Women’s Vocal Ensemble · Anne Hege, Artistic Director · Mitchell Covington, Acting Artistic Director
Sunday, April 30, 2017
St. Perpetua Catholic Church
3454 Hamlin Road
Saturday, May 6, 2017
Lake Merritt United Methodist Church
1330 Lakeshore Avenue
We conclude our 25th Anniversary season with celebratory concerts featuring exciting premieres of new works by gifted Bay Area composers. Read more below, and listen to an audio preview!
Today’s concert title, “Beautiful is the World,” comes from former Voci director, Jude Navari’s dazzling seven-movement work, Siddhartha Fragments, which explores Buddhist philosophy through text from Hermann Hesse’s novel, Siddhartha. The first line of the first movement, “Beautiful is the world...” has been our guidepost in selecting the music for this program. The text continues, “colorful is the world, strange and mysterious...” All of today’s music reflects those themes as well.
Another quality that all of today’s pieces share is that all of them are “new.” Each piece on this program was composed by a living composer. In fact, five of the six pieces are world-premieres of new works by five Bay Area composers.
This season’s concerts mark the first complete performance of Navari’s seven Siddhartha Fragments. This work is an intricately composed masterpiece based on a scale of Navari’s own invention. The fragments evoke a colorful and mysterious universe, and feature a virtuosic piano part, which showcases the extraordinary talent of Voci accompanist, Anne Rainwater. We will also premiere “Qasida of Breath,” a setting of haunting verse by local Palestinian-American poet, Deema Shehabi—as well as evocative interpretations of traditional Russian melodies by Oakland-based composer, Arkadi Serper. You will also hear exciting new works by two emerging composers, Voci assistant conductor, Edna Yeh, and our New Works Project composer-in-residence, Julie Herndon.
Herndon’s “am an ocean” is the most adventuresome work on the program. It paints a mystical portrait of the ocean using avant-garde choral techniques, strongly influenced by electronic music and Musique concrète. This work uses the individual phonemes of the text (“I know I am an o-ce-an”) to immerse us in the sounds and colors of the sea. Yeh’s “Renouncement,” takes the form of an a cappella motet, using traditional contrapuntal techniques, yet with a richly contemporary and inventive quality.
Deema Shehabi’s poignant text is what drives my setting of “Qasida of Breath.” The poem explores her memories of the beautiful land, and beautiful people of Palestine, contrasted with the current reality of a homeland broken by war. The music blends eastern and western tonalities; tone clusters, graceful melodies and exotic ornamentation are the brush strokes that help to portray this landscape.
Arkadi Serper’s Three Russian Songs are interpretations of folk song lyrics he collected when he was a university student in Moscow. The simplicity of the choral parts, evocative of Russian folk music, are set against the inventive, and sometimes outlandish, piano part. The final piece on the program is Joan Szymko’s lovely and uplifting setting of Wendell Berry’s well-known poem “The Peace of Wild Things.” The text tells of how we can find a refuge from despair and fear in the wild places of the world and the creatures that inhabit them.
One of the most beautiful things about our world, particularly in the Bay Area, is the rich diversity we find within it. Similarly, we seek in our performance to celebrate the differences between, and yet the similarities among, a range of textures, cultures and ideas. Cultural diversity is evident in the Buddhist philosophy of the Siddhartha Fragments, the colorful portrait of Palestine, and the snapshots of life in the Russian countryside. Emotions in the texts vary from worry and despair, to magic and wonder. And the range of new works showcases the contrasting compositional techniques that each composer uses, to portray a world that is indeed Beautiful, Colorful, Strange and Mysterious.
— Mitchell Covington