Bach soloists are growing baroque 

Should there be a new generation of musicians pursuing “historically informed” performance practices? And should you, gentle reader, care about old music performed the old way? Jeffrey Thomas and his American Bach Soloists not only think so, they are doing something about it.

ABS, a group of outstanding musicians, is using authentic instruments from the Baroque era, working tirelessly to help the genre survive and thrive.

The organization’s first training program, the American Bach Soloists Academy, is a two-week session at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, now in progress, and open to the public.

Anyone attending ABS or Philharmonia Baroque concerts will know about the obvious, visible part of this great cultural preservation effort for early music and Baroque opera: the instruments.

They are treasured, ancient pieces, most originating in the 18th century. Both organizations actually list their makers (such as Stradivarius) and their age in programs, along with the roster of musicians.

Yet the academy’s main mission lies in teaching and preserving old performance practices — rhythm patterns, tempi and even pitches — that are different from what developed in the 19th and 20th centuries.

This highly specialized and difficult discipline has a surprisingly high following.

When ABS announced the academy, Thomas, the music director, had an overwhelming response with “huge numbers” of applicants. Admission was rigorous, requiring essays in which applicants stated their qualifications and objectives. Fifty-two students were admitted; they are being taught by a faculty of 12 famed musical specialists.

Lectures and workshops are free and open to the public, so visitors may learn along with academy participants, who are training to become the next generation of virtuoso early music specialists.

Ticketed events include chamber concerts by the faculty at 8 p.m. today (Music from 17th-Century Italy and Germany); Tuesday (Masters of the High Baroque); and Wednesday (Early Classical Chamber Music).

The project’s culmination is the Academy Showcase featuring students and faculty Friday, followed by two concerts of early music masterpieces — one famous, the other virtually unknown.

Saturday’s program is Handel’s youthful operatic oratorio, “La Resurrezione” (Resurrection), about angels and devils battling for supremacy. On Sunday, Bach’s towering Mass in B minor will fill the concert hall.

Free programs

At 5 p.m., except 7 p.m. Saturday-Sunday  
Today — “The Harmony of Nations: Chamber Music of the Baroque”
Tuesday — “Rationalizing Early Music Aesthetics in our Modern World”
Wednesday “18th-Century Masters Speak to 21st-Century Students”
Thursday — “Songs Without Words: Interpreting Textless Music”
Friday — “The Art of Persuasion: Musical Rhetoric in the 18th Century”
Saturday — “Insights on Handel’s La Resurrezione”
Sunday — Round table on Bach’s Mass in B minor

Master classes
At 9 a.m.
Monday — Harpsichord with Corey Jamason
Tuesday — Violin with Elizabeth Blumenstock and Robert Mealy
Wednesday — Voice with Max van Egmond and Judith Malafronte
Thursday — Violoncello, viola da gamba and violone with Tanya Tomkins, Elisabeth Reed and Steven Lehning
Friday — Wind and brass classes with Sandra Miller, Debra Nagy and John Thiessen

American Bach Soloists Academy Concerts

Where: San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50-70 Oak St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. today-Sunday
Tickets: $20 to $40
Contact: (415) 621-7900,

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Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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