Arts Listings

American Bach Soloists Stage Annual Festival

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday July 10, 2008 - 09:51:00 AM

SummerFest, the American Bach Soloists’ annual midsummer evening festival, features three nights of music in each of three locations—Belvedere, San Francisco and Davis—begining this weekend. 

Each evening moves from Artist’s Spotlight at 6 p.m., with the first night at each venue dedicated to a program for children and adults (in Belvedere, children are admitted free), to the playfully named Bach’s Suppers (“like a royal feast” with live music) at 6:30 p.m., followed by a Twilight Serenade at 7:15 p.m., and then at 8 p.m., The Main Event. The first evening’s main event focuses on Baroque music; the second, early Classical period pieces, and the third, late Classical to early Romantic music. 

The family concert in Belvedere will feature flautist Sandra Miller, oboeist John Abberger, cellist Tanya Tomkins and musical director Jeffrey Thomas on harpsichord, who will take “a musical journey exploring the world of Baroque music.” In San Francisco, Thomas will read from his forthcoming book about Handel’s Messiah, and answer audience questions. In Davis, Stephen Lehning, ABS’s principal on violone, contrabass, and viola da gamba will present a “curator’s tour” of period string instruments and harpsichord.  

The Belvedere Twilight Serenade will feature a new vocal ensemble, CELIA, with Ruth Escher and friends. In San Francisco, David Daniel Bowes (viola), Adam LaMotte (violin) and Robert Howard (cello) will play 18th and 19th century salon music, and in Davis at twilight, ABS will present “The Whole Noyse,” brass and wind music from the 16th and 17th centuries. 

For the main event in Belvedere, “Baroque Gems” will feature works by Albinoni, J. S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, Corelli, Marcello, Telemann and Vivaldi, featuring an octet of the previously named players, plus Elizabeth Blumenstock on violin.  

In San Francisco, “Classical Classics” presents works by C. P. E. Bach, Haydn, and Mozart’s Oboe Quintet in C minor and Adagio in C major for English Horn, Violins and Violoncello, played by members of the previously named ensemble, with Robert Howard (cello), Sandra Miller (flute) and Carla Moore (violin).  

The main event for Davis is “The Romantics,” Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 3 in D major, Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 1 in E flat major and Theme & Variations in E major Scherzo in A minor, and Schubert’s “Quartettsatz” in C minor, played by Elizabeth Blumenstock, Adam LaMotte, Carla Moore and Tanya Tomkins. 

“We love to see audiences coming to the different venues from all over the Bay Area and other places,” said ABS Musical Director Jeffrey Thomas, “to immerse themselves in a cultural experience that spans a couple of centuries of music over three nights, a very different sort of immersion than, say, the Berkeley Early Music Festival, when there’s little time to stop and grab a meal. We try to provide a socializing dinner, with music, and a program short enough—in at 6, out by about 10—so our audience can immerse themselves in an intimate venue over the course of an evening, then return.” 

Thomas also commented on the Summerfest’s difference from ABS’ usual programming.  

“During the subscription season, we tend to concentrate on Bach,” he said. “We can’t make the jumps in time in such a short space as during SummerFest. And, befitting midsummer, the music is, in a way, slightly lighter fare, some popular and some lesser-known pieces. And all the venues are beautiful, inside and out. In Davis, due to the heat, we play indoors at the studio theater, to maintain the intimate quality, and have the dinner with music within Mondavi Center—it’s without question one of the five best concert venues in the country.” 

Thomas talked about the music to be played in the settings for what the Classical Voice has called “a civilized summer pleasure.” 

“Radio listeners will recognise the oboe concertos, which are beautiful, but aren’t played live very often,” he said. “The Telemann piece is a bravura for violinist, an hysterical dance slowed down. There’re hypnotic, mantra-like variations with a repetitive bass line. The Bach is a plum work—the final movement quite familiar. We’ll be playing one of the popular London Symphonies, transcribed down to five or six players. And the Romantic pieces are all early works, though not of child prodigies. The Beethoven Quartet has such ebullience, lightness, before he started writing dark, brooding music. It’s all really joyful, energetic music.” 



Fri.-Sun., July 11-13, St. Stephen’s Church, Belvedere, Marin County. 

July 15-18, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church on Cathedral Hill, San Francisco. 

July 18-20, Robert & Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, Davis. 


For more information call (415) 621-7900 or see