Volti’s professional vocalists, under the direction of founder and Artistic Director Robert Geary, are dedicated to the discovery, creation, and performance of new vocal music. The ensemble’s mission is to foster and showcase contemporary American music and composers, and to introduce contemporary vocal music from around the world to local audiences.
In the fall of 1979, Robert Geary established The San Francisco Chamber Singers, opening that first season with an all-Bach program. Quickly favoring the music of Benjamin Britten, the choir soon began to sharpen its focus on today’s music, and by the 1990s was focusing almost exclusively on premieres and commissions by living composers from the U.S. and abroad. (To learn more about our commissions, premieres, and other repertoire from recent seasons, click here.)
2003-04 marked the choir’s 25th Anniversary, and the ensemble celebrated with concerts featuring eight commissioned world premieres, as part of a season dedicated to American music. And, after 25 years, the choir adopted a new name – Volti – meant to evoke the energy, vigor, and forward-looking spirit the group is known for (taken from the Italian, volti means “turn”; used in music, it’s normally used in the construction volti subito, which directs musicians to “turn quickly” or “look ahead”).
Volti is esteemed for its commitment to and excellence in performing works by contemporary composers, particularly American composers. With over 500 performances to its credit, the group has become one of America’s renowned professional choirs. The ensemble has performed at music festivals in the U.S. and abroad to remarkable critical acclaim, always performing new works by American composers as representative of the artistic excellence and spirit of its home.
In addition to touring in the United States and Germany, the group was for many years the Choir in Residence of the Newport Music Festival in Rhode Island. Volti’s performances have been broadcast in the Bay Area on KALW, KQED, KKHI, KDFC, and KUSF; nationally on Monitor Radio, Voice of America, and National Public Radio; and internationally on American Armed Forces Radio and Swiss International Radio.
Volti has collaborated with many distinguished theatrical and musical organizations, both on stage and in recording. Partners have included George Coates Performance Works, Earplay, SF Contemporary Music Players, the Berkeley Symphony, the Oakland Symphony, San Francisco Sinfonietta, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, the Russian National Orchestra and others. Volti’s many collaborations with George Coates Performance Works in avant-garde multi-media performance art works include the premiere productions of 20/20 Blake in São Paulo, Brazil and San Francisco.
Throughout its history, Volti has been a vehicle for contemporary composers, and is proud to have had Mark Winges as its Resident Composer/Advisor since 1990. ASCAP has recognized Volti an unprecedented six times with its annual Award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music, most recently in 2009. Recent season premiere highlights include the commission and premiere of works by Pulitzer Prize winner Wayne Peterson (Two Poems of Delmore Schwartz), Mark Winges (The Assembling Landscape, Luna, Nova Luna and Canticles of Rumi), Paul Chihara (Minidoka (Reveries Of…)), Kirke Mechem (American Trio), Alan Fletcher (Two Yeats Choruses), Donald Crockett (Daglarym / My Mountains), Yu-Hui Chang (Being: Two Collins Songs), Tamar Diesendruck (Other Floods), Tom Flaherty (Delusional Paths), Kui Dong (Painted Lights), Ted Hearne (Privilege) and Elliott Gyger (Dancing in the Wind and voice (and nothing more)). In the last two seasons, the choir commissioned and premiered works by Stacy Garrop, Mark Winges, John Muehleisen, Ken Ueno, Francisco Cortés-Álvarez, Armando Bayolo, Harold Meltzer and Dan Visconti. In April 2013 Volti partnered with the San Francisco Choral Society, the Leah Stein Dance Company and the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir to present the West Coast premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang’s monumental “battle hymns.”
In 2003-04, Volti inaugurated the Choral Arts Laboratory, a program for young American composers. Those selected have the opportunity to work with Volti’s professional vocalists as they prepare one of their works for performance. The composer selected for the current season is Melissa Dunphy, whose work will be premiered in the spring of 2014.
In addition to the commissions and premieres of the concert season, Volti continues its commitment to education by producing the annual Choral Institute for High School Singers. This innovative program, developed by Robert Geary, provides concentrated training and performance opportunities for multiple choirs numbering up to 150 students over the course of an intensive weekend schedule. Volti’s professional singers serve as the resident choir and faculty and, along with Bob, lead rehearsals and teach voice lessons, classes, and seminars. These sessions are designed to give a focused and concentrated training experience to high school singers in an atmosphere that encourages, inspires and supports emotional and intellectual growth in a highly structured and creative musical environment.