Winter's Gifts in Palo Alto, 2017

Winter’s Gifts concert reflects on family ties

By ANNE GELHAUS | December 13, 2017 at 12:13 pm A poem written for a friend’s wedding and a piece composed for an interfaith Thanksgiving service are among the works in this year’s Winter’s…

December 13, 2017 at 12:13 pm

A poem written for a friend’s wedding and a piece composed for an interfaith Thanksgiving service are among the works in this year’s Winter’s Gifts concert, the 14th annual holiday collaboration between the San Jose Chamber Orchestra and the Choral Project.

Both works touch on the concept of family, a theme that resonates with the directors of both groups.

“The theme ‘family’ was chosen as in these unusual times, we feel that it is important to hold up all types of family, whether created by birth or by choice, and to honor the concept of the peaceful global family,” says Barbara Day Turner, the chamber orchestra’s music director.

“The Vivace Youth Chorus is joining us (for Winter’s Gifts) to round out our musical family,” Turner adds, “and the closing work, ‘We Are One,’ was written several years ago by San Jose-born composer Michael Touchi for the Saratoga Interfaith Thanksgiving service and encompasses the endurance of global family ties.”

The youthful singers of Vivace, ages 12-17, are joining the more experienced voices in the Choral Project for “We Human Hearts,” a piece by Choral Project artistic director Daniel Hughes based on a poem he wrote for the wedding of a former choir member.

“As I began working on it, the piece evolved into a larger concept of what it means to be part of a family—both immediate as well as global—and how we often ‘choose’ our family as we move through life,” Hughes says. “The text addresses the need to hold fast to those we love deeply in order to move forward during times of strife and sorrow.

“It doesn’t tell a story so much as remind the listener that we are all part of something greater,” Hughes adds. “The most divine experiences are almost always those that we share.”

This is Vivace’s first time singing in a Winter’s Gifts concert, and director Peggy Spool says the shared experience has been a good one for her chorus.

“It is a real privilege to work with an ensemble of this caliber, and takes our singers to a new level of performance,” Spool adds. “Singing music that is scored for a larger ensemble gives them a different kind of musical experience than they have in their own choir. Of course, the adult singers are role models for our up-and-coming choral singers. It’s inspiring to think that they may be in a high-level ensemble as adults themselves.”

The two choirs play off each other in “We Human Hearts.”

“In the opening and closing of the work,” Hughes says, “the sopranos and altos of the youth choir are given certain melodic fragments but allowed to sing them independently in tempo of each other. The effect is an other-worldly murmur of color, texture and harmony. The adult choir sings the poem against this aleotory of the youth choir, sometimes in lyric melodic lines and sometimes in close clusters of sound.

“The singers’ roles change in the middle of the work, with the adult choir sustaining single pitches—almost as if they become instruments in the orchestra—while the youth choir sings the poem.”

Besides keeping with the family theme, Hughes’ work reflects the impetus behind staging the Winter’s Gifts concerts.

“I think it was the second or third year that we moved toward both having a theme and creating a slightly different concert experience,” Turner recalls. “We wanted to have a more integrated concept than music-applause-music-applause. We now try to create three or four ‘sets’ where the pieces flow into each other.

“Having a theme helps create a more cohesive musical expression,” she adds. “A feeling of peace, joy and deep satisfaction is what we try to achieve.”

The San Jose Chamber Orchestra and the Choral Project will present Winter’s Gifts, with special guests Vivace Youth Chorus and vocalist Juanita Harris, Saturday, Dec. 16, at 8 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church, 1140 Cowper St., Palo Alto, and Sunday, Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. at Mission Santa Clara, 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara. Tickets are $10-$35 at