This Sunday the choral ensemble Sacra/Profana opens its 2023-2024 season titled A Love that Lifts Up with a concert at First Presbyterian Church in downtown San Diego.Music Director Juan Carlos Acosta, who has been conducting this San Diego a cappella ensemble since 2016, discovered James Baldwins’ phrase “a love that lifts up” and felt it described the overall theme of the music Sacra/Profana will be performing this season.
“The phrase ‘a love that lifts up’ is a recurring theme in his writing,” Acosta explained. “Baldwin experienced the evil of racism, but he wrote that hate is too great a burden to carry—the only alternative is that kind of love that lifts people up”
The music on Sunday’s program signals Acosta’s aim to look at the big picture: two stylistically contrasting requiems. Noted 20th-century British composer Herbert Howells’ 1932 Requiem and contemporary American composer Dale Trumbore’s recent How to Go On, a work from 2017 based on texts by contemporary poets that has been frequently described as a modern secular requiem.
Arguably Howells’ most well-known work, his Requiem—like the choral music of other English composers from that period such as Ralph Vaughn Williams and Gerald Finzi—recalls the pristine musical textures and precise declamation of Renaissance motets.
The choral works of Los Angeles based Dale Trumbore have won numerous impressive awards, including the 2019 ACDA Raymond Brock Competition for Professional Composers and the ASCAP Morton Gould Award. Trumbore is a recent graduate of the University of Southern California, where she studied with noted choral composer Morten Lauridsen. Her choral work How to Go On was first recorded in 2017 by the Choral Artists Initiative and was more recently performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale in Walt Disney Concert Hall.
“I am impressed that Trumbore’s music is cerebral without losing its emotional component,” Acosta said. In a recent online article Trumbore expressed her goal as a choral composer: “I aim to write music that makes space for listeners to move through emotions that aren’t one-dimensional—sadness, grief, joy—but multi-faceted.”
“I chose Trumbore’s secular requiem How to Go On with its post functional tonal harmony to contrast with Howells’ Requiem, written at the zenith of functional harmony with its clearly discernible key centers,” Acosta added.
Although Acosta has some 40 singers on the Sacra/Profana roster, Sunday’s concert will feature 20 singers, five voices on each of the four vocal parts. Since Sacra/Profana is a professional choir, a more compact performing ensemble is easier on the company’s budget.
When asked how he selects singers who audition for Sacra/Profana, Acosta stressed that the most important aspect was solid musicianship.
“I see each singer the same way an orchestra director evaluates an instrumentalist. I expect a sound vocal technique that can handle a variety of performance practices from early Renaissance music to contemporary classical music to Gospel. The singer must also be open to stretching the boundaries to improvise and cope with aleatoric scores.”
Under the direction of Juan Carlos Acosta, Sacra/Profana will give this season-opening concert on Sunday, September 17, at 3:00 p.m. in the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church of San Diego, 320 Date Street in downtown San Diego.