The AMERICAN BACH SOLOISTS (“ABS”) were founded in 1989 with the mission of introducing contemporary audiences to the cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach through Historically Informed Performance Practice. Under the leadership of co-founder and Music Director Jeffrey Thomas, the ensemble has achieved its vision of assembling the world’s finest vocalists and period-instrument performers to bring this brilliant music to life.
For three decades, Jeffrey Thomas has brought thoughtful, meaningful, and informed perspectives to his performances as Artistic Director and Conductor of the American Bach Soloists. Recognized worldwide as one of the foremost interpreters of the music of Bach and the Baroque, he continues to inspire audiences and performers alike through his keen insights into the passions behind musical expression. Fanfare Magazine proclaimed that “Thomas’ direction seems just right, capturing the humanity of the music … there is no higher praise for Bach performance.”
Critical acclaim has been extensive: The Washington Post named ABS “the best American specialists in early music … a flawless ensemble … a level of musical finesse one rarely encounters.” San Francisco Classical Voice declared “there is nothing routine or settled about their work. Jeffrey Thomas is still pushing the musical Baroque envelope.” And the San Francisco Chronicle has extolled the ensemble’s “divinely inspired singing.”
The American Bach Soloists present an annual Subscription Series with performances in Belvedere, Berkeley, Davis, and San Francisco. Their annual holiday performances of Handel’s Messiah—presented each December before capacity audiences since 1992—have become a Bay Area tradition. Each season culminates with the American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy, held every summer in the spectacular facilities of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Components of the Summer Bach Festival include performances of major works, opera, and oratorio from the Baroque; Academy-in-Action Concerts; free Lectures and Master Classes; and public Colloquia on a variety of topics. In addition to their regular subscription season, the American Bach Soloists have been presented at some of the world’s leading Early Music and chamber music festivals, and have appeared across the continent, in Europe, and in Asia.
ABS has been a leader throughout the Bay Area in its commitment to artistic collaborations. Some examples include a collaboration with two San Francisco dance organizations, Xeno and Ultra Gypsy, at The Crucible in Oakland in 2004 and collaborations with the well-known Mark Morris Dance Group in 2004 and 1999. To celebrate the 20th Anniversary Season, ABS presented a spectacular laser show featuring Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks in Grace Cathedral, and in 2012, ABS teamed up with the San Francisco Girls Chorus in a program titled “Vivaldi’s Venice.”
Bringing to fruition the ensemble’s commitment to introduce audiences to newly discovered works from the Baroque era, ABS presented the West Coast premiere of Antonio Lotti’s Mass for Three Choirs in 2011, and the first North American performance of Heinrich Biber’s 53-part Missa Salisburgensis—perhaps the largest-scaled surviving work from the Baroque—utilizing the composer’s full instrumentation at the 2013 ABS Festival & Academy. In 2015, the Festival offered the first performances outside of Europe of Marin Marais’ 1709 opera, Sémélé. Handel’s complete serenata, Parnasso in festa, was given its North and South American premiere at the 2016 Festival & Academy.
The first public concerts were given in February 1990 at St. Stephen’s Church in Belvedere, where the ensemble serves as Artists-in-Residence. The debut of ABS’s first annual summer festival in Tiburon/Belvedere took place in 1993. By the fifth season, regular performances had been inaugurated in San Francisco and Berkeley, and as a result of highly successful collaborations with the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, ABS’s full concert seasons expanded to the Davis/Sacramento region in 2005. As the audience increased, so the artistic direction of the ensemble expanded to include Bach’s purely instrumental and larger choral masterpieces, as well as music of his contemporaries and that of the early Classical era.
In 1998, in conjunction with the Fifth Biennial Berkeley Festival & Exhibition, ABS established the American Bach Soloists & Henry I. Goldberg International Young Artist Competition as a way to foster emerging musicians who wish to pursue a career in Early Music.
The Chorus of the American Bach Soloists has shone in repertoire from the Baroque and early Classical eras to works by living composers. With the inception of a Choral Series in 2004, these fine singers have been featured on programs exploring over five centuries of choral music. To acknowledge this splendid work, the American Bach Soloists announced in 2006 a new name for their choral ensemble: American Bach Choir. Critics have acclaimed their “sounds of remarkable transparency and body.”
In July 2010, the American Bach Soloists inaugurated North America’s newest annual professional training program in Historically Informed Performance Practice. Drawing on their distinguished roster of performers, the AMERICAN BACH SOLOISTS ACADEMY
offers unique opportunities to advanced conservatory-level students and emerging professionals to study and perform Baroque music in a multi-disciplinary learning environment. The Academy is held in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in the heart of the city’s arts district.
In 2013, to commemorate ABS music director Jeffrey Thomas’s 25-year tenure of inspired leadership, the American Bach Soloists created the Jeffrey Thomas Award to honor, recognize, and encourage exceptionally gifted emerging professionals in the field of Early Music.
The American Bach Soloists have a discography
of more than twenty titles on the Delos International and American Bach Soloists labels, including six volumes of Bach cantatas. The ensemble’s critically acclaimed disc of Bach’s Mass in B Minor has been called a benchmark recording and a “joyous new performance” (The Washington Post
One of their most popular offerings is a historically significant version of Handel’s Messiah, recorded live during performances in 2004 at the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at UC Davis, remastered and re-released in December 2018.
In 2007, ABS’s entire catalogue—Bach’s Mass in B Minor, cantatas, and transcriptions of Italian music, Haydn Masses, choral and vocal works by Schütz, and other works—was re-released on iTunes, Amazon, and ABS’s own website (americanbach.org/recordings). The same year brought two new and much-anticipated releases: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concertos.
Three ABS “Artist Series” recordings feature harpsichordist Michael Sponseller on a disc of Bach concertos; 1685 & The Art of Ian Howell featuring the remarkable countertenor (and winner of the ABS Young Artist Competition) in works by Bach, Handel, and Domenico Scarlatti; and soprano Mary Wilson singing a collection of virtuoso vocal works by Handel.
The American Bach Soloists’ recent audio recordings include the American Bach Choir in a disc of Bach’s Motets for Double Chorus, the ABS orchestra in Bach’s Orchestral Suites, an album of countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen singing Gluck, Handel, and Vivaldi, the recent re-release of the premiere recording of Corelli’s Concerti Grossi in arrangments for recorders (including the celebrated “Christmas Concerto), and ”Tranquility” which was released in February 2020. ABS’s newest video release is the feature film Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral, recorded in 5.1 DTS-HD™ Surround Sound and 2.0 DTS-HD™ Stereo, available on High Definition Blu-ray™ and DVD.
The American Bach Soloists have been recipients of major grants from The Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, The AT&T Foundation Matching Gifts Program, The AXA Foundation Matching Gifts Program, Bank of America, The Bernard Osher Foundation, The Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation, Citi Bank, The Clarence E. Heller Charitable Foundation, Clorox Foundation, County of Marin, E. Nakamichi Foundation, The Florence Gould Foundation, Google, Grants for the Arts, Mechanics Bank, The National Endowment for the Arts, The Sack Family Fund, The San Francisco Foundation, Wells Fargo Foundation, and The Wallis Foundation. An administrative staff and Board of Directors support ABS’s activities as a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization.