Arts & Events

Sacred and Profane Presents Holiday Concert

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Thursday December 03, 2009 - 09:10:00 AM

Spain and the New World: A Holiday Concert” will be performed by Sacred and Profane, the Berkeley- and Oakland-based chamber chorus, now in its 32nd season, that specializes in a cappela music of different periods and places, at 8 p.m. Friday night at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Bancroft Way. 

Dr. Rebecca Seeman, a Bay Area native, who studied at UC Santa Cruz and the University of Iowa and now teaches at the University of San Francisco, has led the choir for five years as conductor. 

“Sacred and Profane is an advanced amateur ensemble,” Seeman said, “primar-ily performing a cappela, though we’ve performed more with accompaniment recently. We work with different repertoire, a wide variety ... our name refers to Benjamin Britten’s late choral music, mostly based on medieval lyrics, but also to the diversity in our approach.” 

Seeman spoke about Friday’s concert, which will include choral music both folk and formal, from the Middle Ages to contemporary pieces. “It’s a wide spectrum of the music. The first half features medieval chants and canons, including a three-part canon, and material that encompasses some of the earliest non-polyphony. We’ll also perform works by great Renaissance and Baroque masters, Victoria and Guerrero. And there’s work by Villa-Lobos, whose choral music is popular in Latin America but not so much here. It was part of his music program in Brazil at midcentury. Then we have two pieces by a living composer, [Spanish Basque] Javier Busto, a physician, whose music has become popular in Europe and is making headway here.” 

The second half of the program “will be more folk-oriented, though we’ll do four pieces by Mexican pianist and composer Max Lipschitz, which are much more influenced by European music. We have a piece from Bolivia in the Aymara language, spoken by about a million people in the highlands. It took weeks to find someone to translate it for the program—just last week, in fact. We’re very excited to have gotten our hands on these unpublished pieces.” 

Closing the show will be the Navidad nuestra of Argentinian composer Arieo Ramirez. “It’s in six movements, telling the Nativity story,” Dr. Seeman noted. “Ramirez is best-known for his Missa criolla of the 1960s. He incorporates Argentinian rhythms and dances. We’re accompanied by the Venezuelian ensemble V-Note, who do a beautiful job. The program spans the gamut!” 

On the range of music, from medieval to modern and contemporary, Dr. Seeman said, “It’s definitely a risk-taking group. I want to get them to sing well in a variety of styles, from Renaissance to 20th century, with difficult tonality, to try to get a cross-current.” 

Dr. Seeman remarked how Sacred and Profane “focuses on programming diversity in subject matter. We want to make it exciting but educative. Not the potpourri approach, of unrelated snippets with a little poetic theme, but programming that’s musical, substantive. I often feel some choirs program down to their audiences, but people like to feel involved, people like to be challenged.” 



Presented by Sacred and Profane at 8 p. m. Friday at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 2300 Bancroft Way. $15-$20.