This past Sunday at the Piedmont Center for the Arts, Voci unveiled the first work in their New Works Project. The project, which is a daring and ambitious idea for a independent chorus, is a commission through which a woman composer is supported to work with the ensemble developing a substantial choral piece.
The project is a two-year commission, allowing chorus and composer generous time to develop the work. And it is part of Voci’s mission to expand “the repertoire of new music written for and by women.”
The inaugural composer was Ann Callaway and the piece titled “On Music and Nature: Three Hopkins Settings.” These pieces were demanding, requiring tight and unusual harmonies and energetic attack, but the chorus put forth the music with the right amount of focus and intensity.
Many unusual effects spiced the music, which began with Hopkins’ eulogy to the great English composer Henry Purcell. The poem opens with the chorus breathing out unvoiced sound, nearly a sigh, as if they were the wind, or the expiration of a final breath. The closing poem, “The Woodlark,” began with an imitation of a bird’s call, “Teevo cheevo cheevio chee,” reminding the listener that setting and singing Hopkins is no easy task. His language is so densely populated with repeating sounds and measured rhythm. A startling moment came in “The Woodlark” when Director Ann Hege turned from the podium to sing the voice of the woodlark: “I am the little woodlark/ The skylark is my cousin.”
The overall impression was dramatic and engaging. The time and energy of the New Works Project worth the commitment. Such collaborations offer an irreplaceable experience to both singers and composers.
Two works of Purcell’s were also featured on the program. The concert was titled “Songs of the Bygone: Traces of a Vanishing World” and comprised a daunting range of songs from Czech and Canadian folk songs to Morley and Purcell to Bach and Brahms, and far into the 20th century, including works by Ligeti and American choral composer Gwyneth Walker. The variety showcased the versatility and vocal graces of the ensemble.
Throughout the concert, smaller groups of singers separated from the larger chorus to sing through individual songs, revealing a range of fine soloists.
The concert was a little long at two hours and often swayed away from its thematic core, but the pleasant atmosphere of the venue and the concentration and sweet tones of the singers made the entire event enjoyable.
The 22-member chorus is led by Artistic Director Anne Hege, who began her career singing with the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir. An innovative composer in her own right, Dr. Hege also is chorus instructor at Holy Names University and the director of Level IV of the San Francisco Girls Chorus.
– Jaime Robles
There is final concert of the season is at St. Perpetua Catholic Church in Lafayette on Saturday, May 21. For tickets and information, visit vocisings.com.