SF Choral Society
The San Francisco Choral Society performs in Davies Symphony Hall | Courtesy of the San Francisco Choral Society

The power of music can move people great distances. In the case of alto Jane Lovell, it’s 4,600 miles over the Pacific, round trip. She sang with the San Francisco Choral Society from 2008 on but quit after moving to Maui (yes, it’s “No ka oi!”) and only participated in the chorus recently by Zoom.

“I was grateful to be able to rejoin my old chorus from my living room in Maui and to see familiar faces on the screen every Tuesday night,” she told SFCV.

“After two years of online rehearsals, I jumped at the chance to join the chorus in person for the Verdi Requiem. Being back in Davies Symphony Hall, singing one of my favorite choral works with old friends, will be a homecoming.”

The SF Choral Society and the California Chamber Symphony will perform the Verdi Requiem in Davies Symphony Hall on Aug. 19, returning there for the first time since 2019. The Choral Society last performed the Requiem in 2016.

Jane Lovell and Charmain Chow
Jane Lovell, now a Maui resident, returns to the chorus for the concert; on the right is Charmain Chow, who travels from Singapore

The performance will mark the launch of the Summer Festival Chorus, a new program that invites experienced singers from across the country and beyond to audition for the Resident Chorus and spend one week each summer in San Francisco for rehearsals and a concert. Singers are responsible for the expense of their travel and lodging.

The performance will be led by Associate Director Bryan Baker and will feature soprano Clarissa Lyons, mezzo-soprano Buffy Baggott, tenor Christopher Bengochea, and bass Eugene Brancoveanu.

Livestreamed rehearsals began in May, with guest participants joining the Resident Chorus in person in San Francisco for a week of rehearsals that will culminate in the performance of the Requiem. Participants are coming from as far away as Singapore and as close to the Bay Area as Modesto and include a broad range of ages, including high school students.

The Summer Festival Chorus builds on the Choral Society’s existing year-round program that provides singers with the opportunity to perform major choral works with professional orchestras and soloists as well as in classes and workshops. The Choral Society also sponsors a student scholarship program that invites local high school and college students to participate in the rehearsal process and performance experience.

Artistic Director Robert Geary said, “For many years now, we have envisioned establishing a festival chorus program that leverages our beautiful City by the Bay and draws experienced, enthusiastic choral singers from all over the world to collaborate and perform choral masterworks at Davies Symphony Hall.

“Like many arts organizations that learned to use Zoom and other high-tech platforms over the last two years, we’ve learned how to utilize technology to our advantage, and that allows us to bring our Summer Festival Chorus participants together with our Resident Chorus virtually in advance of in-person rehearsals and performance. Our inaugural Summer Festival Chorus is an exciting new dimension of what is sure to be a marvelous presentation of Verdi’s towering choral masterwork.”

Verdi Requiem

Tickets, $40 to $60, can be purchased through City Box Office online or by calling (415) 392-4400. Discounts are available for seniors and students.

Now in its 33rd season, the SF Choral Society has presented choral classics to more than 100,000 concertgoers at venues throughout San Francisco. Its commitment to the music of today includes a history of commissioning works by outstanding composers, including Felicia Sandler, Kristina Rasmussen, Emma Lou Diemer, Mark Winges, Donald McCullough, Stacy Garrop, and David Lang.

Of the Requiem, Carol Talbeck wrote in an essay on the Choral Society’s website:

When critics complained that the Requiem was too operatic, [the composer’s] partner Giuseppina Strepponi wrote to a friend, ‘What I say is that a man like Verdi ought to write like Verdi, that is, according to his way of feeling and interpreting the text. It is clear that the religious spirit and the works that express it ought to bear the imprint of the epoch and of the individual. Which means I would disown a mass by Verdi made according to recipe A, B, or C.’

The 1944 performances of the Requiem by a chorus of 150 Jews in Terezín, a Nazi concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, is a fitting postscript to the history of this great work. With only a broken piano and one score, the inmates learned the powerful, inspiring Requiem and sang it for the only audience they had — their captors and fellow prisoners. Marianka May, one of the survivors, said, ‘This is our way of fighting back — we have a vision of high art. The Verdi Requiem is the pinnacle of defiance.’”

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