Annual Bach Festival Christmas concert to feature classical, jazz, holiday favorites

The Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival celebrates the holidays and its 30th anniversary year with “A Bach Festival Christmas” featuring soprano Jessica Spafford, pianist David Berry, violinist Domenic Salerni, and bassist Sam Suggs performing a festive musical mix of classical, jazz, and holiday classics. Listeners will get to participate in a group sing led by SVBF Artistic Director Ken Nafziger.

The concert will be Thursday, Dec. 9, at 7:30 p.m. in Martin Chapel, Eastern Mennonite Seminary, on the Eastern Mennonite University campus. This popular annual concert is free and open to the public; ticketing for this event is pay-what-you-can from $10-$40. There is a free option for those in financial hardship this holiday season. A reception will follow the performance. Families and children are welcome!

This event will also be livestreamed. Click here to find the link.

Masks are required to attend the concert, following current university policy. 

Jessica Spafford

Coloratura soprano Jessica Spafford has had success both nationally and abroad as a performer and pedagogue and currently serves as visiting assistant professor of music in voice and theory at Emory & Henry College. Additionally, along with her colleague Joshua Boggs, she is a founding associate artistic director of AppOpera, a new opera company the duo started in the Tri-Cities region.

Spafford earned her doctorate in music performance, pedagogy, and literature from James Madison University in 2017. Since then, she has taught courses at James Madison University, Mary Baldwin University, Bridgewater College, Eastern Mennonite University, and the University of Alabama. In August 2018, she joined the faculty at Judson College as an Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Study Abroad and later became the Head of the Music Department in 2019. While there, she taught voice lessons, vocal pedagogy, music history, music appreciation, vocal literature, choir, music theory, sight-singing, and ran the opera workshop program.

Spafford also maintains an active performing schedule. Aside from being an avid recitalist and master class clinician, in 2018 she presented and sang the U.S. premiere of Lauren Spavelko’s song cycle Baby Book at the Music by Women Festival, the world premiere of songs by Larry Taylor at the Bridgewater Poetry Festival, was a featured soloist for songs by Bernstein and excerpts from Candide with the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival, collaborated on an operatic concert project with the Bronx opera, and was a Guest Artist for the 38th Annual Contemporary Music Festival honoring Libby Larsen at James Madison University. Dr. Spafford has served as the soprano soloist on Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Schubert’s Mass in G with the Shenandoah Chamber Society, on songs by Elizabeth Raum and Stephen Hartke—both with the composers in residence—and as Gretel in Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel with Luray Opera. In June 2016, she performed in Dresden, Germany, having been recruited to sing the Queen of the Night with the Radebeul Landesbühnen Sachsen Theater in their production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte.

Previously, she won the Columbus Opera’s young singer competition while at Ohio Wesleyan University and performed with the Central Ohio Symphony Orchestra. She earned her Master of Music degree from Duquesne University, where she studied with Sari Gruber. 

David Berry

A native of Syracuse, NY, pianist David Berry is associate professor and chair of the music deparment at Eastern Mennonite University. has peformed in venues such as Carnegie Hall, The Kimmel Center, Merkin Hall, as well as live broadcasts of WQXR (New York City). As a performer of new music, he has worked with or premiered works by a number of noted composers, including James Lee III, Adolphus Hailstork, and Jennifer Higdon. David was a featured soloist in the Juilliard School’s Focus Festival, All About Elliott, celebrating the 100th birthday of Elliott Carter.

An avid chamber musician, Berry has collaborated with members of many of the nation’s leading orchestras, including the New Jersey, Houston, St. Louis, Dallas, and Seattle symphonies. He is a resident member of the Jacksonville, Florida-based Ritz Chamber Players, The Harlem Chamber Players, and the innovative chamber music theater group, the Core Ensemble.

In addition to his work on the concert stage as a performer, Berry serves as co-coordinator of chamber music and on the Artistic Programs Committee for the Gateways Music Festival at the Eastman School of Music, a biennial festival which celebrates the contributions of musicians of African descent to classical music, and features over 120 players from major American orchestras and university faculties across the United States. Berry is also a frequent adjudicator, masterclass clinician, and presenter, whose work often focuses on utilizing multi-style improvisation and creating original piano arrangements. David’s work in these fields has been featured at institutions and organizations such as the University of Georgia, the University of Memphis, Wheaton College Conservatory of Music, Grand Valley State University, and the Virginia Music Teachers Association, with upcoming engagements with the Utah Music Teachers Association, and Dallas Music Teachers Association.

Berry received his Bachelor of Music with High Distinction from the Eastman School of Music, and Masters and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees in piano performance from the Juilliard School.

Domenic Salerni

Violinist Domenic Salerni is a member of the New York-based Grammy Award-winning Attacca Quartet. He is also a member of the Chiarina Chamber Players, based in Washington, DC, and is active as a chamber musician, clinician, composer, and arranger.

Salerni has recorded four new albums in his time with Attacca Quartet, of which “Real Life,” a collaboration with, and exploration of, electronica artists produced by Snarky Puppy’s Michael League, released in July on Sony Classical. “Of All Joys,” a celebration of minimalist music and music from the Renaissance, is set to release this November. Attacca recently performed with Caroline Shaw at the “Strings of Autumn” Festival at the DOX Theatre in Prague, Czech Republic, and played an all-Shaw program as a special event presented by the Thüringer Bachwochen in Weimar, Germany.

As a member of the Chiarina Chamber Players, Salerni was a recipient of a 2020 Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Grant and will perform a new work by composer Carlos Simon with Peabody Conservatory bass faculty Carl DuPont in April 2022. In 2020, as part of his response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Domenic helped set up the Philadelphia Musicians Relief Fund as part of AFM Local 77’s efforts to provide for its community of musicians in times of need. The Fund has raised over $100,000 and is now fiscally sponsored by CultureWorks of Greater Philadelphia.

In 2019, Domenic performed his original film accompaniment to Giuseppe de Liguoro’s “Dante’s Inferno” as part of a consortium between the Film Studies, French and Italian Department, and the Center for Creativity and the Arts at Emory University. He continues to compose and arrange, and this summer a one-movement string quartet, “Trilobites,” after a short story by Breece D. J. Pancake, was premiered at the first inaugural Appalachian Chamber Music Festival in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Domenic was the first violinist of the Dalí Quartet, quartet-in-residence at West Chester University of Pennsylvania from 2016-2020, and was the recipient of the Atlanta Symphony Talent Development Program’s Aspire Award in 2019. He holds degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Music, and the Yale University School of Music. Past awards include ArtsATL’s “30 Under 30” Award, the Yale Chamber Music Society Award, the Phyllis Curtin Career Entry Award, Finalist of the Sion-Valais International Violin Competition, and Finalist of the M Prize as a member of the band Foundry.

Sam Suggs

Applauded by The Strad for his “brilliant and compelling programming,” and by the Oregon Arts Watch for his “mind-boggling” performance of original compositions, Sam Suggs was the first double bassist in a generation to win the Concert Artists Guild solo competition and has received first prize at the International Society of Bassists 2015 Solo Competition as well as awards at the Bradetich Foundation 2017 International Solo Double Bass Competition.

As a collaborative bassist, he has performed at the Mostly Mozart Festival, Yellow Barn, Chamber Music Northwest, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and alongside PUBLIQuartet, the Dover, Escher, Rolston, and Argus Quartets.

A native of Buffalo, Sam spends his time between the Northeast and the Shenandoah Valley performing with various chamber, crossover, and contemporary groups, and serving on the faculty of James Madison University and the Heifetz Institute.

About the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival

At the intersection of harmony, humanity, and nature, the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival gathers internationally-recognized artists and inquisitive audiences to celebrate the life and joy of great music. We like to say “Bach is just the beginning” to share our deep appreciation of the breadth of work influenced by the musical inventions of Bach.

Nestled in beautiful Harrisonburg, Virginia, on native Manahoac land in the Shenandoah Valley, our annual week-long summer festival presents vibrant performances on the Eastern Mennonite University campus and downtown by local artists, the Shenandoah Valley Chamber Orchestra, Baroque Academy Faculty, and Festival Choir. Listeners can attend large and small performances of orchestra and chamber music, family and kids events, poetry readings, music talks, and immersive musical experiences in our parks and nature preserves.

Our immersive educational initiatives strive to build a more equitable and inclusive future in the performing arts. Each year we bring young musicians and aspiring arts administrators together to participate in our Young Arts Leaders program and perform as Orchestra Fellows. Musicians of all ages and levels have the opportunity to learn historically informed performance practices in our Baroque Workshop with renowned early music faculty.

The Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival is a program of Eastern Mennonite University and we are proud to share the university’s commitment to peace-building, social justice, cross-cultural engagement, and sustainability in the arts.

Discussion on “Annual Bach Festival Christmas concert to feature classical, jazz, holiday favorites

  1. It looks like a very fun evening. I am wondering, however, what the Covid precautions will be for that event, especially since families and kids are welcome and there will be group singing and a reception after.

    1. Thanks for your inquiry. Masks required to attend the concert, following current university policy. We ask that you please respect those who wish to practice social distancing and we encourage those who stay for the reception of cookies and cider to take their refreshments outside if possible. –Amanda Gookin, executive director, Bach Festival

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