Thursday, August 13, 2015
American Bach Soloists' Baroque Marathon
The American Bach Festival's annual Academy for young performers held three free, substantial concerts of Baroque music early in the week at the SF Conservatory. I attended the third and final edition on Tuesday evening, and to my surprise stayed for the entire concert because the instrumental playing was so good and the repertoire unfamiliar. Pictured above is ABS string player/instructor Robert Mealy leading a large ensemble in "four short dances and one honking big Chaconne" from the upcoming French Baroque opera Semele by Marin Marais.
Most of the concert consisted of arias from J.S. Bach cantatas with chamber accompaniment, and I was reminded once again that classical music voices need time to mature into their eventual flowering, but instrumentalists from the same generation often sound ready for professional gigs at the highest level, including Gabriel Benton on keyboard and Mikala Schmitz on the cello above.
The two of them brilliantly accompanied a half dozen different singers, joined for a few arias by violinist Alana Youssefian who was equally sensational. Among the vocal soloists, soprano Elisa Sutherland was one of the better performers as she traversed Ich bin vergnugt in meinem Leiden from the cantata for the Sunday after New Year, Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid.
After the Marais dance interlude with the large orchestra, another group of singers performed Bach cantata arias with a new set of accompanists who were also incredibly good, particularly cellist Oliver Weston above and the fluent, lively David Dickey below on oboe.
Greatest hits from obscure Bach cantatas was a wonderful idea for a program involving multiple students, and if this concert is any indication, the world is in for a lot of extraordinary early music performances in the coming decades.