HISTORY OF VOLTI
Volti’s professional vocalists, under the direction of founder and Artistic Director Robert Geary, are dedicated to the discovery, creation, and performance of new vocal music. The ensemble’s mission is to foster and showcase contemporary American music and composers, and to introduce contemporary vocal music from around the world to local audiences.
In the fall of 1979, Robert Geary established The San Francisco Chamber Singers, opening that first season with an all-Bach program. Quickly favoring the music of Benjamin Britten, the choir soon began to sharpen its focus on today’s music, and by the 1990s was focusing almost exclusively on premieres and commissions by living composers from the U.S. and abroad. (To learn more about our commissions, premieres, and other repertoire from recent seasons, click here.)
2003-04 marked the choir’s 25th Anniversary, and the ensemble celebrated with concerts featuring eight commissioned world premieres, as part of a season dedicated to American music. And, after 25 years, the choir adopted a new name – Volti – meant to evoke the energy, vigor, and forward-looking spirit the group is known for (taken from the Italian, volti means “turn”; used in music, it’s normally used in the construction volti subito, which directs musicians to “turn the page quickly” or “look ahead”).
Volti is esteemed for its commitment to and excellence in performing works by contemporary composers, particularly American composers. With 40 seasons of performances to its credit, the group has become one of America’s renowned professional choirs. The ensemble has performed at music festivals in the U.S. and abroad to remarkable critical acclaim, always performing new works by American composers as representative of the artistic excellence and spirit of its home.
“Among the wealth of choirs and vocal ensembles in the San Francisco Bay Area, few can claim their commitment to and excellence in performing contemporary music with as much conviction as Robert Geary’s Volti. Their steadfast dedication to new works has made them one of the most exciting and forward-thinking performance groups, and a cornerstone of the rich community of new music, in our region.”
–Charles Amirkhanian, Other Minds
Volti has collaborated with many distinguished theatrical and musical organizations, both on stage and in recording. In just the past few seasons, we have:
- recorded music of 7 contemporary American composers with the New Century Chamber Orchestra at Skywalker Sound for the CD “December Celebration”;
- sent eight singers from Volti to perform Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia for Eight Voices and Orchestra with the UC Davis Symphony under Maestro Christian Baldini;
- performed by invitation at the first annual New Music Gathering in January 2015, the only vocal group invited to perform;
- provided the chorus for a new opera by Kurt Rohde, “Death With Interruptions,” both at its premiere in March 2015 and its revival in November 2017;
- performed Terry Riley’s “Sun Rings” with the Kronos Quartet for Cal Performances in May 2016 and subsequently recorded it at Skywalker Sound on a Grammy-nominated album named one of the best 100 albums of 2019 by music critic Ted Gioia;
- performed by invitation at the first two Bard Music West festivals in 2017 and 2018, “The World of Gyorgy Ligeti” and “The World of Henry Cowell”;
- performed by invitation at Festival Napa Valley in 2015, 2017 and 2019;
- collaborated twice with the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, commissioning and premiering two works for small groups of instrumentalists plus chamber chorus, in October 2016 and two more in November 2018;
- joined ODC/Dance in Joby Talbot’s “Path of Miracles,” an hour-long exploration of the Camino Santiago pilgrimage across Spain, with choreography by KT Nelson. Two sold-out performances in February 2018 were followed by repeat performances at Grace Cathedral in February 2019, at the re-opening of the renovated Presidio Theatre in October 2019, and on tour in Wickenburg, Arizona, in November 2019.
- expanded to 32 singers at the invitation of Cal Performances, to perform the California premiere of “Become Desert” by John Luther Adams, with a 16-part choral score, in April 2018;
- released a new CD of works commissioned by Volti, “the color of there seen from here,” in 2019;
Planned for the 2020/2021 season but postponed due to COVID-19, we look forward to the time when we can premiere “Angel Island Oratorio” with the Del Sol String Quartet. Under a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions program, Chinese-born American composer Huang Ruo will create a bilingual oratorio for string quartet and chamber chorus, inspired by poetry inscribed on the walls of the Angel Island barracks between 1910 and 1940.
Past partners have included Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, George Coates Performance Works, Earplay, SF Contemporary Music Players, the Berkeley Symphony, the Oakland Symphony, San Francisco Sinfonietta, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra and others. In April 2013 we presented the West Coast premiere of David Lang’s major choral work, battle hymns, in collaboration with the San Francisco Choral Society, Piedmont Children’s Choirs, and the Philadelphia-based Leah Stein Dance Company.
In addition to touring in the United States and Germany, the group was for many years the Choir in Residence of the Newport Music Festival in Rhode Island. Volti’s performances have been broadcast in the Bay Area on KALW, KQED, KKHI, KDFC, and KUSF; nationally on Monitor Radio, Voice of America, and National Public Radio; and internationally on American Armed Forces Radio and Swiss International Radio.
In 2003-04, Volti inaugurated the Choral Arts Laboratory. Over the program’s 15-year history, 16 young American composers enjoyed the opportunity to work with Volti’s professional vocalists as they prepare a new work for performance. The program is currently on hiatus.
In addition to the commissions and premieres of the concert season, Volti continues its commitment to education by producing the annual Choral Institute for High School Singers. This innovative program, developed by Robert Geary, provides concentrated training and performance opportunities for multiple choirs numbering up to 200 students over the course of an intensive weekend schedule. Volti’s professional singers serve as the resident choir and faculty and, along with Bob, lead rehearsals and teach voice lessons, classes, and seminars. These sessions are designed to give a focused and concentrated training experience to high school singers in an atmosphere that encourages, inspires and supports emotional and intellectual growth in a highly structured and creative musical environment. We hope to be able to resume this program in Fall 2022, pandemic conditions permitting.