San Francisco Girls Chorus Announces New Artistic Leadership



San Francisco, February 12, 2013 – The Board of Directors of the five-time Grammy Award-winning San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC) has announced its new artistic leadership. Composer-vocalist, long-time member of the Philip Glass Ensemble, seasoned choral music veteran and SFGC alumna Lisa Bielawa has been named Artistic Director, and Valerie Sainte-Agathe, former Musical Director for the Junior Opera and Young Singers program of the Montpellier National Symphony and Opera in Montpellier, France, will serve as Music Director and Principal Conductor. Bielawa will oversee the artistic vision and programming of the Chorus, forge compelling partnerships with other organizations and artists, engage audiences and uphold the highest standards of excellence and innovation for the 35-year-old Chorus. She will hold the primary responsibility for long-range artistic planning and programming for specific performances, collaborations, tours and recordings for Chorissima, the premier performing ensemble of the San Francisco Girls Chorus. Sainte-Agathe will conduct performances of Chorissima, develop the overall musicianship of its young artists focusing on vocal technique, music theory and history, as well as teaching and preparing repertoire for performances. She will work collaboratively with Ms. Bielawa in planning concerts, collaborations, tours and recordings for Chorissima. Bielawa will divide her time between New York and San Francisco. These appointments culminate a year-long search and a multi-year strategic planning process. For more information about the San Francisco Girls Chorus, visit

Natasha Hoehn, Chairman of the San Francisco Girls Chorus Board of Directors and SFGC alumna said, “We are pleased and honored to welcome Lisa Bielawa and Valerie Sainte-Agathe to the San Francisco Girls Chorus. Their roles, experience, dedication and energy perfectly match our vision and goals to be an outstanding performing ensemble made possible by a unique and rigorous choral training program pursuing collaborations, commissions with prominent artists and ensembles and creating opportunities for touring, recording and other projects. 

“It is very exciting to have an illustrious Girls Chorus alumna as our new Artistic Director, affirming our 35-year history of excellence in musical training and performance and Lisa’s innovative, high-energy collaborative vision is perfectly suited to the Girls Chorus. Valerie Sainte-Agathe brings the highest standards of musicianship and a wealth of experience with young performers, musical organizations and educational programs in the US and abroad. The model of an Artistic Director and Music Director is a forward-looking one for a choral organization, but one with many successful precedents in the opera and orchestra worlds and it is well-suited to the Girls Chorus.”

Bielawa says about her new role: “In addition to composing, and touring and performing as a vocalist, I have always looked for ways to create musical community, both through specific projects and by working within organizations. Now that the MATA Festival is thriving under the leadership of a new generation of young composer directors, and now that my tenure as composer-in-residence with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project has ended, I am delighted to begin a new relationship with an organization that has been part of my musical life from the very beginning. For me it is a new vehicle for advocacy - of vital music-making; of community among audiences and music-lovers; and of young women in the music field.”

Sainte-Agathe says, "I am delighted to conduct the renowned San Francisco Girls Chorus. In my years of conducting and teaching young singers in France, I have greatly enjoyed preparing talented young musicians for opera and choral performances and I am eager to begin working with such a highly accomplished ensemble as the Girls Chorus."

About Artistic Director Lisa Bielawa

Composer-vocalist Lisa Bielawa is a 2009 Rome Prize winner in Musical Composition. Born in San Francisco into a musical family, Bielawa played the violin and piano, sang, and wrote music from early childhood. She moved to New York two weeks after receiving her B.A. in Literature in 1990 from Yale University, and became an active participant in New York musical life. She began touring with the Philip Glass Ensemble in 1992, and in 1997 co-founded the MATA Festival, of which she served as Artistic Director until 2006, curating an annual music festival in New York that celebrates young composers from around the world. She also served as composer-in-residence with BMOP from 2006-09, leading talks, creating partnerships, and founding the Score Board, a Boston-based composers collective. 

As a choral and small-ensemble vocalist, Bielawa has toured and recorded with the renowned early music group Pomerium, sung in the professional chorus of the New York Philharmonic under the baton of most of the major conductors of our time, and with Paul McCartney at Carnegie Hall. As a solo vocalist she has performed in numerous composer-led projects, including John Zorn's Shir Ha-shirim with Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed, with Toby Twining in multiple appearances of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, and in her ongoing role as the vocalist with the Philip Glass Ensemble since 1992. 

As a leader of vocal groups, Bielawa is the choirmaster for the current touring production of Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's Einstein on the Beach. She assisted Paul Simon with the development of his Broadway musical Capeman, including the preparation of vocalists and children’s choruses, and she has conducted the UC San Diego choir and chamber singers.

As a composer of choral music, Lisa Bielawa is a winner of the Dale Warland national competition, and the 1998 Morton Gould ASCAP Young Composers Award for her piece Spinning Flax, commissioned by the San Francisco Girls Chorus. Her spring 2013 season includes New York performances of her major choral work Lamentations for a City by Cantori New York, and the world premiere of Such Another Sleep, for the 50-voice Academic Male Voice Choir of Helsinki with the composer as vocal soloist. 

In her own music, Lisa Bielawa takes inspiration from literary sources and close artistic collaborations. Bielawa’s music is frequently performed throughout the US, and in France, Italy, the UK and Rome. Recent highlights include the premieres of Rondolette by the string quartet Brooklyn Rider and pianist Bruce Levingston; Double Duet by the Washington Saxophone Quartet (with subsequent performance by the Prism Saxophone Quartet); Graffiti dell’amante performed by Bielawa with the Chicago Chamber Musicians in Chicago, and with Brooklyn Rider in New York, Harrisburg, and Rome; The Project of Collecting Clouds at Town Hall in Seattle by cellist Joshua Roman and chamber ensemble; the world premieres of Double Violin Concerto and In medias res by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), part of Bielawa’s three-year Music Alive residency with that orchestra; the premiere of The Right Weather by the American Composers Orchestra and pianist Andrew Armstrong at Carnegie Hall; and the premiere of The Lay of the Love and Death at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. Bielawa’s work, Chance Encounter, a piece comprising songs and arias constructed of speech overheard in transient public spaces, has been performed by soprano Susan Narucki and The Knights in Seward Park in Lower Manhattan and at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, in Vancouver, on the banks of the Tiber River in Italy, as part of the opening of the celebrated new MAXXI Museum in Rome, and in Venice.

Bielawa is currently at work on Airfield Broadcasts, two massive 60-minute works for more than 600 musicians which will be premiered on the tarmac of the former Tempelhof Airport in Berlin (Tempelhof Broadcast, May 2013) and at Crissy Field in San Francisco (Crissy Broadcast, October 2013). Bielawa will turn the former airfields into vast musical canvases, as professional, amateur and student musicians execute a spatialized symphony.

Other upcoming premieres include a Radio France commission for Ensemble Variances – the new 15-minute work will be performed in Paris, Rouen, Metz and Montreal as part of a program called Cri Selon Cri or “Cry by Cry” which explores the idea that the cry is a primary sound shared by animals and humans from all cultures of the world. In addition, Bielawa will compose a piece for the 50-member Finnish male choir Akademiska Sångföreningen on a text from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Both new works will feature Bielawa as the vocal soloist.

Bielawa’s discography includes A Handful of World (Tzadik); The Trojan Women on a disc entitled First Takes (TROY); Hildegurls: Electric Ordo Virtutum, (Innova); The Trojan Women in a version for string quartet performed by the Miami on The NYFA Collection (Innova); In medias res (BMOP/sound), a double-disc set of Bielawa’s solo and orchestral works; the world premiere recording of Chance Encounter (Orange Mountain Music), and Elegy-Portrait on pianist Bruce Levingston’s 2011 album, Heart Shadow (Sono Luminus). For more information, please visit

About Music Director and Principal Conductor Valerie Sainte-Agathe

Valerie Sainte-Agathe served as Musical Director for the Junior Opera and Young Singers program of the Montpellier National Symphony and Opera in Montpellier, France from 1998 through 2011. In this capacity she trained young singers for opera and symphony concerts and productions, and also prepared choruses for the International Radio France Festival. From 1996-1998 she served as pianist for the Montpellier National Orchestra and Opera. Prior to that, she served as rehearsal pianist and vocal coach for the Fort Collins Opera in Colorado. 

A native of Martinique, Ms. Sainte-Agathe received her Bachelor of Music degree in Choral Conducting from Universite Paul Valery in Montpellier, and her Diplome d’Etudes Musicales in Piano, Chamber Music and Theory from the Montpellier Conservatory. She holds a Master’s Degree in Management from the University of Montpellier, and has also studied Piano Performance at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

About the San Francisco Girls Chorus

For nearly 35 years, the thrilling sounds of the extraordinarily gifted young women of the San Francisco Girls Chorus have captured the attention and fired the imaginations of audiences worldwide. Following a phenomenal 30th anniversary season that included featured performances at the Inauguration of President Barack Obama, a New York debut at Lincoln Center and unprecedented ticket sales, the San Francisco Girls Chorus has furthered its status as an internationally celebrated professional choral ensemble. In 2010, the ensemble won its fourth and fifth Grammy Awards for Mahler’s Eighth Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony.

The 30-40 members of the professional-level ensemble are 12-16 years old and come from all over the Bay Area. Each singer represents as much as a decade of musical training and performance experience. Audience members and critics have come to expect a soaring, exquisite sound, remarkable versatility and concerts of great beauty and depth.

Each year, dedicated young artists present season concerts, tour nationally or internationally, and appear with respected sponsoring organizations, including San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera. The Chorus has been honored to sing at many prestigious national and international venues, including the World Choral Symposium in Kyoto, Japan, in 2005. In March 2006 the Chorus was featured at the American Choral Directors Association Western Division Convention in Salt Lake City, and in 2007 the Chorus toured to China and South Korea.

Known as a leader in its field, the San Francisco Girls Chorus was honored in 2001 as the first youth chorus to win the prestigious “Margaret Hillis Award” given annually by Chorus America to a chorus that demonstrates artistic excellence, a strong organizational structure, and a commitment to education. Other awards include three ASCAP awards for Adventurous Programming in 2001, 2004 and 2011.

The San Francisco Girls Chorus has produced CD recordings including Heaven and Earth, a two-disc set that represents some of the greatest sacred and secular repertoire ever written for treble voices; Voices of Hope and Peace, which includes many SFGC commissions; Christmas, a collection of diverse holiday selections; Crossroads, a compilation of world folk music; and Music from the Venetian Ospedali, a disc of Italian Baroque music. The San Francisco Girls Chorus can also be heard on several San Francisco Symphony recordings. Highly regarded for collaboration, the Girls Chorus has participated in joint projects with composers Luciana Souza, Rollo Dilworth and others, and choreographers and directors including Brenda Way, Joe Goode and Stephen Petronio.

For more information about the San Francisco Girls Chorus, its School, programs and performances, visit .

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