Bitterroot Baroque is a presenter organization for the Montana Early Music Festival’s concert of J.S. Bach’s monumental “Mass in B minor,” often cited as the pinnacle of choral art.
The unique performance brings an epic number of logistical elements together for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The musicians, from around Montana and the country, will make a four-city tour, including a stop at St. Francis Xavier Church in Missoula at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16.
Alex Schafer, president of Bitterroot Baroque, said the venue is important to the presentation.
“It’s a religious work with a chorus, soloists and period orchestra,” Schafer said. “Missoula’s St. Francis Xavier is a wonderful setting with frescos on the ceiling and the walls it feels like it is in Italy. We needed a bigger place to hold the performers, which are a 42-member choir, six soloists and 17 baroque musicians.”
Schafer said the presentation has many interesting aspects, including the instruments and the musicians.
“We will use period instruments – many of them have never been heard in all of Montana,” Schafer said.
The group of baroque musicians has been assembled specifically for this festival. Shafer is the only Bitterroot Baroque member participating as a performer, playing baroque flute.
“Artistic Director Kerry Krebill will lead this iconic work,” Schafer said. “When Sound Counterpoint came to Montana last May, Kerry heard Curtis Foster’s great baroque oboe playing and talked with him about doing the ‘B minor.’ He was very encouraging and offered to play and help recruit some of the people he would like to play with.”
Players are coming from Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis, New York, Indianapolis and Denver. Vocal soloists are Amanda Balestrieri (soprano), Marjorie Bunday (mezzo-soprano), Anne Kania (contralto), Robert Petillo (tenor), Rob W. Tudor (baritone) and Bobb Robinson (baritone), who all specialize in music before 1800.
Leading the orchestra as concertmaster will be Ginna Watson of the Minneapolis-based Rose Ensemble. Organist Keith Reas and cellist Sarah Stone are the continuo players.
The instrumentation is unique in that the 17-member chamber orchestra will play “period instruments” – either actual 18th century instruments or modern replicas. The baroque organ has been brought from Seattle, there will be an oboe with a brass mouthpiece rather than a reed, bassoons and traversi (flutes), natural horn and trumpets, gut strings and historic timpani.
Krebill said she has worked on the logistics of the concert for three months and the performances will be amazing.
“It is so exciting,” Krebill said. “I only do music that I love because life is too short to do anything else. This piece is the culmination of Bach’s life and the epitome of the choral art. To get to sing the B minor Mass or the high Mass once in your lifetime is something you aspire to. We’ll do it four nights in a row.”
Krebill said that performing the piece is also a physical feat.
“It is challenging to be able to sing it, but it has 16 note runs and sustained notes,” she said. “You sing for four minutes in a row and you get a little rest or maybe you sing for another four minutes straight. It is not a lazy man’s work.”
Krebill said everyone will love these performances.
“It is a Montana premier,” she said. “It is the first time in Montana that there has been a performance of period instruments, a choir and the highest piece of music. It is a compilation of so many beautiful parts. It is an opportunity to hear live music that you’ll never have again.”
Krebill said that Montana audiences are just now embracing early music, but it is growing in popularity.
“Early music is still below the radar in this state,” she said. “We are chipping away at this. You do not have to travel to big cities to hear these concerts. They will be the best you can hear anywhere.”
The program tours three other Montana cities, including performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 14, at Holy Rosary in Bozeman, 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 15, at Immaculate Conception in Butte, and at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 17, at Plymouth Congregational in Helena.
For the presentation at St. Francis Xavier in Missoula, seating is general admission. Ticket prices are $30 general admission and $10 students. Tickets will be available at the door, as well as at Rockin’ Rudy’s in Missoula and Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton.