The Maui disaster inspires a brand new Bay Area musical work premiering this weekend

During a family vacation in Hawaii last August, Theresa Wong experienced a few of the worst things nature has to supply and a few of the most effective things humans can do to answer adversity.

The cellist, singer and composer from Berkeley had just arrived in Maui when Hurricane Dora hit the island and knocked out the hotel's power. It didn't take long for smoke to look on the horizon, but with access to news limited, it took days for Wong to learn details of Lahaina's destruction.

“Night into Dawn,” her newly commissioned work as composer-in-residence for the Peninsula Women's Chorus of Palo Alto, reflects on the disaster and the best way the people round her got here together to support each other. Dedicated to the Lahaina community, the improvisational work is the centerpiece of PWC's spring season, May 4 at Mission Santa Clara and May 5 at Mission Dolores in San Francisco.

The demanding rating explores latest territory for each Wong and the PWC and requires the singers to make decisions at various points within the piece. It's a technique inspired by “how communities work together in times of crisis, when people come together in shelters and makeshift tents or share food,” Wong said.

“There are all these different dynamics. Some must lead, others must follow. You have to improvise and find solutions on the spot. All of this is really interesting for me as a composer. That's what we do as musicians. Some people lead and some people follow. You improvise.”

“Night into Dawn” is an element of an in depth program that also includes the Golden Gate Men's Chorus. Both ensembles perform separate movements after which come together for Giacomo Puccini's “Messa di Gloria,” a masterful mass he wrote at age 22, shortly before he turned to opera full-time.

PWC's solo set places Wong's premiere amid a program focused on works by women, including an arrangement of the Baptist hymn “How Can I Keep from Singing” by Alice Parker, the prolific Massachusetts arranger and composer, who performed in December on the PWC died aged 98.

“She was an incredible woman that I had the pleasure of getting to know personally,” said Anne K. Hege, PWC artistic director. “This song looks like a press release of hope, and with 'Negra Sum,' a setting from the 'Song of Solomon,' each speak to Theresa's piece, speak to this concept of ​​hope that should be upheld, nurtured and engaged .” To.”

A restlessly creative musician who has collaborated with a few of the era's most intrepid artists, from guitarist Fred Frith and postmodern dance pioneer Anna Halprin to pianist Sarah Cahill and violinist/singer Carla Kihlstedt, Wong has develop into a sought-after vocal ensemble composer . She has also created works for the San Francisco Girls Chorus, Vajra Voices and Long Beach Opera, and Hege sought her out because she knew Wong would take the choir on a novel journey.

“One thing she does in this piece is create this feeling of sizzle by repeating the word 'stay,'” Hege said. “Holding staccato chords creates a sound pattern reminiscent of the snapping of twigs. It captures the heat with ambient noise in an amazing way. I’ve never heard anything like that.”

Under Hege's leadership, the PWC has collaborated with adventurous composers akin to Julie Herndon. Working with Wong, the choir played an lively role within the creation of “Night into Dawn” through three lengthy workshops by which the composer led the singers through various improvisational structures “and sort of created a form for this material,” Hege said.

“She made a model so we could see the score, which is pretty graphic. There are some fully composed sections that flow into one another, while the chorus makes a lot of decisions based mostly on timing. This is something we’ve never done before and it’s incredibly exciting.”

Wong is in her second and final season working with the PWC (last yr the choir performed her work “To Burst to Bloom”), but the connection is anticipated to proceed. Last month, Wong was awarded a coveted Guggenheim Fellowship and is working on a multimedia opera for PWC's Radiance chamber ensemble.

Wong's plan is to expand on her concept of “installed songs,” which places her music in a selected physical space, “with a sculpture that the performer is somehow embedded in,” she said. “The theme is the multiple identities that we all carry within us and that are marginalized, hidden or changed in order to belong.”

Wherever it manifests itself, Wong's music is guaranteed to face out.


Presents Theresa Wong's “Night into Dawn”

When where: 8 p.m. May 4, Mission Santa Clara, Santa Clara 4 p.m. May 5; Mission Dolores Basilica, San Francisco.

Tickets: $30-$50;

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