Once again the first half of August will be devoted to the 2017 American Bach Soloists (ABS) Festival & Academy, which combines unique opportunities to study and perform Baroque music in a multi-disciplinary learning environment (the Academy) with a little over a week’s worth of historically-informed concert programming (the Festival). Once again the base of operations will be the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM), with selected performances given at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. Members of the Academy Faculty will augment their pedagogical duties by joining forces with the American Bach Soloists and Artistic & Music Director Jeffrey Thomas to participate in Festival concerts. Faculty members of 2017 will be as follows:
- Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin & viola
- Max van Egmond, baritone
- Robert Farley, trumpet
- Corey Jamason, harpsichord
- Steven Lehning, violone & contrabass
- Judith Malafronte, contralto
- Robert Mealy, violin & viola
- Sandra Miller, flute
- Debra Nagy, oboe & recorder
- William Sharp, baritone
- William Skeen, violoncello & viola da gamba
- Kenneth Slowik, violoncello & viola da gamba
- Dominic Teresi, bassoon
Programming for the Festival, whose overall title is English Majesty, will be as follows:
Friday, August 4, 8 p.m., St. Marks Lutheran Church: This coming July marks the 300th anniversary of the premiere performance of George Frideric Handel’s three Water Music suites, performed on the River Thames for the pleasure of King George I. The opening program of the Festival will feature the first and third of those suites, HWV 348 in F major and HWV 350 in G major. These two suites will then be followed by Georg Philipp Telemann’s TWV 55:C3 suite, also called Water Music, although its full title is Hamburger Ebb’ und Fluth (Hamburg’s ebb and flood). This suite honors the Elbe River by evoking a series of mythological deities: Thetis, Neptune, the Naiads, Triton, Aeolus, and Zephyr.
Saturday, August 5, 8 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: This is the Festival concert that will feature members of the Academy Faculty as performers. Entitled Orpheus in Britannia, the program will consist of a wide diversity of selections by the greatest composers of the English Baroque period. These will include Handel as well as “native” British composers, such as Henry Purcell, John Jenkins, and William Boyce, as well as many others.
Sunday, August 6, 7 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church and Sunday, August 13, 2 p.m., SFCM: Every summer the Festival gives two Sunday performances of Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 232 setting of the complete Ordinary of the Latin Mass, best known as the “Mass in B minor.” The first of these will take place in the evening at St. Mark’s and the second in the afternoon at SFCM. Both performances will feature instrumental and vocal solos performed by Academy students.
Thursday, August 10, and Friday, August 11, 8 p.m., SFCM: This will be a performance of the music that Purcell wrote as incidental music for King Arthur, a five-act spectacle conceived by John Dryden. Dryden’s text dates back to 1684, originally intended to mark the 25th anniversary of the Restoration of King Charles II to the throne. Charles had named Dryden as Poet Laureate in 1668, making him the first to hold that position; so it is reasonable to assume that King Arthur was written as one of Dryden’s “official duties for the Crown.” However, Charles II died in February of 1685; and that put an end to any plans to stage the spectacle. There followed the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in which the Protestant William of Orange overthrew the Catholic James II and became King William III of England. William’s Protestantism had little room for entertaining diversions. Purcell lost his royal patronage, and Dryden lost his Poet Laureate position. However, in 1690 the theatre manager Thomas Betterton recruited both of them to provide him with entertainments for the general public. Dryden’s King Arthur text was revived; and Purcell provided music, most of which had nothing to do with the narrative! Nevertheless, the music had virtues of its own; and English countertenor Alfred Deller began to revive interest in it in 1948. These days it is probably best know for the aria “Fairest Isle.”
Saturday, August 12, 8 p.m., SFCM: Every year the Festival provides a showcase for one of the Academy Faculty members. This year the featured artist will be Sandra Miller, whose virtuosity takes in the many different forms of the transverse flute:
courtesy of American Bach Soloists
The title of the program will be Bach & Sons, and the concert will highlight works by Sebastian’s three best-known sons, Wilhelm Friedemann, Johann Christian, and Carl Philipp Emanuel. There will also be performances of the opening Sinfonia movements of several of Sebastian’s cantatas, as well as orchestral transcriptions of his music originally written for keyboard.
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church is located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the intersection with Franklin Street. The address of SFCM is 50 Oak Street, which is a short walk from the Van Ness Muni Station. Prices of single tickets range between $30 and $95. The ABS Web site has a single Web page from which tickets for all concerts may be ordered individually. Tickets are accumulated in a Shopping Cart prior to payment. Those whose Shopping Cart includes all five of the above Festival productions will be entitled to a 15% subscribers discount.
The options on this Web page also include tickets for the Festival Opening Night Gala Dinner. The venue will be Dobbs Ferry Restaurant at 409 Gough Street in Hayes Valley. The dinner will begin at 5 p.m. on Friday, August 4. Those attending the 8 p.m. concert will be able to show up at St. Mark’s early and be provided with arranged transportation both to and from the restaurant. Individual tickets for the dinner will be $100. Those wishing further information about both these arrangements and the food options are invited to call ABS at 415-621-7900.
In addition to the Festival concerts, the Academy will offer several events to the public, all of which are free of charge. Most important will be the Baroque Marathon concerts are SFCM at which the Festival students will perform the works they have prepared with coaching from the Academy faculty. There will be three of these concerts taking place on Monday, August 7, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., and on Tuesday, August, 8, at 8 p.m. There will also be a series of Master Classes, all taking place at 3 p.m., scheduled as follows:
- Tuesday, August 8: harpsichord
- Wednesday, August 9: violin & viola
- Thursday, August 10: low strings
- Friday, August 11: winds
- Saturday, August 12: voice
On the scholarly side there will be a public colloquium held on the afternoon of Saturday, August 5, entitled Music’s “Fairest Isle” – Voices, Viols, & Visitors. Topic of discussion will include the context of the cultural history of London, individual performers and composers who traveled from abroad to participate, and the musical forms and instruments that established the nature of the English Baroque idiom. During the week that follows, there will also be a series of lectures, all beginning at 5 p.m. Speakers and topics will be as follows:
- Tuesday, August 8: Debra Nagy on Winds on the Water: Grand Music for the Great Outdoors
- Wednesday, August 9: Jeffrey Thomas on Bach’s Mass in B Minor: A Look from the Inside
- Thursday, August 10: Judith Malafronte on “O come let us howl”: English Theatre Music in the 17th Century
- Friday, August 11: Robert Mealy on King Arthur and Purcell’s French and Italian Influences
- Saturday, August 12: Kenneth Slowik on Bach & Sons: Sinfonias, Concertos, and Transcriptions