Arts Listings

Voci Women’s Ensemble: Voices in Peace

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:48:00 AM
Voci Women's Ensemble.
Voci Women's Ensemble.

Voci Women’s Vocal Ensemble, directed by Jude Navari, with guest organist Matthew Walsh, will perform The Greenest Branch: Medieval, Romantic and Twentieth-Century Music on a Marian Theme, the ninth annual show in their Voices in Peace series, at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley in Kensington.  

The program was inspired by Hildegard von Bingen, the 12th-century “composer, writer, healer and mystic” (who also created an alternative alphabet) and her concept Viriditas, “Greening Power.” The performance will feature Francis Poulenc’s Litanies to the Black Virgin, Emma Lou Diemer’s Hail, O Greenest Branch, and masses by Benjamin Britten and Josef Rheinberger, even though it is billed as “mostly Medieval Marian music—chant, conductus, English carols and French chansons—and its 20th century offshoots.”  

Other medieval composers of music on the program include Guillaume de Machaut and Baude Cordier. Other moderns are Johannes Brahms, Gabriel Fauré, Drew Collins, Rebecca Clarke, Maurice Duruflé. 

Hildegard, a Benedictine abbess in the Rhineland, was an autodidact and ecstatic mystic poet who believed viriditas to be a green life force from which God created heaven and earth. “There is a power in eternity, and it is green.” As the greenest plants are the most healing and the emerald has special powers due to its perfect greenness, Hildegard believed the earth releases its life-giving force to humanity as viriditas, the counterpoint to melancholy and aridity. Abstractly, human flesh and blood are therefore green, especially when sex and fecundity are involved, so Mary is “the greenest branch.” 

Hildegard’s music has been analyzed by scholars for its relation to female physiology. 

The Medieval vocal form conductus (“to escort”)—an example of which, “Gedeonis Area” (Gideon’s Courtyard), opens the program, followed by Hildegard’s and Diemer’s “O Greenest Branch”—is a sacred but nonliturgical style: rhythmic, note-against-note, with the voices singing together in discant, probably accompanying the bearing of the lectionary to where it would be read. Originating in the South of France in the mid-12th century, it became identified with the School of Notre Dame de Paris in the 13th century, with music mostly anonymous, though some of the Latin lyrics have been attributed to poets (“Gedeonis Area” is from a poem by Phillippe le Chancelier). 

Voci, founded in 1991, is a nonprofit 24-voice chorus, which champions music by and for women (and commissions new compositions, especially from Bay Area composers). Its members include women of all ages and from all walks of life. Voci’s community involvement has included benefits, notably for the Oakland-Berkeley firestorm victims in 1991. 

Jude Navari has directed Voci for 11 years. He has worked with and conducted the Berkeley Opera and chorus, directed the vocal ensemble for the West Coast premiere of Philip Glass’ The Photographer at the 2001 Cabrillo Festival, and has worked with the Berkeley New Music Project. He holds a Ph.D. in composition from UC Berkeley, where he studied with Marika Kuzma and Jung Ho Park. 


Voci Women’s Vocal Ensemble, with guest organist Matthew Walsh. Mostly medieval marian music with Romantic and 20th-century offshoots. 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19 at Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, 1 Lawson Rd., Kensington. $17-$20, children under 12 free. 531-8714.