Classical music weekend picks: Quintus and Altissima explore social justice through choral music

This weekend is a terrific one for Fresno-area classical music lovers. I’ll highlight one concert at the top of this roundup: Quintus and Altissima, two of the smaller ensembles under the umbrella of the Fresno Community Chorus. I’ll follow that with information about the Fresno Philharmonic, the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra and the Fresno State Choirs.

Quintus and Altissima

When and where: 5 p.m. Saturday, May 6, St. James Cathedral, 4147 E. Dakota Ave.There will be a $10 donation at the door, with proceeds benefiting the cathedral’s music program.

The Fresno Community Chorus organization is putting the focus on two of its specialty ensembles with a concert titled “Let Justice Flow Like a River.” The program is described as “music of longing, protest, love and inspiration.”

Pictured above: Aaron Burdick and Sherah Moore Burdick lend their talents to Quintus and Altissima.

Quintus is an all-male ensemble, and Altissima is an all-female ensemble. Aaron Burdick, a tenor, and Sherah Moore Burdick, a soprano, are among the two groups of singers. Both are stellar soloists with whom I’ve been impressed with many times. I caught up with them for a quick interview:

Q: The theme of the concert is intriguing. Can you tell me how it came about?


Aaron: As our groups have grown in maturity and in the length of our repertoire list, we realized we have a good amount of social justice pieces. Sherah, in collaboration with Anna Hamre (music director of the Fresno Community Chorus), came up with the idea to put on a concert with that theme. We’ve been involved in music with the Episcopal Church for over a decade and we realized the church is heavily focused on social justice issues, so we decided this is what we’d like to feature in the concert.

Q: What are the songs of protest on the program?

Aaron: “Earth Song” and “Malala” are the primary songs of protest in this program. “Earth Song” is a piece written during a time when we were stuck in the Iraq War. It’s meant to encourage peace and protest against war and violence.

“Malala” is an amazing story of survival and protest against violence to those standing up for others. Malala is a woman who survived three gunshot wounds to the head at the hands of the Taliban because she was an activist for the rights of girls to be educated.

Q: Aaron, of the program overall, what song speaks the most to you?

Aaron: The song that speaks to me most is “I Choose Love.” I don’t sing in this one, but every time I hear it I am immediately drawn in by its calm yet powerful message that we choose what we want to flourish in our world and in our lives.

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Q: Sherah, how about you?

Sherah: “On the Common Ground” because the text speaks about being truly equal with others. No one person is above another. I love that it also invites us all to play together.

Q: Last week I attended the Soli Deo Gloria concert and thought about how beautiful it can be when a choir has just women’s voices. The same goes for all-male ensembles. Do each of you agree? Why do you think that is the case?

Sherah: We agree that having a women’s or men’s group separated can create a truly unique sound. As a listener, you get to experience the awe of one true unison and gentle flowing of intonation since the voices are so close in range along with great strength. This can be very satisfying for both the listener and the singer.

Q: You’re a powerhouse musical couple. When the two of you are just hanging out at home, is there singing involved? (Do you sing about how it’s time to take out the garbage, say?)

Aaron: Ooooooh yes. There’s basically a song for everything and recitative in the middle. Both of our families are very musical, so since we were young, music lived in the house in many more ways than just listening or playing music. There are lots of silly sounds in our house including making our own tone patterns to find each other in the grocery store. The dogs even have their own musical calls we don’t even think about.

Q: Anything else you’d like to say about the concert?

Sherah: Come and enjoy! Take a moment to enjoy the beautiful weather we are having with a premier concert of our joined groups! This is but the first of many concerts we hope to provide for our community.

Fresno Philharmonic

When and where: 3 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Saroyan Theatre.

The idea of “American” classical music is presented in this concert, titled “New Worlds,” by an interesting juxtaposition of two very different pieces. Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”) drew inspiration from Indigenous and African American music.

© Todd Rosenberg Photography

Julian Rhee performs Sunday with the Fresno Philharmonic.

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate’s “Chokfi” expresses his Chickasaw identity through the medium of modern classical music. Placing these two works in dialogue hopefully deepens this fundamental artistic question, according to orchestra publicity.

Finally, there’s a big-name violinist to wow the audience: Julian Rhee, winner of the 2020 Elmar Oliveira International Violin Competition, will play Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.

Fresno State Symphony Orchestra

When and where: 8 p.m. Saturday, May 6, Fresno State Concert Hall.

The Fresno State Symphony Orchestra’s final concert of the season is titled “The Spotlight on the Students.” The program includes the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1 featuring Shayne Baldwin, winner of the 2023 Fresno State Concerto Competition.

There are two world premieres of student compositions. Martinu’s Symphony No. 4 and Respighi’s “Pines of Rome” are on the program. Thomas Loewenheim conducts.

Fresno State Choirs

When and where: 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Fresno State Concert Hall.

Under the direction of Cari Earnhart, the Fresno State Choirs presents a spring choral program.


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.

Comments (1)

  • Jim Mendez

    Don, Thank you for sharing your interview with Sherah and Aaron. It was enlightening to hear how they use their extraordinary voices to sing not only in public but also in private about the mundane in their lives.


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