Wednesday, October 29, 2008

California Bach Society

I've been attending Cal Bach concerts for the last six or seven years, starting when Warren Stewart was still the group's artistic director. Cal Bach is an excellent chorus that has had a series of terrific artistic directors, and those directors' programming has always been varied and interesting.

The all-Bach concert of about ten days ago, at St. Mark's in Berkeley, was sung with such astonishing purity and beauty of tone, such unanimity of intonation and phrasing, and such rhythmic spring and responsiveness that it's clear Cal Bach has made the jump from excellence to greatness. Artistic director Paul Flight led with both vigor and passion. And I have never heard a chorus make a more beautiful sound, both unified and transparent.

It was a great program all around, with Rita Lilly, Adam Coles, and Brian Staufenbiel as the soloists, consisting of Cantata 71, Gott ist mein Koenig, the motet Komm, Jesu, Komm, and Cantata 21, Ich hatte viel Berkuemmernis. They are all marvelous, with magnificent (and plentiful) choral writing - and get that soprano/tenor duet in Cantata 21, a duet between the soul and Jesus.

Cal Bach is holding auditions on Saturday, Nov. 1, in Palo Alto. If you'd like to sing with a great group and you have strong sight-singing skills, it might be the group for you.

(Full disclosure: I sing in Chora Nova, another of Paul's choruses. I can tell you that our sound is headed in the same direction as Cal Bach's, thanks to Paul's direction.)


Paul H. Muller said...

Cal Bach sounds like the real deal.

Do you know the size of this group? I ask only because a lot of Bach is sung by out-sized choruses and, in my opinion, this muddies the effect, making good intonation and tone essential. Bach probably had - what - 20 or so in his chorus? I honestly believe he was good enough to write for just that size group and for the acoutics where the cantatas were sung.

So I am always a bit apprehensive when I hear a concert featuring Bach with 75 choristers in a giant hall. Has this been discussed in your chorus?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Cal Bach has about 20 to 24 singers. Chora Nova has around 40. For Chora Nova's last concert of last season, I think we had 45, and we performed, with the composer's own two-piano arrangement, the Brahms Requiem.

As far as the size of Bach's chorus, this is a matter of considerable controversy. Google "Joshua Rifkin" or look for an online or print copy of his article "Bach's Chorus."

Adam Cole said...


Thanks very much for taking the time to share your impressions! It is especially appreciated in this case, since none of our accustomed official reviewers were able to attend.

One small correction for anyone checking out the the "Jesus vs the soul" duet in BWV 21: it's actually for soprano and bass, not tenor. Rita Lilly and I had a lot of fun with this one.

Paul Flight is doing exciting things with all three of the Bay Area ensembles currently under his baton, while still maintaining the unique and disparate missions of each. I'd second Lisa's recommendation on auditioning if you are looking for a solid early & Baroque singing experience backed up by skilled period instrumentalists and historically informed performance practice.

Cal Bach is currently about 28 or 29 strong, which is close to its ideal. They do 4 concert sets each season, each preceded by 5 Wednesday night rehearsals in Palo Alto.

If you can't make the Nov. 1 audition date, I'd encourage filling out the brief form anyway; as they are typically quite accommodating when it comes to hearing prospective singers.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, MAN, I cannot believe I wrote that!! Yep, bass and soprano. Thanks for catching that, Adam.