Recent discoveries of Bach have been rare. But twenty years ago, a whole community discovered the great composer—audiences, musicians, scholars, dancers, and artists—thanks to Kansas City’s Bach Aria Soloists.
The modest ensemble—founder/violinist Elizabeth Suh Lane, soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson, keyboardist Elisa Williams Bickers, and cellist Hannah Collins—has made the discovery flourish, with lots of help.
“It’s all been experimental collaborations,” Lane says. “From the very beginning we tried to introduce the ensemble by looking to Bach and his spirit, with his own Hauskonzerts and café concerts.”
So they perform Bach and Piazzolla—“the bandoneon does come from Germany,” Lane points out. Or with jazz players, or alongside new commissions. Bach and dancers. Bach in museums. Bach in beer halls, Bach in houses.
Lane says. “Our very first concert was in a house—a large house. We had about 75 people in the room. We thought these convivial evenings would let the audience get to know us.
“And they did,” she says. “We quickly involved the community, and started playing in more public venues too. But we always kept the Hauskonzerts.”
BAS has by now long had its own subscription season, with somewhat typical programs of Bach in churches at the holidays, and scholarly programs like February’s appearance with scholar Christoph Wolff. “We do concerts on both sides of the state line,” Lane says, quick to acknowledge both KCMO and KCK.
But there are also Hauskonzerts with Indian cuisine served, collaborations with adventurous guitarist Beau Bledsoe, and an appearance with trumpeter Rodney Marsalis—yes, of those Marsalises. Jazz plays a big part in BAS attracting audiences to Bach, as you would imagine from the rich pool of musicians in Kansas City.
“We’ve always had a hard core audience,” Lane says. “But we’ve definitely involved people who thought they wouldn’t be interested in Bach.
“People want to do comfortable, interesting things they can enjoy,” she says. “That’s happened with us, through collaborations in theater, and dance—in art museums—people who didn’t know anything about us.”
Wolff returns for the third time this season. Perhaps the foremost living Bach scholar might have some comments on the BAS players, who don’t always perform on period instruments?
“He doesn’t care,” Lane says. “We don’t play on Baroque instruments all the time, and he and I talked about that the first time we worked together. They do that all the time in Germany, and it didn’t matter to him.” More importantly to Lane and her colleagues are performance practices, in which Lane immersed herself during years of working in Europe.
“Our soprano is a beautifully versatile singer,” Lane says. “We’re all really versatile. I think what matters in the end is that you love doing something, have a quality approach, and are having fun.” That’s exactly the type of thing Bach would like.
“This community in Kansas City has grown and evolved,” she says, “they’ve come along with us for an adventurous ride.”