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   Date: 3/16/10 Bookmark and Share

Smith Well-Represented in Upcoming Bach Concert

For Valerie Abrahamsen, registrar in the Smith School for Social Work, who sings soprano with the Pioneer Valley Symphony (PVS) Chorus, preparing for a performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. John Passion is a labor of love—a chance to pay homage to her favorite composer.

Of course, Abrahamsen is not alone in idolizing Bach, considered by many as the greatest composer in history. The PVS Orchestra and Chorus will celebrate the 325th anniversary of Bach’s birth (March 21, 1685) with a concert of his St. John Passion on Sunday, March 21, at 2 p.m. in John M. Greene Hall.

Pioneer Valley Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Paul Phillips, director.

Nor is Abrahamsen the only Smith musician participating in the concert. Smith College organist Grant Moss will play organ with the orchestra. Alison Berman, a faculty member in the School for Social Work, will play the violin, as will Smith alumnae Barbara Freed ’73 and Brandi Siebertz ’07. Caroline Sly ’70 will bow the viola, as will Pamela Skinner, reference/electronic resources librarian.

Abrahamsen has been a member of the PVS for more than three years.

“Singing is one of the most important things in my life,” she said. “I get a lot of satisfaction out of being part of a performance that touches and inspires the audience.”

Bach’s St. John Passion (original Latin title: Passio Secundum Johannem), like many classical settings of the Passion story, is a challenging work in its elaborate and dramatic musical presentation and its sheer duration.

“Singing the St. John Passion has been a challenging thrill,” said Abrahamsen. “We are singing sustained high notes, and the rhythm can be challenging.”

First performed in 1724, the piece provides a workout of notes in the upper register for vocalists. The PVS Chorus began rehearsing for the performance last November.

For Abrahamsen, who has sung Bach for many years, dating back to her time spent in divinity school, challenge is an accepted part of performing the master’s works.

“Bach is my favorite composer, by far,” she said. “I relish his theological as well as his musical sensitivities. He was a genius, and it’s a pleasure and a privilege to sing his work.”

The PVS Orchestra is directed by Paul Phillips, the Chorus by Ellen Gilson Voth and Heidi Johana Miller. The March 21 concert is open to the public. Tickets ($20 general; $17 for students and seniors; $6 for children under 18) are available at the door or in advance at Broadside Bookshop, Main Street, Northampton, or online at


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