Midsummer Night Singing

Jun 6, 2014

Magen Solomon, SF Choral Artists Artistic DirectorDear Friends of Choral Artists,

Much glorious choral music has been written to Shakespeare texts. Hard as it was to choose, the thrill of having the talents of the fine Shakespearean actors Sarah David and Will Brown to enliven and enhance our celebration more than compensated. In lieu of spoken program notes, I am letting the actors do the talking.

In Shakespeare’s time, music had a role in performances; in some cases he embedded contemporary songs in the plays. But rather than a historical tour, we are leaping ahead 400 years to present works
written (with few exceptions) in the last forty years. Despite this narrow time frame, I think you’ll find a pleasing variety of styles, textures, and harmonic language.

With two notable exceptions, all the texts are unadulterated Shakespeare: four sonnets and excerpts from eight plays. We have grouped the music and dramatic interludes not by play but by theme and mood; but you will notice that, one way or another, they all circle back to love.

Of course, no SFCA concert would be complete without at least a few brand new pieces. In these concerts we offer the three winning compositions of our New Voices Project for composers under age 30, and works by our Composer-in-Residence Benjamin Taylor and Composer-Not-in-Residence Kala Pierson.

Kala’s piece uses a snippet from “Romeo and Juliet” and evokes the boundlessness of both love and the sea through subtle shifts in harmony and color. Ben’s piece, by contrast, is distinctly jazzy and irreverent, and features a WS-derived modern text written by “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me’s” star, limerick-writer Philipp Goedicke (a college friend of one of our singers.)

The NVP pieces are diverse in style. First-prize winner David von Kampen (Nebraska) very skillfully and evocatively set “Over hill, over dale.” Rather than having to rank the other two winners, we awarded two co-second prizes: Natalie Bell (North Carolina) chose a lush, romantic harmonic language for her 8-voice “Sonnet Sixty.” Kevin Laskey (New York), took a more postmodern approach: the first part presents Sonnet 73 in a deliberately dissonant (and “distancing”)chorale style; in the second part, a scrambled text, using the words in the sonnet, is superimposed over an improvised background texture.

Next season will be very special; we’re having our own birthday party to celebrate 30 years of premiering contemporary, a cappella choral music (over 230 works!) Not quite Shakespeare’s achievement, but close!

We’ll also be launching our newest composer initiative. “SFCA+1” will feature a single instrumentalist together with our fine singers. Our inaugural player is the brilliant, internationally known jazz/classical violinist, Mads Tolling, with whom we’ll explore existing and commissioned works of widely ranging styles. Please do join us.

– Magen Solomon