Linn Maxwell Keller loved to sing, and she did it well. During a long and successful career, she graced stages from Grand Rapids to the grand opera houses of major European cities.
The founder of the Grand Rapids Bach Festival also sang in major Bach Festivals throughout the United States, including the Oregon Bach Festival under Helmuth Rilling.
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, brings six singers to Grand Rapids this week for the 12th biennial Grand Rapids Bach Festival.
“This is a major, monetary gift or award, particularly for a singer,” said Julian Wachner, Artistic Director of the Grand Rapids Bach Festival.
Six singers, all between age 18 and 34, will perform in two rounds of competition in the Cathedral of St. Andrew. A semi-final round at 2 p.m. Tuesday March 19, will select finalists who will advance to the final round at 3 p.m. Thursday, March 21.
Both performances are open to the public with free admission. The $10,000 Keller Award will be announced at the end of the final round.
The four women and two men coming to Grand Rapids include one singer who originally is from Australia and another originally from Japan.
The six singers are:
Soprano Nola Richardson, who has performed with American Bach Soloists and Seraphic Fire and was a top prizewinner in the Bethlehem Bach and Handel Aria competitions.
Soprano Motomi Tanaka, who has appeared with the Princeton Festival Baroque Orchestra and Chorus and was a featured Young Artist with ARTEK’s Madrigal Madness in New York City.
Mezzo-soprano Rebecca Myers, who has been a studio artist with the Boulder Bach Festival Chamber Ensemble and debuted with Eklund Opera in the title role in Handel’s Ariodante.
Mezzo-soprano Clara Osowski, a prize winner at the Thomas Quasthoff’s International Das Lied Competition in Heidelberg, Germany, and a finalist in the Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation Song Competition in London.
Tenor Scott Brunscheen, who performs regularly with Haymarket Opera as well as with Chicago Opera Theater, Long Beach Opera and the Caramoor Bel Canto Festival.
Baritone Clayton Kennedy, who is a frequent soloist in Arte Musica Foundation’s series The Complete Cantatas of J.S. Bach, and who has been a soloist with Ensemble Caprice and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.
“We’ve had so much interest, and we have a fantastic slate of semi-finalists from all over North America,” Wachner said.
Linn Maxwell Keller’s original vision for the Grand Rapids Bach Festival included not only performances but also educational opportunities, which led to the creation of the $10,000 prize.
The mezzo-soprano originally from Indiana eventually would sing in Bach festivals in Carmel and in Rochester among other places.. But her career received a major boost when she won the “Joy in Singing” Competition in 1976, which included a debut performance in Alice Tully Hall in New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
“That’s what launched her career,” said her husband, Fred Keller. “It’s the element that gave her the credibility she needed, and she always was very grateful for that opportunity.”
Over 150 memorial gifts and donations from friends, family and fellow musicians were contributed to establish the prize, which will be awarded at future Grand Rapids Bach Festival’s in Keller’s memory.
“The idea of having an award named after Linn honors that with the potential to boost another singer’s career,” Keller said. “Our family is thrilled to be able to honor and recognize Linn now and in the future.”