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Program for Young Women’s Chorus of San Francisco

Friday, December 9, 2022 at 8 pm

download a copy of this program here.
download a copy of the song texts here.

Carols by Candlelight
Young Women’s Chorus of San Francisco

Martín Benvenuto, conductor
Sian Wittke, choral assistant

Margaret Halbig, piano & organ
Emil Miland, cello
Charles Keagle, saxophone



Eve & Austrina (b. 1976)
Laudamus in Domine
            Kalpana Narlikar, soloist
            Margaret Halbig, tambourine
            Sian Wittke, conductor

Pau Casals (1876–1973)
Nigra Sum



Isabella Leonarda (1620–1704)
Ave Regina Caelorum
            Catherine Ong and Sasha Feldman, duet
            Emil Miland, cello
            Margaret Halbig, organ
            Sian Wittke, conductor

Joan Szymko (b. 1957)
Ave Maria



English traditional, arr. David Willcocks
The First Nowell

Verse 1 – everyone
The first Nowell the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep;
Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,
Born is the King of Israel!

Verse 2- Chorus only
They looked up and saw a star,
Shining in the east, beyond them far;
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night:
Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell
Born is the King of Israel.

Verse 3 – Everyone:
And by the light of that same star,
Three wise men came from country far;
To seek for a king was their intent,
And to follow the star wherever it went:
Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,
Born is the King of Israel!

Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847), arr. David Willcocks
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled:
Joyful all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies,
With th’angelic host proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem.
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King.

Christ, by highest heav’n adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Late in time behold him come
Offspring of a virgin’s womb:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see:
Hail, th’incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King.

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Ris’n with healing in his wings;
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King.

Shawn Kirchner (b. 1970)
selections from The Light of Hope Returning
                        Charles Keagle, saxophone; Emil Miland, cello
            Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
            Rocking Carol
                        Audrey Roomian and Lily Galante, soloists

Angels We Have Heard on High
            Holy World
                        Chloe Faison, soloist

Children, Go Where I Send Thee

Franz Grüber (1787–1863), arr. John Rutter
Stille Nacht

About the music


Eve & Austrina (b. 1976) Laudamus in Domine
The buoyant Laudamus in Domine is by Latvian composers Eve & Austrina, two sisters who are music teachers in Riga who have numerous works for treble choir in their catalogues. The festive a cappella SSAA chorus is accompanied by tambourine.

Pau Casals (1876–1973) Nigra Sum
Much of the choral music Pau Casals composed was a product of a life-long relationship with the Benedictine Abbey at Montserrat, home to one of the oldest choir schools in Europe and destination of pilgrimages to the Black Madonna (12th century old wooden image of the Virgin Mary) for many centuries. Originally, Casals composed the masterpiece Nigra Sum in 1942 for men’s voices and then adapted it in 1966 for treble voices. Based on the romance of King Solomon and a Shulamite woman, it is filled with mystery, impressionistic splendor, and great joy.


Nigra sum sed Formosa,
filiae Jerusalem
Ideo dilexit me Rex,
et introduxit me in cubiculum suum.

Et dixit mihi: surge et veni amica mea,
jam hiems transiit, imber abiit et recessit.
Flores apparuerunt in terra nostra,
tempus putationis advenit. Alleluia!


I am dark-skinned but comely,
daughters of Jerusalem,
Therefore the King loved me,
and brought me into his chamber.

And he said to me: arise my love and come:
for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
The flowers have appeared in our land,
the time of pruning is come. Alleluia!


Isabella Leonarda (1620–1704)
Ave Regina Caelorum
Isabella Leonarda was one of the most prolific woman composers of 17th-century Italy, publishing 20 volumes of music during her lifetime including the first known sonatas written by a woman. Her setting of the Marian antiphon Ave Regina Caelorum has a lilting feeling of devotion of the feminine.


Ave, Regina Caelorum
Ave, Domina Angelorum
Salve radix, salve porta,
Ex qua mundo lux est orta
Gaude, Virgo gloriosa,
Super omnes speciosa,
Vale, o valde decora
Et pro nobis Christum exora.


Hail Queen of Heaven!
Hail, Mistress of Angels!
Hail, root, hail, portal
For which the Light of the world has risen.
Rejoice, glorious Virgin,
Beautiful above all others.
Farewell, most gracious,
And pray for us to Christ.

Joan Szymko (b. 1957) Ave Maria
Ave Maria by American composer Joan Szymko is a mix of chant, harmony, and chiseled counterpoint. Says Szymko: “I grew up praying the Rosary aloud with my family every evening during particular liturgical seasons as well as during the Marian months of May and October. My parents’ strong devotion to Mary inspired this setting of the which I composed as a gift honoring my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.”


Ave Maria, gratia plena:
Dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus,
et benedictus frusctus ventris tui, Jesu.

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
nunc et in hora mortis nostrae,


Hail Mary, full of grace
the Lord is with thee,
blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.

Shawn Kirchner (b. 1970) selections from The Light of Hope Returning
The Light of Hope Returning is a concert-length American folk oratorio by acclaimed composer Shawn Kirchner. Commissioned by WomenSing in 2019, it invites the listener to place their own temporal journeys into a larger context marked by the passing of the seasons and the Christmas cycle of birth and renewal. Together the carols form a dramatic arc from distant hope through darkness into the rebirth of light and true hope for the future. The Young Women’s Chorus performs tonight 5 movements of the work, scored for SSA chorus, soloists, violin, cello, and saxophone. All 5 movements are new readings of traditional carols and spirituals except for the transcendent Holy World, where we celebrate the fragile tenacity of life:

O I have seen the beauty of a child,
born into this weary world —
Pure and new, placed into
the old and careworn hands.
Holy world, holy world, where sorrows are turning with joy…

The Light of Hope Returning allow us to witness the rebirth of light and rekindle our hope in our current times.

About the musicians

Young Women’s Choral Projects of San Francisco
Founded in 2012 by Dr. Susan McMane, the Young Women’s Choral Projects of San Francisco is recognized nationally and internationally as a world-class choral organization for girls and young women, ages 4-18. YWCP choristers are divided into seven levels of choral training where they find their voices as singers, artists, and women in a nurturing environment that empowers them to achieve artistic and personal excellence.

The Young Women’s Chorus of San Francisco, conducted by interim director Dr. Martín Benvenuto, is the premier ensemble of YWCP. The Young Women’s Chorus is comprised of singers ages 12-18, and has been praised for its beauty of sound, stellar musicianship, and dynamic programming. Acclaimed in the American Record Guide for its “refined and beautifully controlled singing,” the Young Women’s Chorus has also won many competitive, national awards including the American Prize in Choral Performance, the Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence, the Dale Warland Singers Commission Award from Chorus America and American Composers Forum, and the ASCAP Adventurous Programming Award. Recent activities include a debut performance at Carnegie Hall in 2018, concert tours to South Africa in 2019 and to France in 2022, the premiere of the opera Abraham in Flames in 2019, performances with the London Philharmonia Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony, and a featured appearance at TedX Los Altos Women’s 2022 “Leading Women on Change, Work, Rights, the Future and JOY” conference. Performing repertoire from early music to contemporary selections, the Chorus annually performs a professional series of concerts in the Bay Area, and commissions new works by leading composers.

Dr. Martín Benvenuto is one of the leading choir conductors in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. A native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Benvenuto is the Founder and Artistic Director of 21V, a Bay Area professional ensemble of soprano and alto voices of all gender identities with a focus on music of the 21st century of the Americas. He has served as Artistic Director of the Peninsula Women’s Chorus (PWC), WomenSing (WS), and the Contra Costa Children’s Chorus, has been on the faculty of the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir, and is active as a clinician, panelist, and guest conductor home and abroad.

Recognized for his exacting technique, and a passion for drawing the finest choral tone, Benvenuto’s repertoire is extensive. His choirs are dedicated to commissioning new works from upcoming and established composers from the U.S. and abroad and have been selected to perform at Chorus America and American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) conferences.

His choirs have also earned honors and high marks in international competitions in Argentina, South Africa, Canada, Hungary, and Spain. Of note are PWC’s American Prize in Choral Performance (winner in 2015, second place in 2011), the 2010 Chorus America/ASCAP Alice Parker award, which recognized WS for programming recently composed music that expanded the mission of the chorus, and the Third Prize awarded to the PWC at the 2006 Béla Bartók International Choir Competition, one of the most prestigious on the European circuit.

Benvenuto highly values artistic collaborations: his choirs have collaborated with Veljo Tormis, Joseph Jennings, Karmina Silec and Carmina Slovenica, Charles Bruffy, Quinteto Latino, California Shakespeare Theater, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, and the Golden Gate Men’s Chorus, among others. Benvenuto has prepared choirs for organizations such as the San Francisco Opera, the Oakland East Bay Symphony, the Redwood Symphony, and the Kronos Quartet. He also appears as tenor soloist with leading Bay Area ensembles.

Benvenuto holds a D.M.A. in choral conducting from Boston University, where he studied with Ann Howard Jones and the late Robert Shaw. He earned his master’s degree from Westminster Choir College, where he studied with Joseph Flummerfelt, majoring both in Choral Conducting and in Voice Performance and Pedagogy. His undergraduate degrees in choral conducting and composition are from the Universidad Católica Argentina.

Young Women’s Chorus Assistant Conductor Sian Wittke has a degree in Music Education, with an emphasis on Choral Conducting, from Berklee College of Music. Sian began teaching music in Boston in 2014 and was the choral director at Orchard Gardens School for two years before moving back to the Bay Area. She has worked with the Boston Children’s Chorus as well as the Oakland Youth Chorus, and was YWCP’s Choral Fellow in the 2017-18 season. Sian was the music director at San Francisco’s Adda Clevenger School for the past four years, and now teaches at San Francisco’s Hamlin School.

Pianist Margaret Halbig moved to the Bay Area in 2011 and joined the accompanying and vocal coaching staff at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. An advocate of new and contemporary music, Margaret has been the pianist for the New Music Collective, Wild Rumpus, since its inception in 2011. Margaret is also the pianist for Frequency 49, a wind and piano chamber ensemble exploring the interdependent relationship between color and sound unique to this combination of instruments. In summer 2016, Margaret joined the faculty of the Bay Area Vocal Academy, providing comprehensive vocal training to young singers, as coach and pianist.

Margaret earned her DMA from the University of California, Santa Barbara, under the tutelage of Robert Koenig and also holds performance degrees from the University of Missouri, Kansas City Conservatory, and University of Evansville, Indiana.  Her primary teachers include Jonathan Feldman, Robert Weirich, and Anne Fiedler.

Cellist Emil Miland has performed many times with YWCP, including a commission in December 2015 written by Frank La Rocca. Miland is an internationally renowned soloist and chamber musician and is a member of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. He has collaborated with some of the world’s finest singers in recital including Jamie Barton, Zheng Cao, Joyce di Donato and Susan Graham. In 2010, Frederica von Stade asked Miland to play for her farewell recital at Carnegie Hall. Many composers have written new works for him including Ernst Bacon, David Carlson, David Conte, Lou Harrison, Jake Heggie and Andrew Imbrie. David Conte’s Sonata for Violoncello and Piano was written for Miland, and in July 2018, he premiered Conte’s new concerto for cello and orchestra. San Francisco Classical Voice says of Miland: “Among the San Francisco Bay Area’s legions of great musicians, nobody works harder than the cellist Emil Miland — former child prodigy, current virtuoso, 30-year veteran of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, founding principal cello of the New Century Chamber Orchestra, soloist, teacher, mentor, musical and humanitarian icon.”

A resident of the San Francisco Bay area for over 40 years, Charles Keagle studied music theory at Williams College and music composition at the University of Washington with William O. Smith and Kenneth Benshoof. An accomplished clarinetist, saxophonist and flutist across a wide variety of genres, he has worked with various commercial and jazz groups in Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and is currently a regular member of Tony Corman’s Morchestra and the Albatross Clarinet Quartet.

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