Classical Music & Dance

Bach Aria Soloists celebrates 20 years with Bach, Beer & Bites

Elizabeth Suh Lane is the founder of Bach Aria Soloists.
Elizabeth Suh Lane is the founder of Bach Aria Soloists.

It’s been a remarkable 20 years for the Bach Aria Soloists.

If violinist Elizabeth Suh Lane had not found her way home after years of performing abroad, Kansas City would have been bereft of two decades of outstanding, memorable concerts that have ranged from the music of Bach to tango and even a musical adaptation of Ferdinand the bull”

The Bach Aria Soloists, which is currently composed of Lane, harpsichordist Elisa Williams Bickers, soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson and cellist Hannah Collins, will celebrate the opening of its 20th anniversary season with Bach, Beer & Bites at Boulevard Brewing Company on Sept. 8.

Lane, who grew up in Overland Park, was introduced to music when she attended a violin recital by the daughter of some family friends. It was the first violin concert Lane had ever attended.

“For some reason, I was fascinated by that recital and asked my parents if I could do that, if I could play the violin, too.” Lane said. “It kind of surprises me now, but they said fine and bought me a violin. All of my siblings were also given instruments.”

Lane did not see her interest in music blossom into her life’s calling until she heard about an opening at the famed Tanglewood Music Center outside Boston, which offers training to select music students every summer.

“I read about it and thought it sounded fantastic to work with the Boston Symphony and big conductors like Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa and all the conductors who worked with the BSO,” Lane said.

“I auditioned by cassette tape. I had a friend who had a setup with a microphone, and he said he would record me. It was literally the last minute. It was due the very next day. It was absolutely ridiculous. But miraculously I got in, but I had impostor syndrome the first year I was there. I was thinking they must have made a mistake.”

Tanglewood obviously didn’t think it made a mistake because Lane was invited back for three more summers. After graduating from Yale University with a master’s degree in music, Lane moved to Germany, and her career in music was set. She soon won a position as principal second violinist with the Munich Chamber Orchestra, but before she could play a note with the group, fate intervened in the person of Max Rostal, one of Europe’s most important pedagogues.

“Max Rostal heard me perform at a festival and invited me to study with him,” Lane said. “ He was 84 years old, and he had a small studio of young people. He said he wanted me to be one of them, but I told him I was supposed to be moving to Munich to take a job with the Munich Chamber Orchestra. He said, ‘At your level, you’ll always be able to play in an orchestra. This is the one and only time you can study with me.’ When he put it that way, I thought, yes, I have to move to Switzerland.”

While in Germany, Lane heard a concert by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, a superb orchestra whose music director was Claudio Abbado and which had guest conductors like Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Gidon Kremer and Rudolf Barshai. After hearing the orchestra perform a second time, the young violinist was swept off her feet and decided to audition for the group. She won a position, but at the time she was still studying with Rostal.

“I had to break the news to him, but then he passed away,” Lane said. “Of course, it was sad, but it created an opportunity for me to leave.”

Lane spent two years with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, which did a lot of touring. It was while they were in London that Lane heard about an opening with the London Symphony Orchestra. She arranged an audition, and, once again, she won a new position. She was with the LSO for seven years when she and her husband, Henry, decided to start a family.

“The orchestra was so intense and they toured so much, it was just constant work, so I decided to just leave the orchestra,” Lane said. “And then we moved back to the U.S. so we wouldn’t be so far from my family.”

After a year in Chicago, Lane and her family returned to Kansas City, where she soon decided to start the Bach Aria Soloists.

“There wasn’t a chamber music group I could audition for in Kansas City, so I thought this would be a great time to start one,” Lane said. “But I didn’t really know what that would entail. So I started the Bach Aria Soloists and learned along the way how to run a nonprofit organization and how to make it viable.”

Lane, as can be seen by her music career, is a good learner and a hard worker, and through her efforts she has made the Bach Aria Soloists an invaluable part of Kansas City’s music scene. What began as an ensemble devoted to Bach now features regular collaborations with tango artists from Argentina, the Owen/Cox Dance Group, jazz saxophonist Bobby Watson, the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival and more.

Bach, Beer and Bites promises to highlight this diversity with performances not only by the Bach Aria Soloists, but also by the group’s alums like guitarist Beau Bledsoe, keyboardist Jan Kraybill and soprano Rebecca Lloyd. Jazz pianist Roger Wilder will provide cool interludes between the classical performances. There will also be food from the German restaurant Affäre and Boulevard beer, of course.

As for the future, Lane’s plans include performing next summer at the Leipzig Bach Festival, which she hopes will lay the groundwork for a tour by the entire Bach Aria Soloists to Bach’s hometown. BAS is also planning a return trip to Thailand, where it toured a couple of years ago. There’s also a big production in the works with the Kansas City Actors Theater in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

“Now that my kids are in college, we have the freedom to do more touring,” Lane said. “I just want to continue with the same adventurous, creative partnerships that we’ve been doing and continue to add new ones.”

5:30 p.m. Sept. 8. Boulevard Brewing Company, 2501 Southwest Blvd. $50. See

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