Postcard from SFGC Choristers
This week’s postcard comes from SFGC Premier Ensemble members Gabriella Vulakh (Alto I and SFGC Spokesperson) and Calla Kra-Caskey (Alto II Section Leader). Gabriella and Calla performed in SFGC’s season opening concert Mademoiselle: An American Inspiration on October 18, 2018 at the Herbst Theatre with guest artist Nicholas Phan.
Dear SFGC Community:
The Premier Ensemble of the San Francisco Girls Chorus opened the chorus’ 40th anniversary season with soloist Nicholas Phan last month at Herbst Theatre. The performance, Mademoiselle: An American Inspiration, showcased a wide range of music celebrating French composer Nadia Boulanger and her students’ works, including pieces by Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber, Virgil Thomson, David Conte, and Louise Talma. The Premier Ensemble also performed music by Lili Boulanger, Nadia’s sister, in honor of the centennial anniversary of her death.
The program began with a selection of late romantic 20th century soloist pieces by Lili Boulanger, transitioned to more contemporary pieces and closed with Aaron Copland’s At the River which SFGC, Nicholas Phan, and pianist Taylor Chan performed together.
“I hope the audience was able to feel how rich the music is,” Artistic Director Valérie Sainte-Agathe said. “The secret is the collaboration of this French composer with these other American composers — the result is the best thing that can exist in the musical world.”
Valérie also said one reason for choosing to perform music by Nadia and Lili Boulanger was to expose SFGC performers to powerful women and role models in music. Premier Ensemble member Allegra Kelly commented, “These two women from France – Lili and Nadia Boulanger – influenced so many artists worldwide. I know that I am definitely inspired by them and I am so happy that we were able to inspire so many people through their music.” Premier Ensemble member Jungah Ahn added, “While there was a great variety of songs, I like how they were all connected through Nadia Boulanger but each with their own twist.”
Many of the performers said that their favorite piece was Aaron Copland’s At the River because of its powerful message emphasizing unity and peace in a period of extreme conflict in the world. Soloist Nicholas Phan began the piece on stage and SFGC echoed him in three part harmony surrounding the audience.
“I think its message is the crux of what music is about,” Phan said. “I think at the end of the day, music has the power to bring people from different places, of different backgrounds, and with different perspectives together.”
Members of SFGC and Valérie said that they enjoyed working with Nicholas. “He is the specialist of melody and storytelling and has this ability to make you feel that you are the one person he is singing to” said Valérie, while Allegra added, “We each learned from the other and played off each other’s strengths while performing.”
Nicholas began collaborating with SFGC through his residency at San Francisco Performances. SFGC recently performed with him in the San Francisco Symphony’s production of Igor Stravinsky’s Perséphone.
Nicholas, who speaks English, and some French, Italian and German, said it is crucial for aspiring singers to learn as many languages as they can and work on theory skills and technique. “The most important thing is to practice, put yourself out there and have the courage to keep moving forward,” Phan said. “You also have to become a master of your instrument and for us singers you have to be a master of your body. Seeing [SFGC’s] passion for music reminds me of when I was a teenager and of my own passion. It is very inspiring and recharging artistically and spiritually.”