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 36 seaons 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;
- performed by invitation at the first Bard Music West festival in 2017, “The World of Gyorgy Ligeti”;
- performed at Festival Napa Valley – Volti singers were the core of an 80-voice chorus we recruited and prepared for festival performances of Beethoven’s 9th plus works by Gordon Getty in July 2015, and of a 50-voice chorus for performances of Gordon Getty’s “Young America” in July 2017;
- collaborated with the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, commissioning and premiering two works for string quartet and chamber chorus, in October 2016;
- released a CD of Volti commissions from five American composers, “This is What Happened,” in January 2017.
- joined ODC/Dance in Joby Talbot’s “Path of Miracles,” an hour-long exploration of the Camino Santiago pilgrimage across Spain, with two sold-out performances in February 2018.
Upcoming projects include:
- We will make a second appearance at the Bard Music West Festival, “The World of Henry Cowell”, on April 6, 2018, singing music by Cowell as well as composers who influenced him (Billings, Walker) and a rarely-performed work for 14 women’s voices by his contemporary and colleague Ruth Crawford Seeger.
- By invitation of Cal Performances, we will expand to 32 singers to perform with the Seattle Symphony on April 7, 2018, singing the California premiere of “Become Desert,” a new work by John Luther Adams, with a 16-part choral score.
- In the 2018/2019 season, we will give the West Coast premiere of a piece by Gregory Spears, commissioned by the Ann Stookey Fund for New Music for a consortium of groups including Volti in San Francisco, The Crossing in Philadelphia, Cantori in New York, and Notre Dame Vocale in Indiana.
- Also in the 2018/2019 season, Volti will participate in the San Francisco premiere of a “hip-hop oratorio” by composer Byron Au Yong at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, an evening-length piece on gun violence and how the community responds and deals with it. Volti singers will lead a community choir.
- Coming up in the 2019/2020 season, we will 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, a program for young American composers. Those selected have the opportunity to work with Volti’s professional vocalists as they prepare one of their works for performance. The composer selected for the current season is Danny Clay, whose work will be premiered in May 2018.
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.