Bach Abroad: Gene Stenger, Performs As International Soloist
Music, University Center for the Arts | May 03, 2013
CSU Graduate Student, Gene Stenger, Performs As Soloist In International Bach Festival
Earlier this semester, Colorado State University music graduate student Gene Stenger, tenor, was selected to appear as a soloist at the International Bach Academy in Stuttgart, Germany, led by internationally renowned conductor and Bach expert, Helmuth Rilling.
Arriving in Germany on March 12, Stenger was immersed in weeks of rehearsal as the role of the Evangelist and tenor solos for the famous St Matthew Passion, working with internationally acclaimed tenor and Bach specialist, James Taylor of Yale University.
“It was great to work with him,” said Stenger of Taylor. “I was really able to focus on the importance of the German language to the piece and how my vocal technique and phrasing can be such a huge part of that.”
In Bach’s works, the Evangelist in the music is the tenor part in his oratorios and Passions who narrates the exact words of the Bible in recitative, namely in the works St John Passion, St Matthew Passion, and the Christmas Oratorio. In contrast, the Vox Christi, Voice of Christ, is always the bass in Bach’s works, including several cantatas. The St Matthew Passion tells the complete chapters 26 and 27 of Matthew the Evangelist.
Performing several concerts under the baton of Rilling in Stuttgart and Bensheim, Stenger was then one of seven soloists, and the only American, selected to go on tour with Rilling and the ensemble in South America. Arriving in Santiago, Chile on March 25, Stenger performed several more lecture concerts and performances, concluding with a finale concert in Frutillar, Chile.
Watch Gene’s performance (begin minute 55:25 and 1:32:45)
Arriving back in the U.S. on April 2, Stenger is grateful to have had this culminating experience in his graduate tenure.
“I had a lot of incredible moments and memories of my journey to this point – here I was, a tenor soloist with Helmuth Rilling,” he reflected. “Getting to work with Helmuth Rilling was a wonderful experience – he is friendly, warm, and supportive of his singers – always humble and maintains an intense, passionate focus on the music.”
This trip, however, was not Stenger’s first to Stuttgart for this acclaimed choral gathering, nor was it his first meeting with Maestro Rilling. In 2012 Stenger was personally invited by Rilling to participate as a member of the JSB (Junges Stuttgarter Bach) Ensemble Chorus for the academy; a highly competitive group of approximately 50 choristers from around the world conducted by Rilling.
Prior to this first trip, Stenger was introduced to Rilling in 2011 through the National Collegiate Choral Conference held at CSU in November 2011, under the direction of CSU’s Director of Choral Activities, Dr. James Kim.
“I’m so grateful to Dr. Kim for having [Rilling] here,” noted Stenger. “What a great experience to meet him for the first time – and little did I know then where that meeting would lead.”
Hailing from Pittsburgh, PA, Stenger holds an undergraduate music degree from Baldwin Wallace in Berea, OH, where his love for Bach began. The university is known for hosting the oldest collegiate Bach festival in the country.
“I started singing at age 9, mostly through church,” said Stenger. “And this passion for music then blossomed into high school musicals, choirs, marching band, and other opportunities in my undergrad. It was then that one of my professors recommended the faculty and opportunities at Colorado State University for my graduate degree.”
During his time at CSU, Stenger has studied with the late Dr. James McDonald and current department chair Dr. Todd Queen. Stenger has enjoyed several performance opportunities, including the Ralph Opera Center at CSU, the Colorado Bach Ensemble, and Opera Fort Collins. He has also participated in the American Bach Soloists Academy in San Francisco, CA.
After graduation this spring, Stenger will continue his studies in Yale University’s select Institute of Sacred Music where he will pursue a Master’s degree in Early Music, Oratorio, and Chamber Music with tenor James Taylor. Stenger also hopes to return to Germany for more performance opportunities in his career.
“My experiences abroad and at CSU have given me great skills and connections that have helped give me the confidence to pursue these dreams,” said Stenger.
About the International Bach Academy Stuttgart
The International Bach Academy Stuttgart was founded in 1981 by Helmuth Rilling. The Bach Academy organizes the Stuttgarter Akademiekonzerte, a subscription-series with six major oratory-programs in the great hall of the Stuttgart Liederhalle. The concerts include cooperations with other orchestras and renowned guest conductors. The Bachwoche Stuttgart is a true academy with master classes, seminars, concerts and the international JSB-Ensemble. It is every year dedicated to varying Bach-works. Biggest event of the Bach Academy is the annual MUSIKFESTUTTGART – a high quality international classical music festival that opens the Stuttgart cultural season. Read more.
About Helmuth Rilling
Helmuth Rilling is an internationally known German choral conductor and founder of the Gächinger Kantorei (1954), the Bach-Collegium Stuttgart (1965), the Oregon Bach Festival (1970), the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (1981) and other Bach Academies worldwide. Rilling continues to be one of the world’s preeminent interpreters of Bach and conductors of the choral-orchestral repertoire. In 1967 he studied with Leonard Bernstein in New York and in the same year was appointed professor of choral conducting at the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts, a post which he held until 1985. He is well known for his performances of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries. He is the first person to have twice prepared and recorded (on modern instruments) the complete choral works of J. S. Bach, a monumental task involving well over 1,000 pieces of music – spanning 170 compact discs. Read more.
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