SFGC Announces Artistic Director Departure and Appointment

Artistic Director Lisa Bielawa will depart following 2017-2018 season; Music Director & Principal Conductor
Valérie Sainte-Agathe will become Artistic Director for 2018-2019 season

Lisa Bielawa, Artistic Director, and Valérie Sainte-Agathe, Music Director & Principal Conductor

Lisa Bielawa, Artistic Director, and Valérie Sainte-Agathe, Music Director & Principal Conductor

San Francisco, CA – Thursday, August 17, 2017 – The San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC) and Board President, Rhonda L. Nelson, today announced that Artistic Director, Lisa Bielawa, will step down from her role at the conclusion of the 2017-2018 season and Music Director & Principal Conductor, Valérie Sainte-Agathe, will assume a singular artistic leadership position, Artistic Director, which will encompass the primary responsibilities of both current positions, effective July 1, 2018. Bielawa’s departure and Sainte-Agathe’s appointment will come after a highly successful five-year tenure for both in what is one of the truly innovative artistic leadership models in the choral music world.

“Over the last five years, the Board has watched with awe as Valérie and Lisa have overseen an extraordinary period of growth, evolution, and achievement for the organization,” said Nelson. “When Lisa initially accepted this position with SFGC, the Board of Directors understood that given her multi-faceted career as a composer and vocalist, her tenure would likely be around four or five years. While we were sad to learn that Lisa would be departing at the end of this season, we had also anticipated this eventuality." 

“The consolidation of both positions into a more traditional Artistic Director role represents a natural evolution for the organization, one that ideally positions SFGC for a bright future under Valérie’s dynamic artistic leadership,” Nelson added.

Under this joint-leadership model, Bielawa and Sainte-Agathe have, together, elevated and redefined the San Francisco Girls Chorus’ artistic direction, sound, and standing as an in-demand artistic partner, both locally and nationally. In recent seasons, SFGC has forged and strengthened partnerships with numerous leading arts and cultural organizations, including the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco Film Festival, Kronos Quartet, Contemporary Jewish Museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, New Century Chamber Orchestra, Opera Parallèle, Voices of Music, Chanticleer, and many others. SFGC’s performance activities outside of the Bay Area have increased substantially, as well, with performances for the Britt Music Festival (OR), Oregon Bach Festival, NY PHIL Biennial at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and the SHIFT Festival of American Orchestras at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. And on February 16, 2018, SFGC will make its Carnegie Hall debut performing Philip Glass' seminal work, Music with Changing Parts, with Glass and the Philip Glass Ensemble, part of Carnegie Hall's highly anticipated citywide festival The ’60s: The Years that Changed America and the composer's 80th birthday celebratory year.

SFGC has also reaffirmed its commitment to championing music of our time, launching a Composer-in-Residence Program specifically for its Chorus School, now in its third year; commissioning or premiering new works from leading composers, including Aaron Jay Kernis, Matthew Welch, Sahba Aminikia, Theo Bleckman, Amy X Neuburg; and recently recording music in collaboration with the Kronos Quartet for a forthcoming album that will include ten works by nine living composers (eight of whom are American).

“When Valérie and I started in our joint leadership in 2013, I set out a number of goals and dreams for the artistic direction of the organization,” says Bielawa. “It has been incredibly gratifying to see so many of these fulfilled - and so richly! The various collaborators I have brought to SFGC now belong to all of us, and all of my various colleagues in the greater music field now also cherish Valérie and our young women themselves as colleagues in their own right.”

“The collaborative relationship Lisa and I have enjoyed over the last five years has been one of the most gratifying, fruitful, and rewarding experiences in each of our careers,” noted Sainte-Agathe. “We look forward to spending this upcoming season celebrating all that has been accomplished.”

“I am deeply honored that the Board of Directors has appointed me Artistic Director. When I become Artistic Director next July, I will do so knowing that SFGC is destined to build on its current standing as one of the preeminent youth choruses in the world because of the work Lisa and I have done together.”

SFGC’s 2017-2018 season includes a three-concert subscription series with performances on October 25, December 18, and April 22; a June 2018 co-production with Voices of Music and the San Francisco Early Music Society for the 2018 Berkeley Festival & Exhibition; and collaborations with leading organizations and institutions, including the San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Symphony, Opera Parallèle, Kronos Quartet, Philip Glass Ensemble, San Francisco Performances, and Carnegie Hall.

For more information, please visit sfgirlschorus.org.


About Lisa Bielawa
Composer-vocalist Lisa Bielawa is a 2009 Rome Prize winner in Musical Composition. She takes inspiration for her work from literary sources and close artistic collaborations. Her music has been described as “ruminative, pointillistic and harmonically slightly tart,” by The New York Times, and “fluid and arresting … at once dramatic and probing,” by the San Francisco Chronicle. She is the recipient of the 2017 Music Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters.

Lisa Bielawa recently completed her unprecedented, made-for-TV-and-online opera Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch's Accuser with librettist Erik Ehn and director Charles Otte. Vireo was produced as part of Bielawa’s artist residency at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, California and in partnership with KCETLink and Single Cel. The opera was filmed at locations across the country – Alcatraz Island, a monastery on the Hudson River, an abandoned train station in Oakland, the California Redwoods – and featured over 350 musicians in support of its core cast, including soprano Deborah Voigt, San Francisco Girls Chorus, Kronos Quartet, violinist Jennifer Koh, cellist Joshua Roman, Alarm Will Sound, and many others. All 12 episodes were broadcast on KCETLink’s Emmy® award-winning series Artbound, as well as online for free, on-demand streaming. The Los Angeles Times called Vireo an opera, “unlike any you have seen before, in content and in form,” and the San Francisco Chronicle described it as, “poetic and fantastical, visually stunning and relentlessly abstract.”

Lisa Bielawa’s music is frequently performed throughout the US and abroad. Two of her works received their world premieres at the 2016 NY PHIL BIENNIAL: My Outstretched Hand by The Knights, San Francisco Girls Chorus, and Brooklyn Youth Chorus, which was recently given a second performance at The Kennedy Center; and Vireo Caprice by violinist Jennifer Koh at National Sawdust. The Seattle Chamber Music Society recently commissioned and premiered Bielawa’s Fictional Migrations, which The Seattle Times called, “sophisticated, propulsive, complex, and often beautiful.” In December 2016, the Orlando Philharmonic performed the world premiere of Bielawa’s Drama/Self Pity for orchestra and in January 2017, The Kennedy Center presented two of her works with Bielawa as soloist as part of their KC Jukebox series. Recent highlights also include performances of Start for piano and chamber orchestra by pianist Andrew Armstrong and the Orchestra of the League of Composers; 50 Measures for Aaron by SOLI Chamber Ensemble; One Atom of Faith by violinist Rebecca Fischer of the Chiara String Quartet; and The Trojan Women by the String Orchestra of New York City.

Bielawa’s music can be found outside the concert hall as well, with two major works written for performance in public spaces. Chance Encounter, a piece comprising songs and arias constructed of speech overheard in transient public spaces, was premiered by soprano Susan Narucki and The Knights in Lower Manhattan's Seward Park. Airfield Broadcasts is a 60-minute work for hundreds of musicians, which was premiered on the tarmac of the former Tempelhof Airport in Berlin in May 2013 and at Crissy Field in San Francisco in October 2013.

Born in San Francisco into a musical family, Lisa Bielawa played the violin and piano, sang, and wrote music from early childhood. She moved to New York two weeks after receiving her B.A. in Literature in 1990 from Yale University, and became an active participant in New York musical life. She began touring as the vocalist with the Philip Glass Ensemble in 1992, and has also premiered and toured works by John Zorn, Anthony Braxton, and Michael Gordon. In 1997 she co-founded the MATA Festival, which celebrates the work of young composers. Bielawa was appointed Artistic Director of the acclaimed San Francisco Girls Chorus in 2013 and recently completed her residency at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, California. Her discography includes albums on the Tzadik, TROY, Innova, BMOP/sound, Orange Mountain Music and Sono Luminus labels. In 2016, Bielawa was awarded grants from New York Foundation for the Arts, the MAP Fund, and New Music USA.

About Valérie Sainte-Agathe
As Music Director & Principal Conductor of the San Francisco Girls Chorus since 2013, Valérie Sainte-Agathe has prepared and conducted SFGC for performances with renowned artists such as Jon Nakamatsu, Deborah Voigt, Frederica von Stade, Gustavo Dudamel, The New Century Chamber Orchestra, Kronos Quartet, Philip Glass, and Aaron Jay Kernis. In June 2016, she conducted the SFGC alongside The Knights Orchestra and Brooklyn Youth Chorus for the NY PHIL Biennial Festival at Lincoln Center. She collaborated again with The Knights for the SHIFT Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC in April 2017.

A native of Martinique, Ms. Sainte-Agathe received her Bachelor of Music degree in Choral Conducting from Universite Paul Valery in Montpellier, and her Diplome d’Etudes Musicales in Piano, Chamber Music and Theory from the Montpellier Conservatory. She holds a Master’s Degree in Management from the University of Montpellier, and has also studied Piano Performance at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

In 1995, she returned to Montpellier and served as a pianist for the Orchestre National de Montpellier and the Festival de Radio France where she performed in concerts and recordings of works by contemporary composers such as John Adams, M. Torke, and Steve Reich.

She joined Junior Opera in 1997 and participated in numerous productions of the Opéra National de Montpellier and Opera Junior, first as a vocal coach, then as a choirmaster. In 2000, she was appointed as Artistic Coordinator and Music Director, where she trained young singers between 6 and 25 years old and prepared choirs for the Orchestre National de Montpellier, the Radio France Festival and the Festival Presence in Paris.

In 2005, she served as Choir Director for the 2nd Biennial of Vocal Arts in Paris, and the Festival de Radio France with Armin Jordan for the production of Die Konigskinder, and Emmanuel Krivine and Alain Altinoglu for Jeanne d’Arc au Bucher with the Philharmonic Orchestra. She also produced a world premiere of ¡Libertad!, a jazz opera written by Didier Lockwood, at the Opéra Comédie in Montpellier.

In 2008, she prepared the Junior Opera Chorus in collaboration with the Regional Symphonic Choir led by Hervé Niquet and the Orchestre National de Montpellier for Mahler’s 3rd Symphony conducted by Alain Altinoglu. The following year, she collaborated with the symphony for Dido and Aeneas, staging by Jean-Paul Scarpita.

In 2010, she participated in Victoires de la Musique, an annual French award ceremony, where her group performed Pavane by Fauré, accompanied by the Orchestra of Montpellier, and Amahl and the Night Visitors. The performances were broadcast on national French television.

In 2012, she received her Master’s degree in Cultural Project Management from the Paul Valéry University and led the university choir Ecume.

Ms. Sainte-Agathe participated in eight recordings with the Orchestre National de Montpellier and the Festival de Radio France. She is a recipient of Victoires de la musique (equivalent of the Grammy award in France) and she is two-time recipient of the Orphée d'Or award for Honneger’s Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher and d'Indy’s L'Étranger.


Lisa Bielawa / Carlin Ma
Valérie Sainte-Agathe / Joseph Fanvu

J. Andrew Bradford
(415) 863-1752

Founded in 1978, the San Francisco Girls Chorus’ founding Artistic Director, Elizabeth Appling, prepared the first-ever chorus of girls to perform with the San Francisco Opera, an opportunity previously reserved only for boys. Founded with a vision to become an international-caliber chorus for young women, SFGC has grown into a renowned, industry-leading performing arts and music education organization. Today, under the leadership of Artistic Director, Lisa Bielawa, and Music Director, Valerie Sainte-Agathe, SFGC serves nearly 300 choristers ages 5-18 from 45 cities and all 9 Bay Area counties each year. Served by a music faculty of 21 teaching artists and 7 administrators, the organization operates a professional-level performance, recording and touring ensemble; the four-level Chorus School training program; and a Preparatory Chorus.

SFGC collaborates annually with leading arts and cultural organizations including the San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco Film Festival, and the Kronos Quartet, among many others. The Chorus has toured to more than a dozen countries and performed at major national and international venues including the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, New York’s Lincoln Center, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, the World Choral Symposium in Kyoto, Japan, the World Vision Children’s Choir Festival in Korea, and the Gateway to Music Festival in China. SFGC’s commitment to artistic excellence has been recognized through numerous awards, including five GRAMMY Awards and three ASCAP/Chorus America Awards for Adventurous Programming.

SFGC also owns and operates the Kanbar Performing Arts Center, a six-story hub for the arts in San Francisco’s Civic Center district that annually serves more than 30 arts organizations. SFGC’s current annual operating budget is $2.4 million.