Bob’s Blog: Preview of March 3 & 4 Concert

Last November we began our On the Way to 40 Campaign, referring to our goals of commissioning and touring as we approach our 40th season in 2019/20.

With our upcoming concerts (March 3 in Berkeley, March 4 in San Francisco), we begin a different and monumental journey as we perform Roncesvalles by English composer Joby Talbot. Roncesvalles is the first of four movements of Path of Miracles, a full-length work that describes the pilgrimage called Camino de Santiago that thousands have taken in Spain every summer since the middle ages.

We’ll offer you “sneak previews” in this concert and again in May of two of the four movements of this gorgeous and moving piece, leading up to performances of the full work in early 2018 with the renowned ODC/Dance company. The 2018 performances will be held in Grace Cathedral with all the pews removed.   Imagine the dancers and singers moving freely through the magnificent space of Grace Cathedral! The music, composed for 17 independent vocalists singing in 8 languages, creates a broadly woven, rich and powerful tapestry of sound that is reflective of the sacred and inspired human energy of spiritual pilgrimage.

With The Blue of Distance Žibuoklė Martinaitytė, a Lithuanian composer living and working in the US, has created an entrancing, text-less, and atmospheric sound world for 8-part choir. Shifting rhythmic patterns and a rich harmonic palate evoke a reflective, subtle, and sometimes brooding expression of the color blue in the distance. Žibuoklė’s approach is uniquely sonorous, highly expressive, and shows a mastery of vocal writing.

Robin Estrada, a Filipino composer living and working in Berkeley, has risen to the challenge of his second commission from Volti with Caeli enarrant. Mixing harmonic and rhythmic elements of the South Asian gamelan with western harmony and phrasing, Robin has set texts from the Psalms and from Matthew in a timely composition that joyfully illuminates the idea embodied in the admonition in everything do to others as you would have them do to you. With the multi-cultural musical elements united by the text, the composition is both musically engaging and spiritually uplifting.

Into Being by German composer Ingrid Stölzel, who is living and working in the US, is a setting of the universal Hindu mantra “So ham ham sa.” Here too Eastern and Western cultures overlap. Western harmonic expressionism informs the chanting of the mantra within a meditative breathing cycle.

György Ligeti’s Lux aeterna stands as a masterwork from the 1960s. Using time honored canonic structures and chromatic melodies with a few lines of the Requiem text, Ligeti creates a spacious, mysterious, and sonorous landscape for 16 individual vocal parts.

Please join us for a concert that we hope will bring you some much-needed peace and breathing space in this fraught and fractured time.

— Bob Geary

PS:  If you’re interested in Ligeti, you might want to attend the Bard Music West festival on March 17 and 18 at Noe Valley Ministry. Volti will join many other wonderful artists to explore “The World of György Ligeti,” again singing his Lux aeterna, along with three motets by Ockeghem, who was a principal influence on Ligeti. Check for details and tickets.

Stookey Fund commissions major new work, Volti to premiere in 2018-19

Volti is thrilled to be part of a four-group consortium for which the Ann Stookey Fund for New Music has commissioned Gregory Spears to write a cantata for mixed voices and chamber ensemble. The work will be approximately 30 minutes long, and will be premiered in the 2018-2019 season by Volti in San Francisco, The Crossing in Philadelphia, Cantori New York, and Notre Dame Vocale.  For full details, please click on the press release below.

Stookey Press Release_Spears commission

Bob Geary on the children’s choir participation in “Pandora’s Gift”

“Ticking Time” in rehearsal
Photo by Don Fogg

On Friday March 27, Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir presented their Contemporary Concert in Berkeley.  The top performing group from PEBCC, Ensemble, will join Volti in performances of Pandora’s Gift in May.   On Friday night Ensemble performed Ticking Time, an excerpt from the second movement of Pandora’s Gift.  This was the first time they had tried performing with the amazing movement and choreography they have been practicing with Erika Chong Shuch on a weekly basis.  The audience gave the performance a standing ovation.

We are on to something special here.  Erika has now worked with Volti in two rehearsals, and the singers are really enjoying opening up their communication channels beyond viagara cialis levitra the voice to include the face, the body, the hands … the deep connection between our humanness, the libretto of Denise Newman and the music of Mark Winges is already gripping.

Poet Denise Newman on writing the libretto

“Pandora’s Gift” is the sixth libretto I’ve written for Mark Winges and by far, the most ambitious. We’ve had a clear and efficient collaborative process from the start. We typically begin by discussing the thematic focus and general structure of a piece, and then I prepare a draft. After Mark reads the draft and identifies areas that might not work sonically, he starts to write the music, usually returning to ask that I reconsider sections that he had sensed wouldn’t work. Mark has a great ability to translate into lay terms nitty-gritty musical issues, and this accounts for our excellent communication. One of the joys of writing for composers is working within an unusual set of parameters. These limitations force me to go in new directions, as when Mark asked for a counterpoint in the second movement and I had to create another voice that went against the torrent of destruction in “Pandora’s Gift.” It’s also a great joy to use rhyme and alliteration unabashedly, something I tend to restrain in my other writing.

A unique aspect of this libretto is that much of the middle section, when Pandora opens the box and all the calamities are unleashed on the world, is from the words and images written by the children from the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir. Bob generously gave up some of his rehearsal time with the children last January and I conducted a poetry workshop. We read poems by William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg, and then I had them write about small and big fears, things that perhaps only they found frightening. They dove right in and wrote poignant and sonically rich poems. Each of them came up with surprising images and phrases, like, danger mind, clock of judges, c-sharp. Working with their language opened up the collaboration even more, creating a new area of surprise. I can’t wait to hear and see the singers singing their own phrases as part of the libretto and score.

Photo of Denise Newman by Irene Suchocki

Composer Mark Winges talks about the genesis of Pandora’s Gift

I thought I would trace the artistic background of Pandora’s Gift (to the best of my recollection, anyway) and offer some comments along the way. It is difficult to talk about something that is in progress, especially early on, when a work only exists as a set of concepts. As an analogy, I can discuss what a melody might do in a piece, but I don’t really know what it will do until I compose it. At this stage, with two of the three movements in final form (as of September 2014), I believe the picture is getting clearer.

The initial impetus for the project was from an idea of Bob’s: a piece for chorus that includes movement on the part of the singers. The idea is unusual, but not unprecedented. Such things are more frequent in the choral world now than they have been in recent decades. Part of this trend’s growth may be the increasing “visuality” of our culture: one no longer listens to the radio, one watches a music video. Or there are extreme examples of a reaction to this trend (which only confirms that it is a trend), such as Georg Friedrich Haas’ “In iij. Noct.”, a string quartet that is designed to be performed in complete darkness, with the players widely spaced apart and playing from memory.

But including movement in a choral work for its own sake doesn’t necessarily add to the artistic experience. The best examples of this, or at least the ones that I have seen that seem successful, include movement because movement supports the story, the artistic unfolding. So, to me, movement seems most natural in a piece where the subject matter itself suggests movement or has movement in it.

So I suggested the Pandora myth.

The story itself has movement: a world without evil in it → the unleashing of evil into the world → hope as the last thing in the box, a small thing but the most important thing. In experiencing the story, one has “started in one place and moved to another.”

Once Bob and I discussed the concept and decided that would be a good project for the 2014 – 15 season, we started thinking about practicalities / details:

  • a 10 – 12 minute piece that would be on the final concert of the season
  • include Piedmont Choir Ensemble as a means of broadening the sonic palette
  • the piece would need to be composed to be mindful of the fact that movement will occur in it
  • the form of the story suggests a natural division of the piece into three sections or movements
  • I suggest asking Denise Newman to write a libretto. We’ve worked together on several projects (two specifically for Volti: Wishes Night and Unbecoming: Songs for Dancing)
  • We also discuss how the piece fits into the season as a whole

As part of the general season planning (with Barbara Heroux and Sid Chen), Barbara mentions that the nature of this particular project might be a good fit for several grants, particularly the Gerbode/Hewlett Foundations Music Commissioning award.  Barbara will write a blog entry about this part of the process – suffice it to say for now that we got the grant — thank you, Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation! — and therefore the scope of the piece increased to half-a-concert length. My own thinking about the piece changed at this point: a 30 minute piece is very different, conceptually, from a 12 minute piece.

Stay tuned …

Pandora’s Gift

We’re starting a blog to document the making of Pandora’s Gift, a major new performance art piece that will be the cornerstone of Volti’s 2014-2015 season.   Periodically one of the collaborators will chime in here with news about some aspect of the project.  We hope you’ll find it interesting and fun to follow us through the process!

First: What is it?  Pandora’s Gift is going to be a half-concert long (about 30 minutes) work exploring the ancient story of Pandora’s Box through music and movement.  It will be an innovative confluence of art forms, greatly expanding the dramatic and emotional impact of choral music by integrating elements of dance and theater.

Who’s making it?

— Composer: Mark Winges
— Librettist: Denise Newman
— Conductor: Robert Geary
— Singers:  Volti and Ensemble from Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir
— Stage Director/Choreographer:  Erika Chong Shuch
— Lighting Designer:  Allen Willner

Where: Z Space, 450 Florida Street, San Francisco

When: May 15, 16, 17, 2015

Z Space, San Francisco. Photo by Alexandra Farias


Julian Kusnadi is thrilled to be joining Volti this season as a tenor and baritone. He previously served as Director of the Fleet Street Singers and has vocal directed several musical theater productions. In 2011, he was cast in a two-month international tour of a theatrical production. After singing with the Stanford Chamber Chorale for acheter du cialis en ligne five years, Julian now sings with Bay Area ensembles Volti and Convivium, and serves as tenor section leader at The Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin. He earned his M.A. and B.A. from Stanford University, where he studied religious studies, philosophy, and human biology. He works at a law firm in San Francisco by day and is blown away by the talent of his choral colleagues by night.


While Monica Frame, mezzo soprano, has sung with ensembles ranging from the National Chamber Choir of Israel to the San Francisco Choral Artists, her singing on Valve electronic games and commercials enjoy the most YouTube hits.  She is the alto soloist and section leader at Saint Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco, and is also a member of San Francisco Renaissance Voices, Marin Baroque Ensemble, and Lacuna Arts Ensembles.  A licensed psychotherapist, Monica specializes in school-based mental health services.  She combines her passions at The Crowden Music Center, where she is the counselor for musical children and their fabulous faculty.  Monica is very pleased to join Volti.


Colby Smith is a recent graduate of Westminster Choir College where she had the privilege of performing in world renowned music halls such as Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, the Kimmel Center and NJPAC under the batons of Joseph Flummerfelt, David Robertson, Kurt Masur, Christoph Eschenbach, and Bernard Labadie, with orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra and New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.  Colby also participated in the select ensembles Westminster Choir and Kantorei under the direction of Joe Miller and Andrew Megill.  Through Westminster Choir, she took part in the Spoleto Festival, singing in the chorus of contemporary opera Amistad, composed by Anthony Davis and conducted by Emmanuel Villaume.


Joyce Todd McBride, alto, has been performing music from the 12th to the 21st century in the Bay Area for many years.  She is a composer, arranger, and conducts the women’s chorus Conspiracy of Venus, which performs music from Joni Mitchell to Bjork.  She is also a jazz pianist, and sings at St. Thomas Anglican church.  Joyce teaches piano and voice.  She recently completed a commission for a musical with Bob Moog, which will hopefully be produced  in 2013.