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Hours after winning Grand Rapids Bach Festival's $10,000 Keller Award, singer makes unexpected debut at 12th biennial festival

Soprano Nola Richardson not only won the Grand Rapids Bach Festival's inaugural $10,000 Keller Award, she unexpectedly performed hours later at the festival
Soprano Nola Richardson is the winner of the Grand Rapids Bach Festival's inaugural $10,000 Keller Award

Soprano Nola Richardson is the winner of the Grand Rapids Bach Festival's inaugural $10,000 Keller Award /Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk

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Grand Rapids Bach Festival continues

The 2019 Grand Rapids Bach Festival continues with a program of cantatas titled Noontime Bach at 12 noon on Friday, March 22, in First United Methodist Church, 227 E. Fulton St. Tickets start at $5.

On Saturday, March 23, four soloists plus the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus and the Grand Rapids Symphony will present music including Bach's Magnificat in D major at 8 p.m. in the Basilica of St. Adalbert, 654 Davis Avenue at Fourth Street in Grand Rapids. Tickets start at $26 adults, $5 students.

Tickets are available at the door. Tickets also may be purchased online at GRSymphony.org.

Nola Richardson sings with the Grand Rapids Symphony and Trinity Wall Street Choir at the 2019 Grand Rapids Bach Festival.

Nola Richardson sings with the Grand Rapids Symphony and Trinity Wall Street Choir at the 2019 Grand Rapids Bach Festival. /Terry Johnston | Grand Rapids Symphony

The $10,000 Keller Award for a rising young singer was presented on Thursday, March 21, at the 2019 Grand Rapids Bach Festival.

The $10,000 Keller Award for a rising young singer was presented on Thursday, March 21, at the 2019 Grand Rapids Bach Festival. /Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk

Singers competing for the Linn Maxwell Keller Distinguished Bach Musician Award were promised not only a $10,000 prize to encourage and promote their careers, but also the possibility of a future engagement with the Grand Rapids Bach Festival.

For soprano Nola Richardson, winner of the inaugural Keller Award, the wait wasn't long. Just hours after she was declared winner of the prize named for the founder of the Grand Rapids Bach Festival, she was on stage Thursday evening, singing Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in A Major with The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and the Grand Rapids Symphony under Artistic Director Julian Wachner.

“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.

In presenting the Keller Award on Thursday afternoon at the Cathedral of Saint Andrew in Grand Rapids, countertenor Daniel Taylor, chairman of the jury, said that Richardson had performed “with a sense of undeniable joy.”

Meanwhile, earlier in the day, the soprano 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.

Richardson, however, had sung the soprano aria, “Qui tollis peccata mundi,” from the Bach Mass as one of her three competition selections, and Wachner, who had served as master of ceremonies at both the competition’s semifinal round on Tuesday and at its final round on Thursday knew what she could do.

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 sung 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.

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