From Valérie Sainte-Agathe

Dear Friends, Photo of Valerie Sainte Agathe, director and principal conductor of the premiere ensemble and five time Grammy award winning San Francisco Girls Chorus

I am on my way to our last rehearsal with the New Century Chamber Orchestra. Just before our Holiday Break, we will be sharing four performances with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and her musicians.

This semester has been tremendously busy and inspiring. I am very proud of our concert ensemble singers and impressed with their ability to manage their schoolwork and the preparation of ten concerts in three months.

Some of these performances were required and others were optional. You would be surprised to learn how many of these young women chose to do everything on top of their crazy schedule at school! As an artist, I completely understand how the passion for music can drive such enthusiasm, but as a pedagogue, I want to make sure we are keeping the right balance. They must also have time to develop their vocal technique, their repertoire, their musical knowledge, their sight-reading and above all the pleasure of performing. And it is working! Our organization thrusts our singers into real musical life. We give them the opportunity to perform with talented and famous artists like Deborah Voigt (pictured below.)

It is very rare for a choral organization to be able to sing with so many high-profile orchestras and conductors. Since August, we have worked with Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, Jolle Greenleaf and her early music ensemble TENET, Teddy Abrams and the San Francisco Symphony, Lisa Bielawa and her Opera Vireo musicians and team. And now we are getting ready for our concerts with the NCCO.

Through these collaborations, our singers learn to be flexible and follow a conductor who is not me. They learn to be confident and understand that they are supporting the conductor in a work’s creation. They need to change with each conductor. For example, to be able to express the beautiful “O Divine Redeemer” by Gounod, Nadja asked them to sound like soloists even though they have choral parts. Maestro Dudamel asked for strength and passion in the Beethoven 9th, and Teddy Abrams loved their perfect pitch and their precision. He told me, “They are wonderful—you just have to look at them and they come in!”

They are more and more solid and ready for anything. I give them the musical tools, but they definitely develop their autonomy. It is very different for me when another conductor is involved. I need to anticipate the problems they might encounter but then I need to trust them, trust our training. I cannot help them anymore. I listen to them, watch them with pride, confidence, and a little bit of anxiety too. But I can see that now they are the artists, they own the score, they have to be proactive as an ensemble. It is their moment; they are leaving the nest. It is a pleasure for me to see them get stronger and feel proud of themselves when they realize what they have accomplished.

These opportunities will influence their lives, even if they don't choose music as a career. They also build our reputation as an organization in the professional world.

I want to thank you All for your support. It is a lot of work for everybody but it definitely worth it! I also want to thank my wonderful team!

Next week we will have time to rest and then we will be happy to begin preparing our concert with the Kronos Quartet in February.

Happy Holidays!

Valérie Sainte Agathe