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American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy to examine ‘Bach’s inspiration’

Jeffrey Thomas, Artistic Director of the American Bach Soloists
Jeffrey Thomas, Artistic Director of the American Bach Soloists
by Gene Kosoy, courtesy of American Bach Soloists

Once again the American Bach Soloists (ABS) will return to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) for two weeks next month. This year the activities for the annual Festival & Academy will be organized around the theme Bach’s Inspiration. Both the concerts for the Festival and the lectures for the Academy have been planned around the goal of establishing the context in which Bach’s activities of making music were situated. As always the Academy faculty will include ABS Artistic Director Jeffrey Thomas. Other faculty members are, in alphabetical order, as follows:

  • Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin and viola
  • Max van Egmond, voice
  • Corey Jamason, harpsichord
  • Steven Lehning, violone and bass
  • Judith Malafronte, voice
  • Robert Mealy, violin and viola
  • Sandra Miller, flute
  • Debra Nagy, oboe and recorder
  • William Sharp, voice
  • Kenneth Slowik, gamba and cello
  • William Skeen, cello
  • John Thiessen, trumpet
  • Mary Wilson, voice (this year’s Distinguished Artist)

Those who follow historically informed performances of Bach’s music in the Bay Area have probably encountered individual concerts that have addressed this summer’s context-setting goal. However, given the span of two weeks, ABS will have the liberty to deal with it far more comprehensively. Thus, while in the past, I have tended to focus primarily on the specifics of the concerts, this year it may be more suitable to summarize the day-by-day plans for the full two weeks.

Friday, July 11: The Festival will begin with the first of a two-part series of concerts entitled Bach’s Inspiration. The program will survey several composers whose work influenced Bach’s own practices. These include his uncle, Johann Christoph Bach, Dietrich Buxtehude, Johann Kuhnau, and Alessandro Marcello. Frederick the Great is also included on the program, since he provided the musical subject on which Bach composed his BWV 1079 The Musical Offering.

Bach’s study of music often involved copying the scores of other composers. The final work on the program demonstrates how this act of copying would sometimes lead to a new work arising through transcription. In the BWV 1083 cantata Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden (cancel, Highest, my sins), Bach reworked Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s setting of the “Stabat Mater Dolorosa” hymn into a German-language setting of Psalm 51. Like Pergolesi’s original, the music is scored for two high voices, which will be sung by soprano Mary Wilson and countertenor Eric Jurenas.

This concert will begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are priced at $24, $49, and $64. It will be preceded by an Opening Night Gala Dinner. This will be held a few blocks from SFCM at Dobbs Ferry, located at 409 Gough Street, just north of the intersection with Hayes Street. Tickets for this Gala are $75.

Saturday, July 12: At 2 p.m. the Academy faculty will participate in a free Public Colloquium entitled Baroque Instruments and Performers, Then and Now: Creating a New Fusion of Styles and Tastes. This will be followed at 8 p.m. by the second part of the Bach’s Inspiration concert series. The setting for this concert will be the 250-mile journey Bach made in 1705 (on foot) to Lübeck to hear performances by Buxtehude. This visit was so significant to Bach that he remained in Lübeck for four months. The first half of the program will present music that Bach probably heard during this visit, including the works of Johann Adam Reincken, Nicolaus Bruhns, and Georg Melchior Hoffmann, as well as Buxtehude. The second half will then present Bach’s own compositions, the BWV 1047 “Brandenburg” concerto in F major, featuring Thiessen on trumpet, the BWV 203 secular cantata Amore traditore (treacherous love), sung by Sharp with keyboard accompaniment by Jamason, and the trio sonata from BWV 1079, featuring that theme provided by Frederick the Great. Ticket prices will again be $25, $49, and $64.

Sunday, July 13: The first of two annual performances of the BWV 232 setting of the Mass text in B minor will take place at 7 p.m.; ticket prices are again $25, $49, and $64.

Monday, July 14: The first of the Academy-In-Action recitals will be given at 8 p.m. As always, there will be three recitals in this series to showcase the efforts of the Academy students. One of the works programed for this particular concert will be the BWV 1064 concerto in C major for three harpsichords. All tickets are $10.

Tuesday, July 15: A harpsichord Master Class will be open to the public, beginning at 3 p.m., free of charge. This will be followed at 5 p.m. by a lecture by Slowik entitled “Bach: ‘The Greatest Musical Orator That Ever Existed,”” which will also be free. The featured work at the second Academy-in-Action recital, beginning again at 8 p.m., will be Georg Philipp Telemann’s TWV 55:B5 Völker orchestral suite in B-flat major. Tickets for the recital are again $10.

Wednesday, July 16: The 3 p.m. Master Class, again free and open to the general public, will be for violin and viola. The 5 p.m. free lecture, entitled “The Presence of the Past: Bach’s Relations to his Musical Ancestors,” will be given by Mealy. The featured work at the final Academy-in-Action recital will be Antonio Vivaldi’s C major concerto for two trumpets. Tickets will again be $10.

Thursday, July 17: This is the one day when no concert will be given. The Master Class will cover all low strings (cello, gamba, violone, and bass). It will again be at 3 p.m. and will be free. The free lecture at 5 p.m. will be given by Jamason. The title will be “Postmodern Bach: French and Italian Styles Absorbed, Transformed, and Made Entirely New.”

Friday, July 18: The 3 p.m. free Master Class will be for both winds and brass. Thomas will deliver the free 5 p.m. lecture entitled “All Things in Moderation: A Look at Handel’s Oratorio Texts from Dryden, Hamilton, Jennens, & Milton.” This will serve as a preview for the 8 p.m. concert, which will consist entirely of George Frideric Handel’s HWV 55 pastoral ode L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, which draws its text primarily from John Milton but also, for the conclusion, from William Shakespeare. Ticket prices will be $25, $40, and $50.

Saturday, July 19: The 3 p.m. free Master Class will be for voice. The free 5 p.m. lecture will be given by Nagy with the title “Musical and Dramatic Performances of the Passion Story—Before Bach.” The 8 p.m. concert will be Wilson’s Distinguished Artist Series recital. She has prepared a program of Handel, Bach, and Vivaldi. In addition Jamason will perform Bach’s BWV 972 concerto for solo harpsichord in D major, his arrangement of a D major violin concerto by Vivaldi. Ticket prices will be $25, $43, and $55.

Sunday, July 20: The Festival will conclude, as it does every summer, with the second performance of BWV 232, this time at 2 p.m. with tickets again at $25, $49, and $64.

The entire Festival & Academy has its own home page on the ABS Web site. This page provides hyperlinks to further information about all events. There is also a hyperlink for online purchase of tickets, which includes discounts available for students with appropriate identification. SFCM is located at 50 Oak Street, a short walk from the Van Ness Muni station.

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