San Francisco Girls Chorus November 1, 2009
By Glen Creason
What might have appeared at first blush a kid’s concert at the Performing Arts Center on Sunday proved to be one of the most thought provoking and culturally enriching programs of many a season. Despite a rather disappointing sized crowd the performance was right at excellent and the program choices were challenging to say the least yet sung with brilliance by the girls. The Chorus is the product of an admirable effort by this organization to provide a center for the education of choral music. At first, the program was just a school to train girl’s voices but the entire enterprise has grown to a top-level music school and world-class performing group that tours extensively, performed at the recent presidential inauguration and has even garnered several Grammies for their superb recordings. Director Susan McMane has obviously dedicated herself to taking these girls to the limits of their talent and the end result is astounding and wonderful to hear.
At Cerritos the program “Transcendent Voices” was dedicated to the words with music of prophets and mystics which is a pretty hard sell to those who might have expected lighter fair. But when the girls began to sing it was most surely transcendent. Local choral music fanatics would have indeed been transported by the demanding choices but even we plain old music lovers were elevated spiritually by the concert opening “O Pastor Animarum” by Hildegard Von Bingham which was crisp in its execution but otherworldly in harmony. The girls approached from the audience side and assembled on the stage in a show of congregation that remained throughout the proceedings. “Blagri” by Slovenian, contemporary composer, Damijan Mocnik was inspired by the Sermon on the Mount and was sung with a delicate, ethereal quality by the chorus. Added at the last minute was “the Hadiths of the prophet Mohammed” by John Taverner, a short but potent piece of singing that preceded Shubert’s “Psalm 23” in all of its lyrical glory. The spiritual eclecticism of the show was further evidenced by Gustave Holst’s Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda, No. 3” based on the sacred text of the Hindu religion.
One of the many high-lights was the second half opening jewel set to Langston Hughes beautiful poem “I Dream a World” that was truly inspiring. The girls, so intent on hitting their notes and keeping perfect harmony may not have noticed those in the audience with tears in their eyes. There was more drawing from wildly differing cultural origins including the Finnish composer Olli Kortekangas’ “Three Fiord Sketches” based on the “I Ching,” and the very demanding but highly rewarding “From Behind the Caravan: Songs of Hafez” that made for a expansive musical journey. Yet, my favorite pieces of the entire fine concert came at the end in the performance in three African-American spirituals. “Heaven Bound Train” was playful and energetic, “Deep River” was absolutely stunning in its purity and depth and “John Saw Duh Numbuh” was, well, just transcendent. While small in number the crowd stood and gave tribute to these girls who had delivered great music with so little fanfare.