A New Era:  After the death of Washington Bach Consort founder J. Reilly Lewis, the esteemed organization founded by Lewis in 1977, the venerable organization forges ahead to announce several candidates to carry out his legacy.

by Patrick D. McCoy

The death of J. Reilly Lewis is one that is still felt especially in the Washington choral community.  But the spirit of the great maestro continues to inspire a new crop of exciting conductors, all in line to carry on and foster his great tradition of performing the masterworks of Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries.  While Reilly, (as he was affectionately called) was music director at the Clarendon United Methodist Church, he had a tradition of leading a very popular performance of Handel’s Messiah each year.  So it is most appropriate that this “Audition Series” for the Washington Bach Consort’s next music director starts with a complete performance of the great oratorio conducted by Todd Fickley.

Fickley is certainly a familiar face as it relates to the consort, often playing organ solos and continuo and in the role of assistant conductor. He has performed with the Washington Bach Consort for over 15 years. He is also Associate Music Director of the Cathedral Choral Society and The Choralis Foundation. As a prize-winning organist, Mr. Fickley has been featured on NPR and has performed in the United States, Europe, and Israel. In 2014 he launched “The Bach Project,” a cycle of concerts performing and recording all of Bach’s organ works. Two volumes of this cycle have been released on the MSR Classics label, praised as “some of the most enthralling Bach organ playing you are likely to hear anywhere by anyone.” Mr. Fickley was made a Fellow of the American Guild of Organists (AGO) at the age of 23. He holds a Master of Arts in Organ Performance from the University of Wales.
The performance of Messiah will take place on Sunday, April 30, 2017, 3 p.m. at the National Presbyterian Church, with Todd Fickley conducting.

Four more outstanding candidates round out the contenders for the coveted post.

Richard Giarusso is another familiar face on the Washington scene in his many performances with the Washington Bach Consort.  He enjoys a rewarding career as a conductor, singer, educator, and scholar. He is music director of the Georgetown Chorale in D.C. and artistic director of the Voce Chamber Singers in Reston.   He was recently heard in a glowing recital of the music of Bach at Dumbarton Church in Georgetown.   Praised by The Washington Post for his “expressive and perfectly controlled voice,” he is well known to Consort audiences as a frequent soloist, and he is in high demand as a solo and ensemble singer throughout the greater DC area. Dr. Giarusso holds degrees from Williams College and Harvard University. An award-winning teacher, he is Chair of the Department of Musicology at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.

Giarusso will conduct the Sunday, September 17, 2017 program at 3 p.m. themed:  Foundation-Bach and the Reformation.

Dana Marsh’s musical education began as a boy chorister at both St Thomas Choir School in New York and Salisbury Cathedral, England. His undergraduate degree (organ) came from the Eastman School of Music, with a D.Phil. in musicology from the University of Oxford. Marsh taught early music history in Oxford and Cambridge, serving as Assistant Director of Music at Girton College Cambridge. Praised as “…a powerful and expressive countertenor” (New York Times), Marsh performed frequently as a soloist and consort singer worldwide (1992-2008) with a variety of ensembles; among them, the American Bach Soloists, Concert Royal, the Choir of New College Oxford, and the Academy of Ancient Music.Acclaimed as “an energetic and persuasive conductor” (LA Times), Marsh has collaborated with the London Mozart Players, Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra, St Thomas Choir (NYC), Cappella Romana, and Magnificat (UK). He has prepared ensembles of young voices for recordings and performances under Esa-Pekka Salonen and Antonio Pappano for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Marsh is Director of the Historical Performance Institute at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where he coaches early vocal repertories, chamber music, directs period-instrument ensembles and teaches performance practice. He serves on the board of Early Music America.

Dana Marsh will conduct the December 9, 2017 concert themed:  Celebration: Christmas Oratorio at 6 pm.

Matthew Dirst is the first American musician to win major international prizes in both organ and harpsichord, including the American Guild of Organists National Young Artist Competition and the Warsaw International Harpsichord Competition. Widely admired for his stylish playing and conducting, the Dallas Morning News recently praised his “clear and evocative conducting” of Handel’s Alexander’s Feast, which “yielded a performance as irresistibly lively as it was stylish.” As Artistic Director of the period-instrument ensemble Ars Lyrica Houston, Dirst has made a number of acclaimed recordings, including the world première recording of J. A. Hasse’s Marc Antonio e Cleopatra, which earned him Grammy nomination in 2011 for Best Opera. His degrees include a PhD in musicology from Stanford University and the prix de virtuosité in both organ and harpsichord from the Conservatoire National de Reuil-Malmaison, France, where he spent two years as a Fulbright scholar. Equally active as a scholar and as an organist, Dirst is Professor of Music at the Moores School of Music, University of Houston, and Organist at St Philip Presbyterian Church in Houston. His publications include Engaging Bach: The Keyboard Legacy from Marpurg to Mendelssohn (Cambridge University Press, 2012) and Bach and the Organ (University of Illinois Press, 2016).

Matthew Dirst will conduct the program themed:  Commemoration: St. John Passion, March 18, 2018, 3:00 PM

Gwendolyn Toth is founder and artistic director of the early music ensemble ARTEK, known for its dedication to historical performance practice in music of the baroque. The ensemble has performed at Lincoln Center, the National Gallery of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and has toured extensively in North America and abroad. Under Ms. Toth’s direction, ARTEK released the first American recording of Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo to great acclaim, and is currently recording Monteverdi’s complete Madrigals, Book 7.  With the Mark Morris Dance Group, ARTEK performed Monteverdi madrigals to international audiences receiving widespread critical praise, and for its thirtieth anniversary in 2016, the ensemble presented a landmark performance of the 1589 Intermedii from La Pellegrina.  Ms. Toth is also a harpsichordist and organist who performs and records regularly on historic organs of the Netherlands. She holds a faculty position at Manhattan College, where she is the Orchestra Director. In her spare time, she skates with a synchronized skating team.

Gwendolyn J. Toth will conduct the program themed: Culmination: Mass in B minor, April 29, 2018, 3:00 PM


–A native of Petersburg, Virginia, Patrick D. McCoy is a graduate of Virginia State University and Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia.  He has been an arts contributor for Examiner.com, CBS Washington, The Afro American Newspaper and most recently was the Performing Arts Columnist at Washington Life Magazine for four years. As a church musician, he currently serves as Organist/Choirmaster at Saint John’s Episcopal Church (Zion Parish) in Beltsville, Maryland.   Visit www.patrickdmccoy.com for all of your arts news and send press releases and ideas to patrickdmccoy@patrickdmccoy.com.