With ‘Raising the Glass Curtain,’ Fresno Master Chorale salutes women composers

Anna Hamre has conducted a lot of choral concerts in her career, and it’s safe to say that the majority of the composers featured on her programs — the vast majority, thanks to that good old Western canon — have been men.

Until now.

In “Raising the Glass Curtain” (2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 23, Shaghoian Hall), Hamre is ecstatic to be able to offer a lineup of all-women composers.

“I’m very excited,” she says about the Fresno Master Chorale concert.

Here’s a rundown:

The planning: Hamre, the artistic director of the ensemble, put a lot of thought into the lineup, and it was a heavy lift. The challenge wasn’t because of lack of choral pieces written by women. “There really are lots of wonderful pieces by women composers,” she says. “The big challenge is finding variety, finding things that appeal to contemporary audiences.”


The program: The pieces span from the 12th century to present day, starting with the medieval chants of Hildegard of Bingen. The classical period is represented by Marianna Martines’ “Dixit Dominus.” Fresno Master Chorale’s ensemble choir Coro Piccolo will sing excerpts from Margaret Bonds’ “Credo” with text by W.E.B. Du Bois.

The main event: The first live performance of “A Hundred Years of a Thousand Tries,” by composer Joungmin Sur and lyricist Glady Ruiz, will be a highlight. The piece was commissioned by the League of Women Voters, Fresno Arts Council, and Fresno County Office of Education to mark the 100th  anniversary of women’s suffrage. The premiere presentation came in 2022 in the form of a 12-minute video made during the pandemic. (You can read my previous coverage here.)

The “live” factor: The last time Hamre conducted “A Hundred Years,” she was standing in her mountain backyard holding her naughty cat while waving her baton to the recorded Midi track. “Now I get the chance to do it in person,” she says.

The soloists: They include Katharine McGregor, Anne McGrath, Sherah Moore Burdick, Holly Jamison, Aaron Burdick, and Joe Camaquin-Vigil.

The art exhibition: To set the tone for the concert, the Shaghoian Hall lobby features a photo exhibition titled “100 Notable Women.” Most of the photographs were taken by Howard Watkins. Francine Farber of the League of Women Voters says: “The exhibition features powerful local women of the past and present, many of whom broke that glass ceiling in their brave and groundbreaking work in law, the arts, education medicine, etc.” Among the women depicted are Irma Olguin Jr, founder of Bitwise Industries; Dr. Carole Goldsmith, newly appointed chancellor of the State Center Community College District; Juanita Stevenson, reporter, anchor and producer; Lilia Chavez, executive director of the Fresno Arts Council; Mary Curry, community activist; and Ashley Swearengin, CEO of Central Valley Community Foundation and second woman mayor of Fresno. The exhibition was shown at the Fresno Art Museum during a short “break” in the pandemic, and also at Fresno State in the Main Library.

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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