Postcard from Artistic Director: Home Stretch

This week’s Postcard, from Artistic Director Lisa Bielawa, closes out the season. Have a wonderful summer, everyone!

Dear SFGC Community, especially Families!

We have come to the end of another season together – Valérie’s and my fourth! – and it has been so exciting to watch our choristers grow and shine, in so many corners of the community here at home and in the larger arts field nationwide. It’s also been an exciting time for our core team as we have welcomed our new ED, Andrew Bradford. It was a pleasure to see so many of you last weekend at our season closing concert, and now many others of you are ramping up for the Chorus School Graduation and end-of- year concert on Monday, featuring the world premiere of “Before I Forget,” by our Chorus School Composer-in- Residence Amy X. Neuburg!


Amy’s wonderfully poignant sense of humor and her flexible and expressive voice (with a huge range!) made her a natural choice for our SFGC community. Last week at Chorus Camp, she delighted the girls with her looping technology performance demonstration. You can see how this setup works in this video of her terrific piece “Is It Conflict-Free” for herself as soloist with the Paul Dresher Ensemble. Amy writes her own words, and performs in her own music, like many singer-songwriters in the pop vein. Does her music sound like pop music? Why or why not? Does it make you want to dance? Or to sing? To make up songs? Does it put you in a certain mood? What kind of mood? Those of you who hear (or sing!) Amy’s piece this coming Monday, what kind of mood does her new piece put you in? Can you identify with the words she made up for the girls to sing?

While I was with you all last weekend, I was also moonlighting as a judge at the Klein International String Competition, where I heard nine very young (15-22- year-old) string players compete for the first prize, which includes both cash and numerous performances with orchestras and in concert series in the Bay Area. SFGC’s friend and collaborator Joshua Roman is a previous winner of this 32-year- old competition, and this year it went to a cellist too, 18-year- old Jeremy Tai. Listen to him a year ago, in Rachmaninoff’s duo.


It was an interesting experience, being on a jury with six other professional colleagues. I was the only composer among them – the others were string players and performers of various sorts; some are master teachers, others are conductors. It stands to reason that we might have been listening to different things when we made our various assessments. Playing or singing music is not like running a race; there is not a clear, measurable winner per se. But are there objective standards that we seven jurors might have been using? What might those be? When you decide that someone is a good cellist, or a good singer, what are you listening for? What are you looking at? Are there some qualities in a musical “winner” that are subjective but nevertheless inspire agreement among many? Do you think you can hear the qualities in Jeremy’s playing that made us decide to award him the first prize?


One of the things I enjoyed learning about Jeremy is that he is very engaged in community and in the role of music in the lives of people. He creates his own arrangements of various K-pop songs, using just the sound(s) of the cello, and – in one case – dedicated his offering to the victims of the Paris attacks last year. Here he is with some of his teenage cello colleagues, in an arrangement he created of a pop song he loves, for cello quartet.

When you hear a soloist play, do you feel you are getting to know something about his or her character, as a person? Does it matter? Does one need to have a beautiful character to make beautiful sounds? When we perform, are we striving to be good people as well as good artists? Are they related?

In any case, it was an exciting weekend – I was surrounded by young musicians, both at the SFGC concert and at the competition, and was reminded of the twin values of artistic excellence and community. I look forward to sharing more journeys in both arenas in our work together next season! This Postcard marks the end of the Postcard season. I’ll see some of you along the way – as we continue our summer activities – but for now I am signing off here in Postcard-land, until September.

Many thanks so all of you in our community, for your commitment to our musical lives together!