February 23-26 2018 in Belvedere, Berkeley, San Francisco, and Davis

January 24, 2018—San Francisco, CA—American Bach Soloists (ABS), led by Artistic & Music Director Jeffrey Thomas, present J.S. Bach’s Saint John Passion (BWV 245, 1725 Version), February 23-26, 2018.

The great Passions of J.S. Bach remain unparalleled in their dramatic impact and universally experienced emotional effects. Bach took the genre to new worlds of expression, incorporating the Lutheran tradition of chorales with newer, Italianate operatic elements. The result is a powerful force of rhetoric that tells the Passion story reinforced by personalized illuminations of onlookers. It is known that Bach composed five Passion settings. Unfortunately, only two survive, but considering the musical riches that they contain, we are considerably lucky.
February 23–26 2018
Belvedere • Berkeley • San Francisco • Davis
Bach performed the St. John Passion at least five times, but in four substantially different versions. ABS performs the second version (1725), which is the most strikingly different from the others. In addition to including the dramatic earthquake scene (interpolated from the Gospel of St. Matthew), Bach incorporated five new movements, including both the opening and final choruses. Interestingly, nearly all the new movements are based on chorales, including the new opening chorus, which was taken from Bach’s setting of the St. Matthew Passion, not yet fully completed in 1725. We presume that Bach had intended to present the St. Matthew Passion in that year, but did not finish it in time. So, borrowing the now famous setting of O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß ( O mankind, mourn your great sins)—which would eventually find its place at the end of the first half of the St. Matthew Passion—and using it as a grand opening chorus provided new material for those who had heard the St. John Passion the year before at its premiere.
Aaron Sheehan
Jesse Blumberg
Hélène Brunet
Robin Bier
Steven Brennfleck
Bryan Jolly
The vocal soloists include tenor Aaron Sheehan as the Evangelista and baritone Jesse Blumberg as Christus, both GRAMMY winners for the Boston Early Music Festival's recording of Charpentier's La Descente d'Orphée aux Enfers, which won Best Opera Recording in 2015. Canadian soprano Hélène Brunet is a veteran with ABS, coming off recent performances across the continent, in Montreal and Lincoln Center in New York. She most anticipates singing the aria, Zerfließe, mein Herz. “It’s one of the most beautiful Bach arias. I can’t wait to sing it for the first time with American Bach Soloists. It’s going to be really special. I couldn’t dream of a better team!”

Alto Robin Bier makes her ABS debut and brings a wealth of experience as both a conductor and singer, with a PhD in historical vocal performance practice from the University of York. “Every time that I reencounter this work, it moves me in a different way. There’s an incredible depth of message and emotional intensity in Bach’s music,” she remarks. “It really does feel like he entrusts some of the crucial moments in the story to the alto.”

“Especially exciting for me is the opportunity to perform this 1725 version with two lesser-known, but no less exquisite tenor arias,” says soloist, Steven Brennfleck. “Singing Bach’s Passion settings is unlike any other experience for a singer. The drama and depth of humanity contained therein is hard to find in any other corner of sacred repertoire. As an ABS Academy alum, to have the chance to sing this with ABS makes this an even more special occasion!”

He precedes this concert set with performances at the Alamo City Opera and returns in April to solo with ABS in Monterverdi’s Vespers of 1610 along with baritone Bryan Jolly who is making his ABS debut. Jolly returns home to San Francisco from his work with the Dutch National Opera House as a rising star at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. “It’s an incredible honor to be able to work with the American Bach Soloists professionally,” he comments.

This is music that transcends cultural, religious, and theatrical boundaries between performers and audience members, drawing in listeners as historical participants. Maestro Thomas, one of the Baroque music world’s most celebrated Bach specialists, brings his unique and insightful perspectives to the podium in definitive performances that are profoundly beautiful and moving.


Friday February 23 2018 8:00 pm
St. Stephen’s Church
3 Bay View Avenue, Belvedere, CA 94920

Saturday February 24 2018 8:00 pm
First Congregational Church
2345 Channing Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

Sunday February 25 2018 4:00 pm
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church
1111 O'Farrell St, San Francisco, CA 94109

Monday February 26 2018 7:00 pm
Davis Community Church
412 C Street, Davis, CA 95616


Phone: 800-595-4TIX (-4849)


One hour prior to each performance, ticket holders can enjoy a free and informative lecture given by musicologist and conductor Victor Gavenda, an accomplished scholar who will share his insights about the repertoire, the composers, and the experience of hearing great music from the Baroque era performed to the highest standards.
Renowned for his experience, knowledge and sensitivity for the music of the Baroque, Jeffrey Thomas’s preparation of the major works of the repertory such as Bach’s Mass in B Minor, St. Matthew Passion, and Handel’s Messiah have led to inspired, definitive performances that have become synonymous with the ensemble he has led with such distinction. San Francisco Classical Voice said, “Jeffrey Thomas is still pushing the musical Baroque envelope.” [ MORE ]
American Bach Soloists are leading performers in the field of Baroque music, dedicated to historically informed performances of Bach and his contemporaries. ABS provides meaningful, memorable, and valuable musical experiences for our audiences through inspiring performances and recordings, and it supports the preservation of early music through educational programs for students and emerging professionals. [ MORE ]
Additional Press Resources:
Jonathon Hampton
Communications Manager
415-621-7900 ext. 207
American Bach Soloists
44 Page Street, Suite 403
San Francisco, CA, 94102
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