San Francisco Choral Society reunites for Verdi Requiem

Those singing in the shower are not alone. There are millions in there.

Once toweled off, singing in a chorus is a major part of life in America, with more than 54 million adults and children participating in choral groups. The pandemic put a temporary halt to exhaling together, but choruses are coming back to life now.

In the Bay Area, large, prominent, even historic choral groups are switching back from the poor substitute of Zoom to singing elbow to elbow or even closer.

Says alto Jane Lovell, a San Francisco Choral Society singer in pre-pandemic years who moved to Maui in 2008: “I was grateful to be able to rejoin my old chorus from my living room in Maui, and to see familiar faces on the screen every Tuesday night.

“But after two years of online rehearsals, I jumped at the chance to join the chorus in person for the Verdi Requiem. Being back in Davies Symphony Hall, singing one of my favorite choral works with old friends, will be a homecoming.”

Lovell is part of a large-scale migration of singers from around the Bay Area and from their new homes around the world back to The City as the S.F. Choral Society and the California Chamber Symphony perform the Verdi Requiem in Davies Symphony Hall on Friday, returning to Davies for the first time since 2019. San Francisco Choral last performed the Requiem in 2016.

The performance will mark the launch of the Summer Festival Chorus, a new program that invites experienced singers from across the country and beyond to audition for the Resident Chorus and spend one week each summer in San Francisco for rehearsals and a concert. Singers are responsible for the expense of their travel and lodging.

Alto Charmain Chow is returning to the chorus from her current residence in Singapore, and bass Norman VanSpronsen is traveling from Modesto.

“It’s always wonderful to have opportunities to perform major works of art,” said VanSpronsen, “so this year’s invitation to be a guest artist with San Francisco Choral Society’s Summer Festival Concert was an honor not to be missed. With intensive rehearsal and performance, we truly know and internalize a work, and then it’s a gift we carry inside for a lifetime.”

Verdi’s Requiem, says S.F. Choral Associate Director Bryan Baker, who will conduct the concert, “is a magnificent work and a heroic endeavor for all involved. Our musicians are pouring their hearts and souls into the music. It is a challenge that we relish, and I could not be more proud of everyone involved.

”Even as live-streaming our concerts has allowed people all across the country to watch our performances, now we invite singers from all over the country and beyond to join us virtually during the rehearsal process as well as in-person for the concert week,” said Baker. “The skills and technology we have learned over the last couple of years is something we are excited to build upon rather than it just being a temporary fix for a challenging time.”

Soloists are soprano Clarissa Lyons, mezzo soprano Buffy Baggott, tenor Christopher Bengochea and bass Eugene Brancoveanu.

Of the lengthy rehearsal process under challenging conditions, S.F. Choral Artistic Director Robert Geary says: “Like many arts organizations that learned to use Zoom and other high tech platforms over the last two years, we’ve learned how to utilize technology to our advantage and that allows us to bring our Summer Festival Chorus participants together with our Resident Chorus virtually in advance of in-person rehearsals and performance.”

Now in its 33rd season, San Francisco Choral has presented choral classics to more than 100,000 concertgoers at venues throughout The City. Its commitment to the music of today includes a history of commission for works by some outstanding composers, including Felicia Sandler, Kristina Rasmussen, Emma Lou Diemer, Mark Winges, Donald McCullough, Stacy Garrop and David Lang.

Of the Requiem’s opening, Carol Talbeck’s essay on the Choral Society’s website says:

“The Requiem opens with grief-laden voices that seem to have barely enough energy to sing the words ‘Requiem aeternam.’ The dark tone momentarily gives way to a consolatory ‘lux aeterna’ (eternal light), but then the ‘dies irae’ (day of wrath) strips away the premature hope.

“Rather than representing mere dramatic gesture, Verdi’s Requiem reflects the human struggle to understand life’s impenetrable mysteries once childhood belief in church teachings is shattered, a conflict that engaged him throughout his lifetime.”

The 1944 performances of the Requiem by a chorus of 150 Jews in Terezín, a Nazi concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, is a fitting postscript to the history of this great work. With only a broken piano and one score, the inmates learned the powerful, inspiring Requiem and sang it for the only audience they had — their captors and fellow prisoners. Marianka May, one of the survivors, said: “This is our way of fighting back. The Verdi Requiem is the pinnacle of defiance.”

IF YOU GO

San Francisco Choral Society’s Summer Festival Chorus: Verdi Requiem

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Tickets: $36-$60

Contact: (415) 392-4400, cityboxoffice.com

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