Wednesday, September 16, 2015

In the News: SFist

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State Senator Mark Leno honors composer Kathleen McGuire, one of the composers of Street Requiem, and singer Frederica con Stade, one of the performers, prior to the SF premiere of the work. Photo credit: SFist 
Street Requiem: Despite being nominally retired, Alameda resident and famed diva Frederica von Stade, aka Flicka, still shares her big talent and bigger heart for worthy causes. Last week, she brought her voice to a choir of singers recruited from the homeless ranks of San Francisco for the West Coast premiere of Street Requiem, an oratorio celebrating people who lived and died on the streets. The evening supported Singers of the Street, an organization funded in 2010 by Kathleen McGuire, who with her fellow Australian Andy Payne and Jonathon Welch, also composed the music for the requiem. Singers of the Street is a choir for homeless people, who get a sense of purpose and achievement from participating in the choir, a community to be part of, and provide a positive and human experience of homelessness to audiences. They accept donations.

We thought we should check in our cynicism at the door for a concert where the betterment of humankind is achieved by singing together. Heart-warming stories don't necessarily make great art. This was reinforced by a little welcome pitch from Rev. Megan Rohrer, whose congregation hosts the rehearsals and who asked for our leniency for the singers, and extolled their "courage to sing the wrong note." And it turns out that these guys are pretty darn good and would match any amateur choir in the city. No need for indulgence on the audience's part.

The concert was set in two halves, the first devoted to covers by Singers of the Street, and the second to the Street Requiem, with Flicka and a bunch of experienced singers. The acronym for the organization is SOS, and the first song was appropriately the Beatles' "Help"; it was followed by calls for solidarity and songs of positive affirmation, and they all took a pretty emotional color from the context. The performers of SOS literally sang their hearts out: you could hardly imagine performers giving more into a performance.

As for the Street Requiem, it is composed of ten sections, each with a different color, re-interpreting the typical Requiem format with Kyrie, Gloria, Dies Irae, Agnus Dei, etc, but updated with current texts in different languages. The opener gets Middle Eastern scales, an Irish folk song is appropriated for the ninth movement, percussive South African beats in the eighth. It is meant to be inclusive of all cultures. Some movements are of more indeterminate origins, but were always rooted in tonal harmonies. Flicka gets the most beautiful melody in the Pie Jesu. The orchestration sometimes feels a bit studious, it could be a bit more free and unpredictable; but there is a lot of generosity in the writing of the score and the energy of the Gloria is contagious. The Street Requiem has been performed in Australia, Dallas, and will be sung in Seattle, and we hope the composers keep staging it and tweaking it, it is a piece of great emotional power. And a testament that you can better the lives of people through singing.

1 comment:

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