These Symphony-commissioned feature articles offer insights into the music you’ll hear in the concert hall.

Nov 20, 2019

Meet The SFS Musicians: San Francisco Symphony Chorus

San Francisco Symphony Chorus

Founded: 1973

The San Francisco Symphony Chorus is a source of pride and musical inspiration for the entire Bay Area. One of a handful of choirs worldwide devoted solely to a particular orchestra, the Chorus gives more than two dozen performances each season, bringing everything from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to A Charlie Brown Christmas—Live! to glorious musical life.  

With 150-plus singers, including thirty-two professional members (who are part of the American Guild of Musical Artists [AGMA]) and 120 volunteers, the SFS Chorus is home to an interesting mix of musical passions and day jobs in fast-paced San Francisco. High-end Japanese restaurant, renowned music school, hot tech company, powerful accounting firm: they all help singers keep body and musical soul together.

Clearly, singing with the SFS Chorus is intensely meaningful for all the singers, not least thanks to the warm response they generate, both onstage and off. AGMA tenor Seth Brenzel says, “When I meet people who’ve been to a particular concert, they’ll say ‘oh, you were in that? I loved it!’” Willie Alexander is a volunteer tenor. “It can be a huge culture shock when people meet me [he’s Mexican and African American] and find out I sing classical music and opera. I feel like I’m opening up a new world for everyone.” “It’s an incredible opportunity to be in a world-renowned musical organization,” says Chris Cheng, a volunteer bass. Summing up, AGMA alto Silvie Jensen says, “It’s kind of amazing to be involved in such a range of musical experiences in one place. I feel really honored and lucky to be able to do it.”

What makes them so good? The singers rave about director, Ragnar Bohlin’s uncanny musical ear, attention to detail, and sense of humor that can make even the most challenging rehearsal a pleasure.

With so many performances, how do the singers keep things fresh? Brenzel admits that can be a challenge. “[Former Chorus Director] Vance George used to tell us: ‘You may be performing a work that you’ve done a lot. But it might be the first time hearing the piece for someone in the audience.’ In other words, you can’t just phone it in. It’s really important to bring your best every time!”

The SFS Chorus and Ragnar Bohlin perform J.S. Bach’s Saint John Passion March 30.

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