Helmuth Rilling and I Germany to Italy and back… A day in the life of student Gene StengerImage of

Germany to Italy and back… A day in the life of student Gene Stenger

Imagine rehearsing J.S. Bach’s “B Minor Mass” for six hours a day, hopping on a five- city tour of Italy, and then flying to Colorado for a one week Chamber Choir tour. Tired? This is a day in the life of Gene Stenger, tenor and graduate student studying vocal performance at Colorado State University.

In November 2011, the University Center for the Arts hosted the National Collegiate Choral Organization featuring guest conductor Helmuth Rilling, world-renowned choral conductor and interpreter of Johann Sebastian Bach. To end the conference, Rilling conducted Bach’s “Magnificat,” “Jesu, meine Freude,” and “Singet dem Herrn.”

Stenger, performing as the tenor soloist in “Magnificat,” was able to snap a picture with Rilling and exchange a few words.  A couple of months later, he found out that he had been invited to study with Rilling with the Internationale Bachakadamie in Stuttgart, Germany.

“I didn’t know how to take it at first. Rilling travels all over the world, so to think of all of the performances in between his time at CSU and when he asked the Internationale Bachakadamie to contact me is incredible,” explains Stenger. “I was involved in the production of The Turn of the Screw, but director Tiffany Blake understood that I just had to go. It was amazing to be in Germany and really connect with the culture.”

For three weeks Stenger was immersed in the repertoire of Bach. During week one, he rehearsed the chorus of “B Minor Mass” for six hours a day, culminating with the opportunity to perform a tenor solo in rehearsal with the orchestra and Rilling himself.

“It is very intimidating to perform with Rilling because he looks right at you while he’s conducting” says Stenger, “but I think that’s the way he connects with the artists.”

In week two Stenger performed in the chorus of the Junges Stuttgarter Bach Ensemble during the Bachwoche Festival in Stuttgart.  The week began with a performance of Cantata 29 followed by performances of “B Minor Mass” as supplements to Rilling’s lectures. The festival closed with the first full performance of “B Minor Mass” in Stuttgart.

After performing at the Bachwoche Festival, Stenger then traveled to Italy to perform in Genoa, Vicenza, Bologna, Siena, and Naples.

“I felt like a professional. Every day we traveled to the next city, checked into a hotel, performed, and then did it all over again. We even had a sold out performance in Vicenza,” says Stenger.

From Italy, Gene traveled back to Colorado to join the CSU Chamber Choir on their tour of Denver area high schools and performance venues.

Gene is eager to go back to Germany to study Bach’s repertoire, and he hopes to receive a Fulbright Scholarship to further those studies after graduating in December 2012. For now, he will continue to study Bach and perform with the Colorado Bach Ensemble, directed by CSU Choral Director Dr. James Kim. Following this engagement, Gene will then travel to San Francisco, CA to perform with The American Bach Soloists Academy this July.

“The Colorado Bach Ensemble helps me stay in touch with Germany,” says Stenger, “but it will be interesting to see Dr. Kim’s approach to Bach.”