By Alfonso C. Hernandez
The Sierra Vocal Arts Ensemble (SVAE) of Porterville, under the direction of Fred Knutson, performed its best European tour concert at the Church of Saint Georges in Augsburg, Germany. Accompanied by a string chamber orchestra, the choir sang Schubert’s Mass in G from the loft of the church as the priest said mass. The Kyrie was thrilling and the Gloria soared in the acoustically perfect nave. The Credo moved some audience members to tears while the Benedictus, the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei, with Joy Semple, Tom Griesbach and Paul Klippenstein as soloists, enchanted everyone.
The choir also sang Mozart’s Verum Corpus during communion, and after the mass the audience exploded in applause for “Ain’t Got Time to Die” with Randy Paquette in top form as soloist. The choir also offered raisins, pistachios and olives as the audience exited. This is one way the SVAE spreads goodwill toward our country. The choir also sang to enthusiastically receptive audiences in Prague and in Darmstadt, Germany.
In the afternoon of the Augsburg concert, Sarah Hedgpeth, a college friend of Knutson, took several from the choir on a tour of Augsburg’s Stadt Theater, where she is part of the opera troupe and she works as the computer services director. As we admired the different areas inside the theater, including the wig department, Hedgpeth answered questions about the theater.
One pertinent question was about finances. The city of Augsburg has 270,000 inhabitants and employs nearly 400 artists—musicians, singers, dancers, actors, directors, painters, set builders, designers, management and office workers—for the purpose of creating a cultural season. The city and the state government provide 24 million euros, supplemented by season subscriptions, ticket sales and some business donations. One member of the tour wondered aloud how much might be the budget for culture for the city of Fresno, which is certainly larger and perhaps richer than the city of Augsburg.
The same evening, my sister Carmen and I saw the last performance of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata at the Brecht Theater, near the Stadt Theater. The introduction consists of short scenes projected on opposite wall screens of a Korean military parade with a young couple commenting on the critical situation of the world and the potentiality of war. The male character looks out of the window and sees an empty street. The female character fearfully calls him to join her.
More scenes of the Korean parade. Then the performance of the play starts with a troupe of young performers who sing, dance and act Aristophanes’ text accompanied by the music of well-known Greek tunes. The message of the play is clarified: no sex until the war stops. As we know, Lysistrata and her women win in this most famous sex war.
By coincidence, the Augsburg newspaper, in the culture section for June 24 to July 7, 2013, published an article about cultural battles in some German cities, including their populations and budgets for culture. Besides Augsburg’s, already cited, I will quote the budgets of only two well-known cities: Munchen, with l,364,000 inhabitants, receives 170 million euros, and Dresden, with 512,000, gets 77.9 million euros.
I just wonder what the Fresno Philharmonic, the different community theaters, the ballet companies, the Fresno Grand Opera and other artistic groups would be able to do with a budget for culture of $100 million from the city of Fresno and the state of California, as is provided for Dresden, a city with an equivalent population.
By contrast, and due to the well-known spirit of volunteerism of the American people, the Visalia Community Players produced a splendid presentation of Rick Lewis’ G.I. Jukebox, directed by Leeni Mitchell. As if they were paid professionals, Chris Brantley, Rebecca Coffey, Jenny Ponce, Darryll Smithey and Donna Williams sang and acted such songs as “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Don’t Fence Me In,” “Dream,” “I’ll Be Seeing You” and many others. They were accompanied by unpaid professionals such as Dennis Mack, music director and accordion; Churchill Cooke, bass; Cindy Jungwirth, piano; and Susi Youngs, drums.
On June 29, at the First Baptist Church in Three Rivers, the Center Stage Strings, directed by Danielle Belen, performed one of the most demanding concerts I have heard this year.
The Allegro from the Piano Trio op. 70, no. 1, by Beethoven; the tres lent and vif et agite from the String Quartet in F Major by Maurice Ravel; and the three movements of the String Quartet op. 95 by Beethoven were impeccably rendered by Elbert Tsai, Newen Kim, Melody Hess, Hao Zhou and Hannah Song, violins; Jacob Braun, Philip Shegog and Iona Batchelder, celli; Sequoyah and Johanna Nowik, violas; and Jennie Jung, piano. After the intermission, Danielle Belen, Elbert Tsai, violins; Sarah Sutton, Lauren Chipman, violas; Jacob Braun and Philip Sheegog, celli, played with intense, magical expression Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence.
The village of Three Rivers has been producing concerts with internationally trained musicians, many studying at or already a part of the faculty of the Colburn School of Music. Many families volunteer their homes and money to maintain the yearly workshop for gifted musicians, enriching the lives of the area’s residents who also love chamber music of the highest quality. In the program, the directors give thanks to the Santa Teresita Youth Conference Center and the St. Anthony Retreat where the students stayed and had some of their meals.
Once again, I repeat my question: What kind of culture would we have in these United States of America if the American people did not have their passion for volunteerism?
Alfonso C. Hernandez is a writer and poet from Three Rivers, Calif. Contact him at email@example.com.