Inside Perspectives from
Trumpeter John Thiessen
How did you become involved with American Bach Soloists? 

I first played with ABS in 1994 as part of the Berkeley Festival, performing second trumpet on Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which we also recorded live for CD release. The last movement has a solo part in the “Turkish March,” which was so much fun to play. Since then, I’ve joined ABS as principal and soloist in a myriad of projects, from Buxtehude and Bach to Handel, always appreciating the ensemble’s never-ending commitment to musical excellence.

What performance projects are you currently working on?

I live in New York where my involvements are primarily with the Trinity Baroque Orchestra, which I also manage. The ensemble presents Bach cantatas weekly, many of which recently featured trumpets. In the midst of performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, I am putting final touches on an album of 17th-Century, North German music for release later this year.

How do you define and practice Historical Performance? 

I think of it as adapting to the musical mindset of the place and time with thorough study of the repertoire, treatises, and other contemporary writings; having a sense of what the original language may have sounded like for clues of rhythmic stresses; knowing as much as possible of the cultural and social context, and then playing musically and rhetorically on as close a copy to the original instrument as possible. 

What are your thoughts on Bach’s Orchestral Suites?

Bach’s Orchestral Suites provide the listener with a panoply of musical variety. The first, third, and fourth suites are festive and grand with large wind and brass components, while the second displays more intimate, virtuosic writing for solo flute with string accompaniment. The final two suites both feature trumpets and timpani, though these instruments were added in a later version by Bach. Their role, besides their obvious celebratory nature, is to provide rhythmic zest and harmonic support while also reinforcing violin lines. They are as difficult to play as they are artistically satisfying. This will be my fifth recording of BWV 1068 and 1069, and I eagerly await the ABS project with utmost anticipation.
Why do so few take on the trumpet, and is that changing?

Playing the trumpet in general is a daunting task, so it’s perhaps reserved for the brave at heart. Baroque trumpet has been described, jokingly, as similar to being a Marine: hours of boredom followed by moments of terror. We can be superstitious by nature, following similar routines that worked in the past, wearing the same tie, etc. Ultimately, however, successful period trumpeters adopt a Zen-like attitude to their daunting tasks. To do otherwise, might, upon reflection, cause one to stop playing. The current generation of young trumpeters who like Baroque music, however, seems completely unfazed by the inherent challenges of playing the valveless instrument. I have three outstanding modern trumpet majors at Juilliard, all of whom began to play Baroque this year, and who will perform Bach’s Mass in B Minor this April under Masaaki Suzuki. No small potatoes.

You studied at Eastman, Kings College, and now teach at Juilliard. What similarities and differences have you seen in music education across time and region?

When I studied at Eastman in the mid-1980s, my first Baroque trumpet teacher was a violinist, and in Paul O’Dette’s graduate class our period ensemble listening assignments were on LP. At King’s College in London, later that decade, I enjoyed many of those same groups in live concerts, first as a listener, and then later as a performer. Fast forward thirty years, and now my students at Juilliard have access to those same recordings from the 1980s and everything since, in addition to a wealth of video performances, all on their phones. That being said, the ability to turn a phrase with finesse remains an important constant, and this comes from an innate musical sense, excellent training, discernment, and years of very hard work.
Bach's Orchestral Suites

Ouverture in C Major (Suite No. 1), BWV 1066
Ouverture in B Minor (Suite No. 2), BWV 1067
Ouverture in D Major (Suite No. 3), BWV 1068
Ouverture in D Major (Suite No. 4), BWV 1069

Friday May 11 2018 at 8:00 pm
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church
3 Bay View Avenue, Belvedere, CA 94920

Saturday May 12 2018 at 8:00 pm
First Congregational Church of Berkeley
2345 Channing Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

Sunday May 13 2018 at 4:00 pm
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church
1111 O'Farrell St, San Francisco, CA 94109

Monday May 14 2018 at 7:00 pm
Davis Community Church
412 C Street, Davis, CA 95616
$25–$89
$10 student tickets for ages 25 and under with valid student ID, 
at the door or reserve at 415-621-7900 


Phone: 800-595-4TIX (-4849)
Free Pre-Concert "Insights"

One hour prior to these performances, enjoy a free and informative lecture given by musicologist and conductor Victor Gavenda, an accomplished scholar who will share his insights about the music, the composers, and the experience of hearing great music from the Baroque era performed to the highest standards.
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