Past Seasons: 2014-2015

Postcards From Abroad

Intimate and majestic, joyous and reflective, spirited and meditative; the holiday celebrations of many lands. No passport or luggage needed! Come take a trip around the world, from rhythm-infused Brazilian, Kenyan and African-American styles, to Asian harmonic color, to the deep, rich Slavic sounds, to beloved works by Brahms and Poulenc, to World Premieres.

Young girls dance in colorful dresses. A simple song is sung. A whole village gathers in a circle. The fire is lit, they watch it burn, and after it is out, they go back to their houses to eat. Such is the North-Eastern Brazilian custom of burning the straw, greenery, and other decorations from the Nativity scenes at midnight on January 6. It has always been a powerful childhood memory for Californian-Brazilian composer Daniel Afonso. This year, as Composer-in-Residence for SFCA, he made it into one of the “postcards” for this Postcards from Abroad program.

Composer-Not-in-Residence Wayne Eastwood based his new piece A Russian Christmas card, commissioned for these concerts, on one of the Nativity Poems of Joseph Brodsky, a Russian Jew. Brodsky, who claimed to be a “Christian only by correspondence”, celebrated the Western Christmas because he found it more richly developed than the Christmas celebrated by the Eastern Church. Eastwood’s son translated the Russian poems into English.

Additional works include Brahms’ beloved masterpiece O Heiland reiß die Himmel auf and Poulenc’s jubilant Christmas motet Hodie Christus natus es. The program travels east for Stravinsky’s gorgeous Ave Maria and a traditional chant from Guria in Georgia, Guruli Alilo, in a new arrangement by assistant conductor Tina Harrington. The journey showcases pieces from Kenya’s Taita people, Peru’s Quechua people, Hindu culture, Armenia, and a celebratory work from South Korea that mixes traditional Korean musical folk elements with Western traditions.

San Francisco

Sat, Dec 13, 2014; 8 PM

St. Mark's Lutheran Church
1111 O'Farrell St, San Francisco

East Bay

Sun, Dec 14, 2014; 4 PM

St. Paul's Episcopal Church
114 Montecito Ave, Oakland

Peninsula

Sat, Dec 20, 2014; 8 PM

St. Mark's Episcopal Church
600 Colorado Ave, Palo Alto

Wisdom, Wit, & Wonder

A wild romp through a variety of styles, sounds, and textures, from madrigals to Conrad Susa to Composer-in-Residence Daniel Afonso’s can’t-help-but-tap-your-feet Brazilian folk-song, a world premiere on these concerts (fun and very Brazilian, complete with body percussion, finger snapping, and clapping)—and meet the composer!

The program features great masterpieces of the choral repertoire, including Conrad Susa’s beloved Landscape II, works by Renaissance composers, past audience favorite Christopher Marshall’s A Voice from Heaven, and works new to Bay Area audiences. Some pieces are dark and despairing, some lush and soaring, some with driving rhythms, some with loose flowing melodies. And the texts are similarly wide ranging.

Conrad Susa's italic pen manuscriptOf Susa and his beloved Landscapes and Silly Songs, based on poems by Garcia Lorca, Solomon comments “Susa [who recently died] was a brilliant Bay Area composer, and one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. From this collection, Landscape II is my favorite, one of the finest works for chamber choir from the 20th century. It has a spectacular range of colors and textures, the harmonies are beautiful, and the music undulates in a unique way. His nuanced text setting is extraordinary: For ‘The field of olive trees open and folds like a fan,’ the music also opens and folds. For ‘the grey air curls,’ the music swirls and curls. For ‘The olive trees are charged with shouts’ the voices race to a huge crescendo and then suddenly vanish, fading into the distance.”

When the Choral Artists first performed this piece, they sang from Susa’s manuscript─as was customary at the time, before computer-generated files became the norm. Susa’s manuscript was written with an italic pen. One of the singers at the time remembers: “His flowing italic pen writing added to the emotional experience for me: the score undulated visually like the music and the story in the text.”

Eastwood World Premiere

The Canopy at the Alhambra

“Born in 13th century Andalusia, Spain, Ibn ‘Arabi’s works reflect the extraordinary cross-fertilization of Jewish, Islamic, and Christian philosophies found there,” says Composer-Not-in-Residence Wayne Eastwood about the poet who inspired his world premiere, A Garden among the Flames. “I have had Ibn ‘Arabi in my sights for some time, and this concert theme seemed an opportunity to see what I might present of his amazing views. The poet’s proposition that Love succors all religious thought, surely radical even by 13th c. standards, sounds nowhere more dissonant, yet nowhere more prescient and profound, than in our own discordant, polarized time.” Says Magen Solomon: “Eastwood’s new piece is highly virtuosic, and at times sounds like a multi-layered Renaissance motet, with different rhythmic meters occurring simultaneously in different voices.”

William H. Harris shows sacred love in Faire is the Heaven, a double-choir work, set to several stanzas by 16th century poet Edmund Spenser. Magen Solomon says: “This is a very richly scored piece, romantic, lush, and harmonically sinuous. It has a wonderful sense of motion as the two choirs “talk” to each other. Although well known in the UK, it is rarely heard here.”

Also on the program are works by contemporary Americans Fred Squatrito, Robert Starer, Timothy Kramer, and Robert Beckhard.

Peninsula

Sat, March 21, 2015; 8 PM

St. Mark's Episcopal Church
600 Colorado Ave, Palo Alto

San Francisco

Sat, March 28, 2015; 8 PM

St. Mark's Lutheran Church
1111 O'Farrell St, San Francisco

East Bay

Sun, March 29, 2015; 4 PM

St. Paul's Episcopal Church
114 Montecito Ave, Oakland

Old Masters, Young Prodigies

Grammy-winning jazz-classical violinist Mads Tolling joins the Choral Artists for its inaugural SFCA+1 concert set. The program features the beautiful jazz standard Waltz for Debby by Bill Evans, the outrageous You Drive Me Crazy for choir and solo violin by local composer Herbert Bielawa, a lovely folksong from Tolling’s native Denmark, a stunning world premiere written especially for the SFCA+1 forces by Michigan-based composer Frederic HimebaughColman Returning—for solo violin, solo voice, and choir, plus 4 more world premieres.

Waltz for Debby, by the great jazz pianist Bill Evans, imagines the transition from the simplicity of childhood to adulthood. SFCA performs the famous tune in an arrangement by the Swedish a cappella jazz quintet, the Real Group, appended to Mads Tolling’s own improvisation on the violin.

I Skovens Dybe Stille Ro (In the Peaceful Forest) is a Danish folksong, made even more famous in Denmark by world-renowned jazz bass player Niels Henning Orsted-Pedersen (simply called NHOP in the jazz world). Tolling says: “Everyone in Denmark knows this song. I used to sing it as a child. NHOP turned this song, as well as other famous Danish songs and children’s songs, into jazz pieces by re-harmonizing them. He did it really tastefully, which made them so successful. To this day, people love to play them.”  The song, dedicated to NHOP, is also featured on Mads Tolling’s CD “The Playmaker.”

Bielawa's You Drive Me Crazy is an fun and flashy piece for choir and solo violin, set to a poem by Jeannie Pool that wittily details the everyday frustrations familiar to many couples. The exasperation grows through a driving 16th-note violin line and ends with a surprise. Bielawa—who was SFCA’s second Composer-in-Residence in 2000—wrote this piece in 1988 for conductor Donald Aird and his violinist son Brooke Aird.

Himebaugh’s world-premiere Colman Returning—scored for this season’s SFCA+1 forces—sets a 9th-century Latin poem, a letter by an old man writing to a young one who is returning to his native land.

The program's 4 more SFCA-commissioned world premieres are an arrangement of George Gershwin's Just Another Rhumba by local composer Tina Harrington (who is also SFCA's Assistant Conductor),  works by Daniel Afonso and Wayne Eastwood—SFCA's Composers-in and Not-in-Residence—and by Joseph Taff, winner of SFCA's 2015 New Voices Project competition for composers under age 30.

Peninsula

Sat, June 6, 2015; 8 PM

St. Mark's Episcopal Church
600 Colorado Avenue, Palo Alto

San Francisco

Sat, June 13, 2015; 8 PM

St. Mark's Lutheran Church
1111 O'Farrell Street, San Francisco

East Bay

Sun, June 14, 2015; 4 PM

St. Paul's Episcopal Church
114 Montecito Avenue, Oakland

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