In Love with Language

Dear Friend of Sacred and Profane,
Our upcoming concerts wrap up our season focused on poetry and the poets. The first half of our May concert program brings us back to English poetry, where we began our season this past December. That concert’s “A Poet’s Christmas” featured mostly settings of twentieth-century English poets such as W.H. Auden and Edith Sitwell. In this program, we go further back to the nineteenth-century, with English poets like William Blake, Christina Rossetti, and William Wordsworth.
Sacred and Profane first sang Rudi Tas’ Flowers of Life in March of 2014 in our concert of music from the Netherlands. I cheated a bit in including Tas’ work in that concert, since he is actually from Belgium, but I loved this fanciful cycle of Romantic English poems, each of which celebrates the experience of joy in a different manner. The choir enjoyed singing these pieces with their rich harmonic language so much that I knew that I’d bring the cycle back into our repertoire in the not-too-distant future. We especially enjoy whispering “Jenny… Jenn… Jenn,” in honor of our own soprano Jenn Ying at the end of the final work.
In another connection with the first concert in our season, we will sing another setting of one of our own singers’ compositions. After our December 2014 concert, I received an audition request from James Tecuatl-Lee, a recent graduate of Dartmouth University’s music department who had moved to San Francisco and had attended our recent concert of holiday music from Eastern Europe. In his excellent audition, James revealed that he was a composer, and that his friend and Dartmouth classmate, Will Raymer, had also moved to San Francisco and was looking for a good choir to join. Both James and Will have been valued singers of the ensemble ever since. S&P premiered James’ delightful Two Crittersongs for the Wintertime in our December 2016 concert. In our upcoming program, we’re thrilled to present Will’s Settings from Songs of Experience, settings of texts of William Blake’s collection of poems. I had originally intended to present additional settings of Tomas Tranströmer’s poems, but I couldn’t put Will’s charming settings down, so I gave into the “will” of the heart and ear, and decided to present these works on this program instead.


Speaking of Tranströmer… this much-loved Swedish poet won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature, just four years prior to his death in 2015. From all accounts, Tranströmer was a kind and charming man. My mother loved meeting him when she worked for the Swedish Consulate in San Francisco, and in the summer of 2015 I heard wonderful stories about his warmth and humor from the Beat poetry scholar Anne Charters. With her husband, the blues scholar Sam Charters, Anne had shared a close friendship with Tomas and his wife Monica for many years after the Charters moved to Sweden in the late 1960s. Indeed, Sam passed away in Sweden a mere two days following Tomas’ death the previous spring, and the two recent widows supported each other in their time of loss.


In that same summer, I heard several choral settings of texts by the recently departed Tranströmer in the beautiful gardens of another great Swedish poet, Erik Axel Karlfeldt, sung by Gustaf Sjökvist’s Chamber Choir at the Music Vid Siljan music festival in the idyllic Swedish province of Dalarna. I was most struck by Jan Sandström’s Landskap med solar (Landscape with the sun), and began to search for the score to this newly published work. S&P has frequently sung works by the far-north-of-Sweden-based Sandström, most recently in our May 2016 concert with his Biegga Luohte: Joik till fjällvinden, a phenomenal work that features the joik, the vocal chant of the Saami people of the Arctic region of Scandinavia. I’m very happy to continue to treat our audiences to the works of this fabulous Swedish composer.


In my next letter to you, I’ll tell you about the second half our upcoming concert and my relationship with the music of Lou Harrison.
You can hear all these works plus our dedication to Lou Harrison at our upcoming concerts on May 13th in Berkeley and May 14th in San Francisco! I look forward to seeing you there!