Peninsula Women’s Chorus Artistic Director Anne K. Hege stepped into her leadership position during a turbulent time. In 2020, amid the pandemic, the chorus was searching for its next conductor following the departure of longtime Artistic Director Martín Benvenuto. Eventually, two candidates became interim co-directors, with Hege joining the choir for six months to lead virtual programs.
In an interview, Hege recalls the rough-and-tumble and the joy of those first months with the members of PWC. “It was their framing and their creativity that struck me. During my session, for example, we created a radio play with rehearsals all online. Each person submitted weekly recordings with video, which I compiled to create a medley of presentations. A group of volunteers helped me write [the script of] what became a play, Singing a Path to Dawn. It was an incredible way for me to witness the breadth of talents in the ensemble. They’re marvelous singers but also writers, creators, innovators.”
In 2023, Hege has turned her attention to the group’s upcoming winter concert, “A Candlelit Homecoming.” With snow as an underlying theme, the repertoire featured Dec. 7 in Palo Alto and Dec. 9 in Santa Clara is, according to Hege, both a journey and a homecoming.
“This winter concert is about finding one’s way through what can be a difficult time. It’s an arrival home that should be comforting and feel familiar, but there are moments that are abstract and unknown, such as are found in “Snowforms” by R. Murray Schafer. The piece is about expanse, and there’s a lot of humming, very spare, with single lines. It is a moment in the concert when there’s stillness and even loneliness. To me, that’s very much a part of winter.”
Another work, Michael Bussewitz-Quarm’s “Nigra Sum,” is a setting of text from the ancient Song of Solomon; the composition is contemporary. “I fell in love with it last year,” Hege says about the setting. “There’s a middle section with thick chords that move simultaneously with the text. There are patterns of five in the time of four. That is compelling and pulls the piece forward. At the end, there are flowing motifs that move through the sopranos and a gorgeous pulse in the lower voices. All of the voices pull into alignment, and it feels like the whole piece opens up at the end.”
David Lang’s “i lie” is based on a Yiddish folk song but is completely abstracted in style. “It’s perfect because of the waiting that’s in the text,” says Hege. “He shifts between D minor and D major,” she explains about the composer. “Every note change that goes from minor to major becomes a moment of added tension.”
Hege’s own work on the program, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” is a setting of Wallace Steven’s modernist poem about the fragmentation of a moment. “I was so excited to see what it would be with up to 50 voices,” she says about her arrangement. “To have the weight I can get with this year’s 45 singers really changes the presence of the piece.”
Among the traditional works on the program, Hege singles out Giovanni Gabrieli’s “O magnum mysterium.” It’s a late-Renaissance composition in which Gabrieli was thinking about harmony in a large, reverberant space. “The church spaces where the work was performed were such that he could perfectly balance two choirs. You can hear him creating a piece that has two choirs, but he uses them as a single instrument. It’s almost like an organ, with architecture that’s like orchestration and that uses the spatial relation of two choirs.”
Hege’s vision for PWC in the next five years has a few different planks. “I want the choir to grow in numbers. I want the institute, the educational wing, to give more to the community. Thirdly, PWC works hard, and I have a vision of our concerts being real celebrations of the breadth of life and the beauty of sharing time and place together through music. This takes confidence in allowing oneself to delve into the joys and sorrows of life and share this honestly through song in live performance with full vitality. Lastly, my dream is that our relationship grows and we’re an even stronger team, with concerts that are adventurous.”