The Lafayette Community Foundation (LCF) has awarded an Excellence Grant of $2,500 that enables the local women’s chorus WomenSing to expand artistic programming in Lafayette. The Foundation invests in programs and projects that enhance the civic, cultural, educational and environmental health of the city. Its grant to WomenSing makes possible a weekend of free public performances, giving local audiences an insider’s view of a composer’s creative process and the ways that choral singers respond to challenging new music. Three local choruses will participate including WomenSing.

LCF Grant Award

Teresa Gerringer, LCF President presents LCF grant to WS Board President Ann Dzuna and members of the YIY-CEC committee. From left: Teresa Caldwell (Lafayette), Teresa Gerringer, Rachel Eidbo, Patti Sax (Lafayette), Amy Hiestand (Orinda), Ann Dzuna (Moraga), Patty Murray (Orinda).

Founded in 1965, WomenSing, is an award-winning chorus of nearly 50 women from the Lamorinda and East Bay areas. Its signature project is Youth Inspiring Youth – Commissioning Emerging Composers. Young California composers (ages 18-30) compete for paid commissions to create new choral works for the chorus. The texts are provided by award-winning children’s poetry from the River of Words Project of the Center for Environmental Literacy at St. Mary’s College in Moraga.

According to WomenSing Artistic Director, Dr. Martin Benvenuto, “Youth Inspiring Youth has already given birth to nine remarkable choral compositions by young California composers. With this generous grant, we can expand our workshops and performances in ways that give the public additional insight into the exciting challenges of performing new music.”

The winning composers for the current year are Chris Castro and Jordan Nelson. Chris Castro is a graduate student in composition at UC Davis. He earned a B.M. from the Juilliard School where his award-winning composition, Monolith (A Symphonic Sketch) was premiered by the Juilliard Orchestra. For his commission, he has chosen a powerful poem entitled Poseidon’s Steeds written by Allegra Hyde when she was 14. Allegra is now pursuing an MFA at Arizona State, while actively writing poetry and short stories.

Jordan Nelson teaches music theory at Colburn Conservatory of Music and is working towards his D.M.A. in Composition at USC. His accomplishments range from orchestral works to chamber music for both acoustic and electro-acoustic ensembles. Jordan selected a set of ten haiku-like mini-poems entitled Ten Ways of Looking at the Sun, written by Sophie Anderson, age 13 at the time. Sophie, now a cellist living in Seattle, is very excited about having her poetry set to music.

With support from the foundation grant, WomenSing will launch its first Treble Voices Now Festival. This weekend of free public performances and workshops takes place in Lafayette on April 11-12. The name of the new festival establishes its emphasis on upper-voiced choruses and challenging contemporary music.

Activities lead off with a workshop performance of the two Youth Inspiring Youth compositions in progress. The composers worked with American composer Libby Larson to develop their work. At the workshop, they will continue this exploration with Dr. Benvenuto, joined by Cristian Grases, a conductor, composer and choral music professor at USC.

On Saturday morning Grases, Benvenuto and the two young composers will apply the same analytical and fine-tuning approach in clinics with the Lafayette Acalanes High School’s Bella Voce ensemble and the Contra Costa Children’s Chorus Advanced Performing Chorus. These choruses will focus on challenging contemporary works from their own repertoires.

The Festival closes with a free concert on Saturday afternoon featuring all three choruses showcasing their accomplishments in contemporary music and highlighting a preview of the two new Youth Inspiring Youth compositions. All activities will take place at the Lafayette Orinda Presbyterian Church.

Those curious to learn how this period of intense mentoring and critique affected the two new Youth Inspiring Youth compositions can attend their world premieres at the WomenSing Spring Concerts in Lafayette. The concerts will take place on June 1 and June 3 at the Lafayette Orinda Presbyterian Church.