Singers participating in the 2019 Grand Rapids Bach Festival’s inaugural Linn Maxwell Keller Distinguished Bach Musician Award were promised a $10,000 cash prize meant to encourage and promote their careers as professional singers.
Contestants also were told they may be offered a future appearance with the biennial festival created by Linn Maxwell Keller in 1997.
For soprano Nola Richardson, winner of the first Keller Award, that future appearance came less than two-and-a-half hours later with The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and the Grand Rapids Symphony on Thursday, March 21.
Richardson, 32, of New York City, was awarded the $10,000 prize that afternoon following the second and final round of competition in Grand Rapids as part of the 12th biennial Grand Rapids Bach Festival, led by Artistic Director Julian Wachner.
In presenting the Keller Award, countertenor Daniel Taylor, chairman of the jury, said that Richardson had performed “with a sense of undeniable joy.”
Meanwhile, earlier in the day, a singer previously engaged to perform Thursday evening with the Grand Rapids Symphony had to cancel her appearance in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in A Major as part of the Grand Rapids Bach Festival.
On Thursday afternoon, Richardson, had sung the soprano aria, “Qui tollis peccata mundi,” from the Bach Mass in A Major as one of her three competition selections.
Though Wachner was not one of the judges for the Keller Award, he had served as master of ceremonies at the competition’s semifinal round on Tuesday and at its final round on Thursday, both held in the Cathedral of Saint Andrew in Grand Rapids.
“Upon her winning the award at 4:30 p.m., I said to Nola, ‘You have a gig tonight,’” said Wachner, who also is Director of Music and Arts at New York City’s famous Trinity Church Wall Street.
At 7 p.m. Thursday, Richardson joined three other soloists, The Choir of Trinity Wall Street from New York City, and the Grand Rapids Symphony in a concert before a full house in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in downtown Grand Rapids.
Praised by the New York Times for her “beautiful tone” and the Washington Post for her “astonishing balance and accuracy,” “crystalline diction” and “natural sounding ease,” soprano Nola Richardson has performed Bach’s Cantata No. 51 and Scarlatti's Su le Sponde del Tebro with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; “Simply Sondheim” with the Boston Pops; and Handel's Messiah with the Colorado Symphony.
Richardson participated in the premiere of Michael Gandolfi’s Carroll in Numberland alongside soprano Dawn Upshaw at Tanglewood, and she made her Kennedy Center debut in Handel’s Radamisto with Opera Lafayette. With Yale Schola Cantorum, she’s performed Arvo Part’s Passio on tour to Russia, Estonia and Latvia.
The native of Australia was a top prizewinner in the Audrey Rooney Bach, the Bethlehem Bach, and the Handel Aria Competitions, and she as appeared with the American Bach Soloists, Seraphic Fire, Clarion, the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, the American Classical Orchestra, the Colorado Bach Ensemble, and the Blue Hill Bach Festival.
Mezzo soprano Linn Maxwell Keller, who graced international concert halls and opera houses in her career, sang at major Bach festival throughout the United States including the Oregon Bach Festival under Helmuth Rilling. In 1997, she founded the biennial Grand Rapids Bach Festival as a week-long, community celebration of the music of J.S. Bach.
In memory of Keller, who died in 2016, the Grand Rapids Bach Festival established the $10,000 Keller Distinguished Bach Musician Award. The inaugural competition, to encourage and support gifted, young singers in pursuit of professional careers in music, made its debut at the 2019 Grand Rapids Bach Festival, running March 17 through March 24 in Grand Rapids.
Six singers, all between age 18 and 34, performed in two rounds of competition in the Cathedral of Saint Andrew. The jury of countertenor Daniel Taylor, baritone Stephen Salters, and Lori Lee Curly, president of the Grand Rapids Bach Festival’s Board of Directors, unanimously chose Richardson as the winner of the inaugural Keller Award.