibilities. Accompanimental textures became virtually unlimited, from the economy of trio sonata style (for example, one voice with an added obligato instrument along with basso continuo) to lushly dense orchestral scorings for any number of instruments. In Bach's "Easter Oratorio" (Kommt, eilet und laufet, or "Come, hasten and run"), about halfway through, Peter finds the now cast-aside shroud at the tomb and sings an aria about his previous fear of death being assuaged by the idea that the shroud will comfort him at the moment of his own passion, going on to reflect on how the cloth will tenderly wipe away the tears from his cheeks when he falls into eternal slumber. The original orchestration for tenor accompanied by two recorders, two muted violins playing in octaves, and bass creates a mood of tranquility and somnolence. Our performance of this aria passes the recorder parts to two additional muted violins and transcribes the sung text to solo viola.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Concerto for 3 Violins in D Major, BWV 1064r
Many of Bach's concertos for solo violin, though now lost in their original forms, were transcribed or “recycled” as harpsichord concertos when Bach would assume the directorship of Leipzig’s Collegium Musicum in 1729. The Collegium Musicum, a semi-professional musical performance society that Telemann had founded in 1702, was one of two such societies in Leipzig: the other had been founded in 1708 and was directed during Bach’s time in Leipzig by J.G. Görner, the University Church music director and Thomaskirche organist with whom Bach was not on the best of terms. Bach’s Collegium Musicum was supported by university students and some professional musicians, almost certainly including his older sons. This ensemble could be adapted to the performance of anything secular from chamber music to small orchestral/choral works, and was a fixture of the lively middle-class musical life in Leipzig. Meetings of the ensemble were held on Friday evenings at Gottfried Zimmermann’s coffee house (or sometimes al fresco in summer). In addition to these regular concerts, which were open to the public, the Collegium also performed from time to time for royal or academic occasions. We know that Bach composed several pieces for such events, but unfortunately there is no known record of the music played at the Collegium’s ordinary concerts. Nevertheless, we believe that Bach arranged his many harpsichord concertos for these evenings from pre-existing concertos for other solo instruments, most often violins. We believe further that, sometime around 1735, Bach and his sons performed a concerto for three harpsichords in C major (BWV 1064) at Zimmermann’s Coffee House. This concerto, like so many others that were performed in Leipzig around that time, was probably the result of another successful transcription by Bach of a pre-existing work for violins. Accordingly, the lost and likely original concerto has been reconstructed, or reverse-engineered, into the form we present tonight. Transposed to D major, a more likely and more idiomatic key for a triple violin concerto, the work opens with a clearly intelligible ritornello. The accompanying orchestral musicians play nearly all the time (in all three movements), and “teamwork” seems to be the subtext. The soloists enter always in order, either first-second-third, or third-second-first. The central movement presents a fuller spectrum of sound than the first, especially when the ripienists occasionally play in the lower parts of their instruments’ ranges. The third movement gives the chance for all the soloists, in succession from third to second to first, to demonstrate their prowess, in a commendably polite contest. Only the first violinist is given the opportunity to play in a more or less improvisational style in a pseudo-cadenza that brings us to the final ritornello and the concerto’s close.
© 2021, American Bach Soloists
VIOLA DA GAMBA & VIOLONCELLO
Cynthia Keiko Black (violin) enjoys performing at home in the Bay Area and across the United States as a violinist and violist playing music from several centuries. Born in Dallas, Texas, she grew up listening to her mother practicing piano and began her musical education as a toddler learning piano from her mother’s lap. Cynthia performs regularly with the American Bach Soloists and can be found on stage in California with other ensembles including Voices of Music, Valley of the Moon, Ars Minerva, Musica Angelica, and the Carmel Bach Festival Orchestra. Across the country, she makes guest appearances with ensembles including the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra, Pacific MusicWorks, Les Délices, and Quicksilver. She enjoys playing chamber music as a member of the Costanoan Trio, a period-instrument piano trio, and Incantare, an ensemble of violins and sackbuts. Cynthia holds modern viola degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Music, and after becoming entrenched in the world of early music, she stayed in Cleveland to complete a doctorate in Historical Performance Practice at Case Western Reserve University. She also teaches young people at the Crowden School’s Community Program and in her free time enjoys being in the kitchen and her backyard vegetable garden.
Gail Hernández Rosa violin grew up in Puerto Rico, where music is a strong part of everyday life. Her love for music started at a young age, allegedly singing before speaking. Supported by her father’s fascination with classical music and his training as a baritone, she started violin lessons at age three. Her career has taken her all over the world, living in several continents and performing with groups such as Gabrieli Consort & Players, Florilegium & Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Her interest in period instrument performance led her to London where she gained a Master’s degree from the Royal Academy of Music. Thanks to her cultural immersion and Scottish roots, her love affair with baroque and Celtic folk music further blossomed, inspiring her to co-found Beneath A Tree - Baroque To Folk. Gail believes in the power of music education, which has led her to be faculty at the Royal Academy of Music Junior Department, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland & Hill House International School. As part of SCO Connects she was chamber music coach/conductor, given Masterclasses in the US & UK and adjudicated the 2019 San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra Competition and 2021 Junior Bach Festival. She maintains a private teaching studio, which brings her great joy. Her recordings include Chopin Piano Concertos and Mozart Opera Arias & Overtures with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Hyperion Records) and Telemann and Janitsch with Tempesta di Mare (Chandos Early Music). Beneath a Tree - Baroque to Folk’s debut album My Cup of Tea is currently in mixing and editing stages. In her spare time, Gail has a strong yoga and meditation practice. She loves cooking, hiking, swimming and laughing out loud at the many wonders that life offers.
Toma Iliev (violin) is a musician who is focused on historically informed performance. He is the winner of the Leipzig International Bach Competition’s 2014 Christa Bach-Marschall Foundation Prize, and is the winner of the 2013 Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra Concerto Competition. Holder of the Portland Baroque Orchestra’s Charles and Ruth Poindexter Chair, Toma regularly performs with ensembles across the United States including American Bach Soloists, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Valley of the Moon, Trinity Baroque Orchestra, and Clarion Music Society. An avid chamber musician, Toma is a core member of Sonnambula, the first and only period instrument ensemble to hold the position of Ensemble in Residence at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Toma first joined ABS as a part of the 2016 Academy and has since appeared with the ensemble in numerous performances. He can be heard with ABS on recent recordings including J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suites and “Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen sings Gluck, Handel & Vivaldi”. Toma was a part of the 2020 virtual gala, the “Fridays with Friends” series, and appeared as a soloist with ABS with a memorable performance of Georg Philipp Telemann’s Violin Concerto in A major, “The Frogs,” during the 2019 ABS Festival. A native of Sofia, Bulgaria, Toma discovered his passion for music at an early age. Beginning his studies at the National Music School in Sofia, he is a graduate of Indiana University and of the Juilliard School’s Historical Performance program. In addition to Baroque and Classical violin, Toma can be seen performing on Baroque and Classical viola, viola d’amore, bass and tenor viols, and harpsichord.
Corey Jamason (harpsichord / Academy Co-Director) was born in New York City and developed a fascination with Baroque music as a young piano student growing up in Puerto Rico and Florida. He was introduced to the harpsichord by Anthony Newman while an undergraduate student at SUNY Purchase and then pursued further studies in early music at Yale University and at the Early Music Institute at Indiana University. His fascination with historically informed performance and a love of American musical theater and vaudeville led him and his colleague Eric Davis to create Theatre Comique, an ensemble specializing in reviving late 19th- and early 20th-century American musical theater in historically informed performances. He has performed the “Goldberg Variations” and the Well-Tempered Clavier throughout the United States and his playing of Bach was described in the Los Angeles Times as displaying “the careful, due balance of objective detachment and lofty passion.” From 2007 to 2014 he was artistic director of the San Francisco Bach Choir. Nominated for a GRAMMY® award, his recent recordings include performances with American Bach Soloists, violinist Gilles Apap, recorder player Astrid Andersson, and El Mundo. He is a contributing author to History of Performance, published by Cambridge University Press. He joined the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory in 2001 where he is director of the school’s historical performance program and professor of harpsichord. Corey has enjoyed working with a variety of ensembles, appearing frequently with American Bach Soloists, with whom he is principal keyboardist, as well as a variety of other groups such as the San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Opera, Philharmonia Baroque, Musica Angelica, Camerata Pacifica, Yale Spectrum, and El Mundo.
Steven Lehning (violone) was attending Pacific Lutheran University as an undergraduate when he stumbled upon a used book store that had a nearly complete collection of the Bach-Gesellschaft edition of Bach Cantatas in mini-score; each for only a nickel! Finding these while taking a class in Lutheran theology set him on a trajectory that prepared him to eventually become one of the founding members of the American Bach Soloists. A remarkable and versatile musician who is equally at home with violas da gamba, violones, contrabass, and historical keyboards, he has worked with many of the luminaries of the early music world including Jeffrey Thomas, John Butt, Andrew Parrott, and Ton Koopman. He has performed at the acclaimed Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, as well as the Early Music Festivals in Boston and Berkeley. After finishing his undergraduate degree and while waiting to see what performances might come his way, he worked as an apprentice learning the art of French bread and pastry. Always curious about the entirety of the world in which the music he plays came from, he dove into many aspects of early music. In addition to performing with ABS, he is their librarian, and tunes harpsichords and organs for rehearsals and performances. On the scholarship side, he has pursued graduate studies in musicology at the University of California (Davis). Steve has recorded on the American Bach Soloists, Delos, EMI, Harmonia Mundi, and Koch Labels.
Ramón Negrón Pérez (viola) began his musical career at the age of nine in his native Puerto Rico. Two years before completing his degree from the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music, at 18 years old, he auditioned and was accepted as a member of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra. Over the next 16 years Ramón’s orchestral experience was rigorous, varied and full of opportunities. Ramón developed an affinity for historically informed practice when he moved to southern California in 2012 and immersed himself in everything baroque. Ramón has had the pleasure of performing regularly with American Bach Soloists since 2014. Former conductor of the Overture Strings by the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory, he collaborated as a community artist teacher of the Opus Project, inspired by the success of the El Sistema movement in Venezuela. Ramón has also had the pleasure of performing at the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico and Prades, France; Reina Sofia Music Academy in Santander, Spain, Angelus Sacred Early Music, Corona del Mar Baroque Festival, Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute in Toronto and American Bach Soloists Festival. Performances have carried him to the stages and audiences around the world including Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, Radio City Music Hall, Teatro Nacional in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Palacio de la Opera in Coruña, Spain. Ramón is currently an adjunct faculty member of viola, violin and chamber music at the University of San Diego. He is the co-founder, music director and conductor of San Diego’s community early music ensemble, Kensington Baroque Orchestra. Ramón and his wife are kept occupied by their 11 year old son, 7 year old daughter and their dog Luna, a half-white/half-brindle American pit bull terrier who recently joined the family from a local shelter.
William Skeen (viola da gamba & violoncello) had little incentive to practice cello as a young man growing up in tropical South Florida. He overcame the acute lack of arts culture in his surroundings when he found chamber music partners among a community of retired 1930s orchestra musicians in Miami Beach. Today, he is Principal Cellist with American Bach Soloists, Musica Angelica, and Co-Principal Cellist with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. He has also appeared as solo cellist with the Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle Baroque orchestras and is a frequent continuo cellist for opera companies including Chicago Opera and San Diego Opera. He is Co-Founder of the New Esterházy Quartet, whose repertoire includes over 150 string quartets performed exclusively on gut strings. Bill performs with several leading early music ensembles including Aeris, El Mundo, Galanterie, Agave Baroque, Philharmonia Chamber Players, Pacific MusicWorks in Seattle, Portland Baroque Orchestra, and Bach Collegium San Diego. In addition to his busy schedule as a period-instrument specialist, he also serves as associate principal cellist of the Stockton Symphony and was, for seven seasons, a member of the Carmel Bach Festival orchestra. He has appeared on over eighty recordings for Koch, Delos, BIS, Hannsler, Sono Luminus, and Pandore records. Since 2000, Bill has been a faculty member of the University of Southern California where he teaches Baroque cello and viola da gamba.
David Wilson (violin) is a founding member of Archetti, the Galax Quartet, and other ensembles. He has taught baroque violin at Indiana University, where he earned the Doctor of Music degree in Early Music, and he holds degrees in violin from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He teaches violin and chamber music and directs the orchestra at the San Francisco Early Music Society’s annual Baroque Workshop. His interests outside of music include cosmology, zymurgy, and science fiction (and he wants to discover a science fiction novel about a homebrewing cosmologist). In the last ten years he has performed and recorded classical music of India and the Ottoman Empire with Lux Musica (East Meets West Music and Golden Horn Records), contemporary music with the Galax Quartet (Innova Recordings and Music & Arts), and 18th century concerti with Archetti (Centaur Records). He is the author of Georg Muffat on Performance Practice, published by Indiana University Press, and of the article on Georg Muffat in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Historical Performance in Music.
Jude Ziliak (violin) began playing the violin in the Iowa City, IA public schools, and grew up in Sewanee, TN, where he developed a love of Old Time and Celtic fiddling while also pursuing studies in English Literature at the University of the South. He began playing baroque violin as an undergraduate at Boston University, at the suggestion of his teacher Bayla Keyes, and later studied Historical Performance with Monica Huggett at The Juilliard School. Since 2013, he has been a core member of Sonnambula, the first period ensemble to serve as Ensemble in Residence at the Metropolitan Museum, with whom he can be heard on stages across the country. Jude first joined American Bach Soloists as an Academy member in 2012, becoming a full member the next year. He received the Jeffrey Thomas Award in 2017 and has soloed with the ensemble in concerti by Vivaldi and Bach; he also acted as leader for the ABS recording of Bach’s Orchestral Suites. Jude was an inaugural recipient of the English Concert American Fellowship in 2014, and has enjoyed memorable collaborations with Les Arts Florissants, The English Concert, and Teatro Nuovo. Jude is a devoted teacher. He teaches baroque violin privately, and coaches professional musicians in performance practice and historical improvisation. He also teaches gifted young violinists at Special Music School, New York’s public school for musically gifted children, where he founded and directs a Baroque Ensemble, one of just a handful of historically informed ensembles for children in the country. He is the Program Director for the Clarion Collegium Week with the Clarion Music Society and served on the faculty of the Madison Early Music Festival. When not playing or teaching music, he can be found playing frisbee with his son in the parks of Northern Manhattan.
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