Sunday, May 3, 2015

American Bach Soloists perform monumental St. Matthew Passion

The American Bach Soloists fill a staircase at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at UC Davis in this file photo. Their next local performance is Monday evening at Davis Community Church. Courtesy photo

From page A11 | February 22, 2012 |


Who: American Bach Soloists performing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday, with pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Davis Community Church, 412 C St.

Tickets: $19-$53, available at or (415) 621-7900

The American Bach Soloists will perform one of J.S. Bach’s greatest choral works — the St. Matthew Passion — at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Davis Community Church, 412 C St. Scholar Steven Lehning will give a short talk about this choral masterpiece at 6:30 p.m.

Using a rarely performed 1740s version of the score, maestro Jeffrey Thomas, along with the members of the American Bach Soloists, the Pacific Boychoir and the American Bach Choir, will perform Bach’s emotionally charged masterwork.

This first-version manuscript — handed down via Bach’s principal assistant, and son-in-law, Johann Christoph Altnickol — reveals in unclouded relief the exact proportions of Bach’s forces.

In the spirit of the American Bach Soloists’ long-standing dedication to performing the music on the type of instruments that existed during the composer’s lifetime, Monday’s concert will feature one of Bach’s favorite keyboard instruments, the Lautenwerk, or lute-harpsichord.

Based in San Francisco, the American Bach Soloists are one of the nation’s leading early music ensembles, presenting concerts regularly in San Francisco, Berkeley, Belvedere and Davis.

For Monday’s performance, tenor Wesley Rogers will reprise his acclaimed reading of the Evangelist, last performed with ABS in 2006. In the baritone role of Christus will be Joshua Copeland, a finalist in the ABS Young Artist Competition; he was heard last season in Bach’s “Coffee Cantata.”

In this early version of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, the dramatic choral ensembles will be sung by vocal soloists taking on the roles of priests, disciples, soldiers and crowds. Featured will be some of the most popular singers from the new generation of early music specialists, including sopranos Clara Rottsolk and Anne-Kathryn Olsen, both making their ABS debuts in these performances.

Danielle Reutter-Harrah, who came to ABS through the organization’s summer academy, and countertenor Jay Carter, who stepped in last season to replace the ailing Ian Howell, will sing the alto roles.

Tenors Derek Chester and Aaron Sheehan, who have appeared with ABS in the past, will be joined by Bay Area baritone Robert Stafford and ABS Academy discovery Mischa Bouvier to take on the baritone roles.

Thomas says in his program notes, “With its unfolding levels of symbolism, theological interpretation and — most striking of all — psychological insight, the St. Matthew Passion is perhaps the most challenging and ambitious Christian artwork. It is thus not entirely surprising that Bach seems to have spent considerable time and care in preparing the work. He probably began writing it in 1725.”

Thomas adds that the St. Matthew Passion took much time to complete and Bach “did not present (it) until 1727 and refined it again during the 1730s. During the last few years of his life he went to great trouble to repair the autograph score, sewing in new patches of paper that are designed to be barely perceptible to the casual reader. This points to the special status Bach seems to have afforded the work…”

Despite Bach’s labors, the St. Matthew Passion soon faded from view after the composer’s death in 1750, but was revived in public performances by composer/conductor Felix Mendelssohn in 1829. Since that time it has widely been regarded as one of the great choral masterworks.

The other Davis performances in this all-Bach season include “Double Concertos” at 8 p.m. April 2 at Davis Community Church, a program of works with instrumental pairings including the Concerto for Oboe & Violin in C Minor, the Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, and the Concerto for Two Harpsichords in C Major.

The remainder of the program features works requiring greater numbers of soloists: the Concerto for 3 Violins in D Major, and the ever-popular Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 for nine soloists. These pieces epitomize Bach’s development of the concerto form across a variety of instrumental combinations and textures.

The performances will showcase the virtuosity of several soloists, including violinist and ABS Young Artist Competition winner Andrew Fouts, Canadian oboist John Abberger, violinists Elizabeth Blumenstock and Katherine Kyme, and harpsichordists Corey Jamason and Leon Schelhase.

On May 7 at 8 p.m. at Davis Community Church, ABS performs Bach’s lavish “Easter Oratorio” (“Kommt, eilet und laufet,” BWV 249), along with two other cantatas, “Christ lag in Todesbanden,” BWV 4 and “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” (“A Mighty Fortress”), BWV 80.

Soloists include alto Judith Malafronte and three young artists making their ABS debuts: soprano Kathryn Mueller, tenor Jon Lee Keenan and baritone Tyler Duncan.

A dynamic work of dramatic power, the “Easter Oratorio” brings the characters of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Peter and John to the forefront, complete with orchestrations that include bright trumpets, timpani and the gentle strains of pastoral recorders.

Tickets to Monday’s performance of the St Matthew Passion are $19-$53, available at or (415) 621-7900. Season subscriptions for the three Davis performances are $51-$129.

For more on the ABS 2012 schedule, visit or

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or (530) 747-8055.





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