Bob’s Blog: Preview of March 2017 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

Interview with Amy Beth Kirsten

Volti recently “sat down” with Amy Beth Kirsten to discuss her music and upcoming visit for “The Next Page” concerts on November 7 & 8:

V: Hello Amy. What do you hope are the most important elements of It is possible these things do not exist: for an audience?

The piece is inspired by Ursula Le Guin‘s short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas“,” but it isn’t necessary to be familiar with the story to understand the piece (although I’d certainly love it if everyone in the audience had the opportunity to read it ahead of time – it’s fantastic!). I was drawn to the story because it paints the picture of a utopian city with an unthinkably dark and horrible secret. How each individual deals with this secret depends upon their own sense of morality. Many of the citizens simply cannot comprehend living happily in the presence of this secret and quietly, and without circumstance, walk away from everything forever. Throughout the story the author is constantly asking the reader if they believe in Omelas and its citizens, which adds an element of doubt about whether any of it exists at all.

My music and text play with the notion of existence (and its opposite) very literally by using extremely clipped sounds to represent the annihilation of language and sound. Contrasting blooming legato represents the birth and life of sound and language. My text is inspired by the descriptions of Omelas and the disturbing secret of at the heart of its splendor. In my text I also make reference to a line from an ancient Japanese poem “Although the wind…” by Izumi Shikibu which is, to me, somehow distantly related to the Le Guin and the idea of annihilation.

V: How do you find inspiration for a new piece?

That’s a good question! For me, each piece is different, but like a lot of artists I’m sometimes inspired by ideas that are outside of my own field – like literature, visual art, science, and theater. When I come upon something that inspires me, often it’s something that I can’t get out of my head. As a result, I have to give it my full attention until I discover what it is that is compelling to me – normally this investigative process involves putting the subject inside a musical lens and composing.

V: You’ve written for Volti twice now—please describe the experience of working with Bob and the singers, and what if anything makes it unique?

ABK: I don’t think I can say enough about Volti and Bob. In fact, I tell all of my students about Volti’s Choral Arts Lab for young composers. The Lab was one of my very first professional experiences as a composer. It was an incredible opportunity to have the chance to workshop a new piece mid-process before it was finished. After my workshop I went home and decided to throw most of the piece away and start over – not because it was bad, but because I thought I could dig deeper and personally get to a new place. As a result of this, I wrote something that was very satisfying to me artistically. Volti performed it with ease and conviction and Bob was a true ally in the whole process. It will be a real treat for me to hear Volti sing this piece again!

This latest collaboration was more in line with the way composers and ensembles normally work – without the benefit of a workshop. We’ve been communicating by email about the piece and at the end of October I’ll get to hear a recording of a rehearsal and give feedback – so up until I come to San Francisco for the world premiere, we’ll all be in a long-distance relationship. The night of the premiere will be the first time I’ll be hearing it live and I truly cannot wait!

V: What music of any genre do you listen to or enjoying hearing in concert?

ABK: I’m not sure the idea of musical genre is something that makes sense to me as I’m listening. The only thing I need for a piece of music to speak to me is honesty, musical character, clarity of musical and conceptual ideas, and a sense that the composer is composing as if her life depends upon it. Okay, so I guess that’s a formidable list of requirements – but if I sense those things emerging in the music, then my ears are happy, or at the very least I’m intrigued enough to do further listening. Rap, country, non-western music, pop, classical, experimental, whatever – I’m interested in exploring it all…but I’m especially interested in those sound worlds which don’t fit easily into any of the above categories.

Thanks to Amy for her insights and creativity. We can’t wait to hear the new piece and Inter-cept with her after the concerts. More info and tickets here.

“Youth and Music” a huge success–thank you!

Thank you to all the performers, composers, and audience members who helped to make our 2015 Choral Institute Showcase Concert a huge success. The house was full, and from start to finish, the audience was treated to the best that young minds and voices can conceive. Special thanks and congratulations to poet

Caitlin Hernandez and Eric Tuan with the Combined CI Choirs

Caitlin Hernandez, whose reading of her poem from the stage added extra meaning to the performance that followed of Eric Tuan’s amazing new work, Darkness and Slight Light. And congratulations to Eric–a young conductor/composer to watch in years to come.

Thank you young singers and conductors for pursuing your singing, your tireless work to bring new music to life, and to furthering the choral art. With you in the picture, the future looks so bright!


Click here to learn more about Volti’s upcoming concert “The Next Page” featuring 2007 CAL composer Amy Beth Kirsten. Don’t miss this amazing young artist on November 7 and 8 in Oakland and San Francisco!


Volti Announces 2015-16 Season


Volti Announces its 2015-16 Concert Season – “The Next Page” – The Year of the Young Composer

San Francisco, CA, September 21, 2015—The Bay Area’s acclaimed contemporary music chamber chorus, Volti, will spend its 37th season celebrating three young composers it helped to discover through its young composer competition – the Choral Arts Laboratory (CAL). CAL was founded in 2003 in order to give American composers under the age of 35 an opportunity to work with a highly skilled professional vocal ensemble during the compositional process – to learn what voices can (and cannot) do, how to write for the voice and for a group of voices.

image Opening November 7 in Oakland and November 8 in San Francisco (SEE CALENDAR LISTING BELOW), Volti’s first “The Next Page” concert features Amy Beth Kirsten, who has been praised by top-tier publications, including the Washington Post: “…the music is complex and multilayered, rich in allusions, and often extraordinarily beautiful.” Volti will sing the world premiere of her new work, It is possible these things do not exist:, after Ursula Le Guin’s short story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omegas and Izumi Shikibu’s poem, Although the wind… This new commission will pair with In the Black, Kirsten’s CAL winning composition from 2007. The audience is invited to an “Inter-ception” after the concert—an interactive reception for the audience to share feedback on what they’ve just heard, and to connect them directly with the artists. Also on the program is Forrest Pierce’s gorgeous Gratitude Sutra, the 2012 Barlow Prize winner Volti premiered in 2014; Stacy Garrop’s Songs of Lowly Life—poetry by Paul Laurence Dunbar; and a beautiful work by young Lithuanian-born composer Žibuoklė Martinaitytė—The Blue of Distance.

image“The Next Page” continues in March (SEE CALENDAR LISTING BELOW) with the music of Robert Paterson, who is writing a piece based on the graffiti he sees in the world around him. Volti will sing this world premiere along with The Essence of Gravity, Paterson’s CAL composition from 2005. Robert Paterson’s compositions have been described by New Music Box as “vibrantly scored and well-crafted” music that “often seems to shimmer.” The concert will also feature music of David Lang, Paolo Longo, and Ingrid Stölzel.

On the final concerts of its 37th season in May, Volti will introduce its CAL composer for 2016, Tonia Koimage—a Hong Kong born, Honolulu raised composer and visual artist whose music has been described by critics as “expansive, meditative,” (Chicago Classical Review). Ms. Ko’s new piece is based on Virginia Woolf’s short story Monday and Tuesday, and will be accompanied by the reprise of Kui Dong’s Painted Lights, a work Volti premiered in 2011. Now, as then, the performance will feature guests Ensemble from the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir, who shared Volti’s triumphant run of performances of Pandora’s Gift—a staged multimedia choral performance piece that won the 2015 San Francisco Classical Voice Best of the Bay audience poll. There will also be an opportunity to hear Ms. Ko’s work-in-progress at an open rehearsal on October 7, 2015. (SEE CALENDAR LISTING BELOW)

Volti remains committed to choral music education, and will lead a celebration of song featuring the high school choirs from its Choral Institute for High School Singers on October 24 (SEE CALENDAR LISTING BELOW). The concert includes solo performances by Volti and the choirs of Acalanes High School, Head-Royce School, Ecco from Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir, Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, and Mill Valley’s Throckapella, as well as a spectacular combined finale of over 200 singers performing a world premiere by the young composer and sometime Volti singer, Eric Tuan.

Tickets for Volti’s Bay Area concerts can be purchased online via Brown Paper Tickets or at; prices are $25 in advance / $30 at the door for general admission; $20 / $25 for seniors; and $10 for students.

For additional information, contact:
Barbara Heroux, Executive Director
415.771.3352 | |

Volti’s twenty professional singers, 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. The group has commissioned nearly 100 new works, by emerging as well as established composers. Hailed by San Francisco Classical Voice as “undoubtedly the finest collection of new music singers we have,” Volti boasts a 36-year track record of some of the most sophisticated vocal performances in the nation. Composers seek opportunities to partner with these stellar musicians, who are known for their sheer technical brilliance as well as their vibrant, passionate sound. Nationally recognized as a pioneer in new vocal music, Volti has won the prestigious ASCAP/Chorus America Award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music six times. Attending a Volti concert is like visiting a modern art gallery, stimulating the mind, the imagination and the heart. For more information, visit

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2015-16 Season Calendar

Choral Institute Showcase Concert

Saturday, October 24, 7 PM
First Unitarian Universalist Center

Tickets and More Info:

Featuring Amy Beth Kirsten

Saturday, November 7, 8 PM
Piedmont Center for the Arts

Sunday, November 8, 4 PM
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church

Tickets and More Info:

Featuring Robert Paterson

Friday, March 11, 8 PM
St. Gregory of Nyssa

Saturday, March 12, 8 PM
Piedmont Center for the Arts

Tickets and More Info:

Featuring Tonia Ko

Weekend of May 13-15, 2016

More Info:

Open Rehearsal with 2015-16 CAL Composer Tonia Ko

October 7, 2015, 7-9pm
First Unitarian Universalist Center, San Francisco

Join Bob Geary and the Volti singers for an open rehearsal in which Volti will introduce its Choral Arts Lab (CAL) composer for 2016, Tonia Ko. Ms. Ko is a Hong Kong born, Honolulu raised composer and visual artist whose music has been described by critics as “expansive, meditative,” (Chicago Classical Review). Volti will premiere her new piece based on Virginia Woolf’s short story Monday and Tuesday in concerts next May; come hear us work on the music, talk to the composer and singers, and have a cookie!

Space is very limited so, while admission is free, we are requesting advance sign-ups.


Pandora’s Gift – Program Notes


It’s production week! At the time of this writing the singers and creative team are just finishing their first tech rehearsal in Z Space (See image below – by singer Shauna Fallihee).

Were all very close to seeing Pandora’s Gift come to fruition, and it will be wonderful to share this amazing piece of art with audiences. Following both Saturday and Sunday’s performances, there will be Inter-ceptions, at which the audience is invited to share its reactions with the artists. Composer, librettist, stage director, lighting designer, performers . .  all will be on hand to intercept your questions and reactions, and to talk more about how they brought Pandora to life. Please join us after the shows, and thank you.

Behind Closed Eyes . . . Pandora’s Gift Comes to Life

The creative team for Pandora’s Gift is in overdrive these last few weeks before the premiere. The intensity and immersion of rehearsals leading up to production week is both challenging and exhilarating. As Executive Director Barbara Heroux likes to say, Pandora is really ‘a different kind of animal,’ and the creators and performers alike are enjoying wrapping minds, voices, eyes, bodies, and hearts around this new art form.
Composer Mark Winges said this about the current state of things:
I suppose opera composers are used to the collaborative nature of the enterprise. Choral composers, not so much. Bob’s initial desire to create a significant choral work that includes movement by the singers + staging / lighting —> my suggestion to create a work based on the Pandora myth (because it has the “movement” in the subject itself: movement from “a world with no evils but also no hope” to “a world with evils and terrible things” to “a world with hope”) -> the back and forth with Denise to create the libretto -> meetings with Erika to get ideas of how movement can “work” with the singers; all of this before I wrote a single note. Pandora’s Gift is a very unusual piece for me. As the performers are creating the “whole”, it’s absorbing to see the work take shape.
Even though it has the occasional vocal solo, and Erika’s choreography sometimes highlights a single singer or small group of singers, it’s mostly the entire group. There is no one person representing “Pandora”. It has more elements of ritual than story, and the genre of unaccompanied choir highlights this. It tells an audience less by not having specific characters, but invites them into the myth more, giving them the freedom to project their own heart and mind onto the experience as it unfolds.
Composers find themselves in an interesting and unusual place at this point in the creative process. The music is written, is ‘final’ in some ways. It’s on the page and in the performers’ arena, so the progenitor of the work now becomes an expert observer; really an audience member.
Erika Chong Shuch, stage director for Pandora’s Gift, wrote recently about what she was witnessing in rehearsals:
I am appreciating that the process of building a physical landscape for the music is allowing me to “see” Mark’s ideas exist in 3 dimensions. My goal has been to invite viewers into the world of the music by providing a kind of kinesthetic roadmap. The singers couldn’t be more dedicated and committed to this task. They are living in the choreography and the music with fullness; bringing the fullness of their humanity into their gestures, voices, eyes, and hearts.
The performer’s generosity of spirit and willingness to TRY is astounding. When I watch the work unfold, I see PEOPLE. Human animals that are telling a story about what it is to be human. About what it is to wrestle with what we are capable of, both in terms of violence and kindness. I see humans being human. Which is actually kind of hard to do. It’s hard to let go of the need to be impressive, and allow the act of performance to be an invitation into one’s own tenderness. Into one’s own confusion. We want to be seen as strong and in charge and fierce.
I think we are telling a story about the kind of beauty that happens when we close our eyes, forget that the world is watching, and face an aspect of self that we don’t quite understand. And maybe this is where true “hope” lives. In the mystery. In the silences between. Behind closed eyes.
I have been thinking about how in the myth of Pandora, we wouldn’t even NEED hope had Pandora not let out all that other evil stuff first. Hope comes as a response to the box’s initial outburst. I’ve been thinking about how humans would not be human without all the “bad stuff” that was let out of the box. So is the story of Pandora’s box a myth about the birth of consciousness? It’s another creation myth, right?
As we all approach the premiere and prepare to be immersed in this ‘new kind of animal’ that Pandora’s Gift will be, we can take a moment behind closed eyes to envision our own ideas about creation and hope. The story continues . . .

There Is Magic Afoot . . .

Bob Geary’s Creative Process with Pandora’s Gift

When asked about his current thinking at the helm of the great ship Pandora’s Gift, Bob Geary offered these musings:

This is getting interesting. Alchemy? Magic? Spirit? Paradigm shifts? Tectonic shifts?

This is the Bay Area, our performances have to release the stress on the San Andreas fault. How else can we avoid the BIGONE? We don’t just climb outside the box, we explode the damn thing! Our premiere in May and the Outside the Box spotlight concert at the Golden Gate International Choral Festival in July will do just that.

Mix a room full of amazingly creative people, poets, composers, choreographers, lighting designers, costumers, singers and what do you get? Pandora’s Gift

How is the project shaping up? My way of answering this question is to say that in the forty years I have been conducting, I have never seen something like this grow from nothing.

Pandora’s Gift is organic. It’s elemental. It’s magical. It’s a powerful force for contemporary music and choral singing—the new future.

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