Songs of Stars & Northern Lights

Dear Friend of Sacred & Profane,
What a wonderful experience to sing our secular wintertime concert of music about the evening, darkness, the night sky, and the northern lights last Saturday in Alameda! We can’t wait to present the concert this weekend – Saturday night in Berkeley and Sunday afternoon in San Francisco.


In my last letter, I talked about the first half of our program, and the focus on evening and solitude. The second half of our concert delves into the starry night and the Northern Lights: the magical Aurora Borealis.

 Composer Eriks Ešenvalds

Composer Eriks Ešenvalds

I’ve never had the opportunity to see this phenomenon, but it’s always been a dream of mine. Stars have always been an inspiration for composers, as can be heard in our performance of Monteverdi’s brilliant madrigal, Sfogava con le Stelle. Lately, a number of composers have been inspired by the night sky and the Northern Lights. I actually had to eliminate several lovely settings of Sara Teasdale’s poems – their frequent reference to being alone in nature at night, gazing at the stars, and finding solace in solitude has spurred many recent beautiful choral works. I settled on two for these performances – Winter Stars by the recently departed Steven Stucky, an important composer of mostly instrumental music from Ithica, New York; and Stars by the Young Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds. I first heard Stars at the American Choral Director’s Association 2015 convention in Salt Lake City. I loved the piece for it’s emotional immediacy and it’s beautiful use of water-tuned wineglasses (many of you know that I play a wineglass instrument that I made). Since then, Ešenvalds’ music has become a mainstay of concert programming across the United States. I chose two other works by Ešenvalds’ for our concert – Northern Lights and Rivers of Light, two pieces that both incorporate folksong references to the aurora borealis as well as historic accounts written by early arctic explorers. I’ve been excited by a new trend to set non-poetic texts such as historical documents and speeches in vocal music and this is among the first times that Sacred and Profane has delved into this expressive form.

I hope you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy this remarkable music with us!