S.F. Girls Chorus Welcomes New Artistic Director and Conductor

Lisa BielawaEarlier this week, the board of the Grammy Award-winning San Francisco Girls Chorus announced that, following a year-long search, it had hired a new artistic director: chorus alumna, Lisa Bielawa. Bielawa, 44, is a composer-vocalist and a long-time member of the Philip Glass Ensemble. She has a degree in English from Yale and is the daughter of the composer, Herbert Bielawa. In 1997, she co-founded the MATA Festival, which celebrates the work of young composers (under 40). She joins the chorus on July 1.

“In the last 20 years,” she told us, “ I’ve been in so many choral music environments. Recently, we did a concert in the Netherlands; I sang as a soloist with the Estonia Philharmonic Chamber Choir and once more I realized the strength of all these very rich and powerful vocal music traditions, not just Western Classical music. This is something I’m very passionate about and what’s really cool is that now suddenly I have this lens with which to focus it all.”

Bielawa is quick to add that her career is very much an extension of her experiences in the San Francisco girl’s chorus. She described a particular moment in 1984.

“Every Christmas I would compose anthems for the girls to sing. And then we would have a slumber party and record them. I gave a copy to Elizabeth Appling (the chorus founder) before one of our concerts and she did the most amazing thing; she invited me to conduct my pieces at Davies Symphony Hall. I have been in so many performances in my life but that was most exciting of all. She was the one who really helped me discover my calling as a composer.

In addition to Bielawa, the Chorus board has hired a new music director and principal conductor: Valeria Sainte-Agathe. Born in Martinique, Sainte-Agathe has an M.A. from the University of Montpellier, which is in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of Southern France. She also studied piano performance at Colorado State University. She was the musical director for the Junior Opera and Young Singers Program of the Montpellier National Symphony and Opera from 1998 to 2011. As part of her charter, she trained young singers for opera and symphony concerts, including the International Radio France Festival. Sainte-Agathe replaces Susan McMane, the previous director of the chorus.

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Mark MacNamara (macnamband.com) is a journalist in San Francisco who has written for such publications as Salon.com, Vanity Fair, and The Stanford Social Innovation Review. He also wrote a recent piece for Nautilus, a science magazine, about Edward Elgar’s penchant for ciphers and riddles.