Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bach's Mass in B Minor

The First Annual San Francisco Summer Bach Festival put on by the local American Bach Soloists started their ten-day event at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music last weekend. They began with a pair of chamber concerts followed by the large Mass in B Minor on Sunday afternoon. All in all, the Mass was given a wonderful performance, and it is being repeated this Saturday evening (click here for more info), a concert I'd recommend highly.

The performers were a mixture of students and professionals, with the chorus above mostly consisting of the latter. I recognized a number of "extra chorus" members from the San Francisco Opera in their midst, and overall the group was superb.

So was the mostly student orchestra under conductor Jeffrey Thomas (above center), who kept the music lively over its two hour span. The only real problem were the soloists who were also students, and who suffered in their roles next to the glories of the professional chorus and the more accomplished instrumentalists. There were three exceptions, however, in countertenor Brennan Hall (above left), countertenor Gerrod Pagenkopf (not pictured), and tenor Jon Lee Keenan (below).

The Mass in B Minor is basically a 19th century discovery of an early 18th century work by J.S. Bach that he left to posterity, quilted together out of various earlier pieces.

Though its reputation is forbidding, the music is essentially virtuosic and even jolly, and its wild contrapuntal choruses need to be heard live to be appreciated. Check it out.

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