American Bach Soloists wrap up season with rare Handel cantata

By From page A15 | May 03, 2013

Mischa Bouvier will perform with the American Bach Soloists on Monday, May 6, at Davis Community Church. Courtesy photo

Mischa Bouvier will perform with the American Bach Soloists on Monday, May 6, at Davis Community Church. Courtesy photo


Who: American Bach Soloists

When: 7 p.m. Monday (with 6 p.m. pre-concert talk)

Where: Davis Community Church, 412 C St.

Tickets: $22-$60 general, $20-$55 seniors and students; www.americanbach.org, 415-621-7900

American Bach Soloists will wrap up their spring season in Davis with a vocal showcase at 7 p.m. Monday at Davis Community Church, 412 C St., featuring vocal works by Handel and Bach.

Central to the program is Handel’s dramatic cantata “Apollo & Dafne.” Written in Venice when the composer was 24 years old, the cantata tells the story of the god Apollo, who in his vanity suggests that even Cupid’s bow is no match for his own. Challenging Apollo’s boastfulness, Cupid shoots his arrows and Apollo falls prey to rapturous yearnings for the unsuspecting Dafne.

To escape the amorous god’s advances, Dafne transforms herself into a laurel tree and, to some of Handel’s most expressive music, the chastened Apollo declares that his tears will water Dafne’s leaves and her branches will crown the heads of great heroes.

Though “Apollo & Dafne” predates most of the composer’s operas and oratorios, the cantata’s central conflict is operatic in scope. Music director Jeffrey Thomas will conduct soprano Mary Wilson, baritone Mischa Bouvier and the American Bach Soloists in this rarely performed Handelian masterwork.

Wilson, whose previous appearances with the American Bach Soloists have established her as an audience favorite, will sing the role of Dafne, and also sing Handel’s motet for soprano soloist and orchestra, “Silete venti.”

Bouvier, in addition to singing the title role in “Apollo & Dafne,” also will perform a trio of arias by J.S. Bach, including the buoyant and charming “Doch weichet, ihr tollen, vergeblichen Sorgen!” (So yield now, ye foolish and purposeless sorrows!) from Cantata 8. ABS flutist Sandra Miller, cellist William Skeen, violone player Steven Lehning, and organist Corey Jamason also will be featured.

Over the years, many have compared and commented on the very different lives led by J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel. Both composers were both born in 1685, in German cities barely 100 miles apart. But while Bach lived in what is now Germany his entire life (never straying terribly far from home), Handel roamed much of Europe and the British Isles, starting at an early age.

“At the age of 21, George Frideric Handel embarked on an expedition that would prove enjoyable, enlightening, profitable and integral to his career,” says music director Thomas. “A Medici prince had made an offer to Handel to visit Italy. Handel packed up his things in Hamburg and began his journey to Florence, Rome, Naples and Venice.

“Italy was the center of European music, and one of the most valuable traits of Italian music was the expressive style in which its composers wrote for the voice. Italian vocal writing was characterized by its qualities of suppleness, expansiveness, flexibility and lyricism. Handel would quickly master the art. ”

Handel went to Italy with the expectation of writing operas, but soon turned to writing dramatic cantatas like “Apollo & Dafne” for very practical reasons. As Thomas points out, “In Rome, where Handel spent most of his time between 1706 and 1710, papal decrees had closed the public theaters. Opera was an unprofitable medium (for a composer). The medium that would provide him with the most opportunity to grow and to succeed as a composer was the Italian cantata.

“It was a popular genre, due in part to the constraints of the papal ban, and further supported by the patronage of foreign visitors and local aristocrats — even church officials — who were eager to hear the considerable talent of imported Venetian singers put to good use, even if opera was out of the question. Performances of cantatas, which in some cases were remarkably operatic in all ways except by name, were often presented in the ‘academies’ held in the private theaters of discerning (and wealthy) patrons of the arts.”

Eventually, the papal ban on opera was rescinded, and the theaters reopened. Handel became an established master of the form, with Italian opera forming the bedrock of his career.

The American Bach Soloists are known for their period interpretations of Baroque music, and the group includes performers with considerable expertise in early music from the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.

A 6 p.m. talk will precede Monday’s concert. Tickets are $22-$60 general, $20-$55 seniors and students, available at www.americanbach.org or 415-621-7900.

Jeff Hudson

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