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Volti's Vault of Choral Excellence Includes Youth

October 31, 2012

VoltiThe Volti chorus opens its 34th season with a terrific program featuring its 20 singers along with choruses from the Head Royce School in the East Bay and the Ruth Asawa School for the Performing Arts in San Francisco. The concert on Saturday Nov. 3 includes an eclectic program of renaissance, world, and contemporary music.

Volti is under the direction of one of this country’s great choral leaders, Robert Geary, who founded the San Francisco Chamber singers in 1979. The name was later changed to Volti, which in musical parlance means, “look ahead.”

“We’re the best kept secret in San Francisco and we’d like to stop being that,” Executive Director Barbara Heroux told us the other day. She went on to explain that Volti’s focus on contemporary music is not the audience grabber it should be. “I can only tell people that if you listen to contemporary music you will like it.”

The program on Saturday is the culmination of Volti’s annual educational outreach program in which high school choirs are invited to an annual summer retreat near Occidental California where they work with professional singers to polish their abilities and their ambitions.

The concert finale features all three choruses in a William Albright piece written in 1974: The Chichester Mass, named after the English cathedral where it was first performed.

“It is one of the best examples of this particular Mass form from the 20th century,” notes Robert Geary. “The harmonic language is colorful and beautiful and ... ‘accessible’ is not the right word, but it’s certainly rewarding to the ear.”

Beyond the finale, there's one other piece that, were you to come just for it, would be well worth the evening. It’s an 18-minute composition by Shawn Crouch (originally commissioned by the Bay Area chorus, Chanticleer). The piece incorporates poems written by an Iraqi war veteran with the poetry of Rumi, who never lived in Iraq but certainly traveled through it. “It’s the juxtaposition that’s so profound,” says Geary. “In one part of the piece, Rumi describes a garden of paradise; in another there is the stark poetry of Bryan Turner, a U.S. solider who served in Iraq. The piece is compositionally interesting and powerful.”

Volti: Youth and Music Nov. 3, 7 p.m. First Unitarian Universalist Center 1187 Franklin St., San Francisco. $20 for adults; $15 for seniors. Under 20, free.

Mark MacNamara, a writer and journalist based in Asheville, North Carolina, has written for such publications as NautilusSalonThe Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Vanity Fair. From time to time, his pieces in San Francisco Classical Voice also appear in  Noteworthy examples include a piece about Philip Glass’s dream to build a cultural center on the Pacific Coast; a profile of sound composer Pamela Z and an essay on the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. MacNamara recently won several awards in the 2018 Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards presented by the San Francisco Press Club.  His website is