Maestro stages masterpiece

"Students can do more than you thought possible," says conductor as he prepares choir for Bach's Mass in B minor

Music Prof. James Fankhauser has perfected a touch over 35 years which has been described as "a kind of alchemy."

A pinnacle of the mentor and elite conductor's career will be a performance of Bach's challenging choral masterpiece, the Mass in B minor, March 25 at 7:30 p.m. and March 26 at 3 p.m. in the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.

In the 70-voice choir will be 33 UBC students who sing with the University Singers. It's a rare opportunity for them to perform with professionals in a taped concert which will be broadcast nationally on CBC Radio Easter Sunday.

"I'm fully aware that, despite careful training, this could be beyond student singers," says Fank-hauser, who was the first in North America to return to Bach's original manuscript. "But I've learned that students can do more than you ever thought possible.

"One approaches this glorious work with awe--it is the pinnacle of Bach's creative genius," he adds. A master teacher whose students have included opera stars Ben Hepner and Karen Ydenberg, Fankhauser was awarded UBC's Outstanding Teacher Award in 1990. Those who would cut school music and choral programs aren't listening, he says.

"Music isn't a frill--it's a superb brain-building activity. And like athletes, singers learn technique such as ear training in an enjoyable group activity, rather than in a dry classroom."

The performances of Bach's Mass in B minor will feature two choirs Fankhauser has directed to international acclaim and awards over a 26-year period, the Vancouver Cantata Singers and the University Singers. The choir will be joined by the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, which will in turn be augmented by musicians from across the continent.

"Fankhauser and his choir are national treasures," said The Vancouver Sun, after the Vancouver Cantata Singers 20th anniversary concert. "His version of Mass in B minor soars above every other performance or recording." It will be Fankhauser's farewell after a lifetime of conducting people through great and difficult music. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster at (604) 280-3311, at or in person at the Chan Centre box office. Group rates are available by calling (604) 921-8588.