I have been the music director for Perfect Fifth since Fall 2014. Perfect Fifth is a small student a cappella choir specializing in the music of the Renaissance, but our repertoire ranges from the beginnings of western polyphonic music in the Middle Ages all the way to contemporary art music. While it previously relied on directorial support from the University of California Choral Ensembles (ably provided by Mark Sumner), under my tenure Perfect Fifth has shifted to being fully self-run. This independence has only aided our ability to offer eclectic and inspired concerts across the Bay Area. And we continue to collaborate extensively, routinely performing with ensembles from the Berkeley Music Department, the UC Alumni Chorus, and, in 2017, Cappella SF.

Though Perfect Fifth is a small group of 8 to 16 singers, I have enjoyed pushing us to our limits by taking on some true titans of the repertoire: Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil in Fall 2016, Howells' Requiem in Spring 2017 (alongside Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices and Ockeghem’s Missa L’homme armé), and both Tallis' and Victoria’s Lamentations of Jeremiah in Spring 2018. But beyond these obvious great works, I have also endeavored to explore lesser known pieces. These have included selections from Opelo, a Serbian Orthodox Requiem by Stevan Hristić which, while important to the development of Serbian sacred music, is rarely heard here; Dios itlaçonantzine, a piece from the 1500s in Nahuatl which, while traditionally attributed to Hernando Franco, is now thought to be the work of an indigenous Nahua composer; and a wide variety of modern art music including works by Ted Hearne and Shulamit Ran.

This eclectic repertoire has been one of my great joys in directing Perfect Fifth; in programming, my aim is often to work these juxtapositions to their greatest possible effect. The point is to assemble concerts which are in dialog with themselves and thereby to show the audience something, not only through the music itself, but through its context. It is impossible to know whether an audience comes to a performance with a long history of knowledge, or if this will be the only choral music they hear all year, and I hope, in my programming, to try and provide for both extremes. The video below, of our Spring 2015 concert, is an example of this philosophy, and also of what Perfect Fifth has accomplished more generally. The centerpiece of this concert was a kind of Frankenstein mass: a full choral mass assembled from individual movements by composers ranging from Palestrina to Stravinsky, showing the incredible diversity in approaches to some of the central texts in the Western choral canon.

© 2020 Steven Lauterwasser

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