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May 18, 2006

Seattle Pro Musica tackles big, beautiful Bach

Seattle Post Intellicence (WA):

"I adore Bach," says Seattle Pro Musica's artistic director Karen P. Thomas. "The music is perfection. If I could only take one piece to a desert island, it would be the B Minor Mass. Each time I pick it up, there's more to discover in richness and complexity." Thomas has been picking it up a lot lately. Under her direction, Pro Musica performs the Mass tonight and Saturday at St. James Cathedral with soloists Lisa Cardwell Ponten, Joseph Schlesinger, Samuel J. L. Rodarte and Erich Parce, and the musicians of Baroque Northwest.

She has allotted the Bach more rehearsal time than usual for a Pro Musica performance. "Most choirs understand Bach conceptually," says Thomas. "The music makes sense, which can be a large hurdle with new works where you have to help the choir get the concept and understand what the composer intended. The big challenge with Bach is that vocally and technically it's very demanding and physically it takes a lot of stamina. You have to work it into the voice, how to sing run after run. The Mass has one fugue after another, each one different in itself. It's the inner world of Bach at his height." The last time Pro Musica performed a large Bach work it was the St. John Passion in 1992. It's not that Bach is an afterthought for the choir, it's that it has such a wide-ranging repertoire, explains Thomas, who has conducted it since 1987.

Pro Musica's reputation of fine performance has earned it and Thomas many awards and grants, most recently a $70,000 American Masterpieces matching grant for 2006-2007, from the National Endowment for the Arts. Seattle Pro Musica is one of only seven recipients nationwide, and the award involves giving outreach performances of American choral music during next season around the Northwest, in communities that don't normally have access to this performance quality or type of programming; plus orchestrating a choral festival of American music in Seattle next summer.

"The American Masterpieces Initiative each year focuses on a different art form. This is the first time it has focused on choral music, and it's designed to take American music all over the country," says Thomas. She was notified a month ago, and the grant starts in June, "a compressed time line, but we have lots of possibilities for performances in mind."

Posted by acapnews at May 18, 2006 8:37 PM