Alexandra Grabarchuk started out as a performing musicologist, with a doctorate from UCLA and loads of experience as a pro singer. But her life is taking a decided turn, as recent years have caused her to fall in love with conducting… and she’s proving a knack for it.
An experienced performer, Alex started as the alto section leader and assistant conductor for the San Gabriel Valley Choral Company (SGVCC), recruited and hired in 2014 by former director Zanaida Robles, where she covered rehearsals and conducted a piece or two on each concert. The conducting training that was part of her extensive educational career kicked in, and soon she became Facilitator and Co-conductor for “C3LA“, (the Contemporary Choral Collective of Los Angeles), and recently added the role of Interim Director for a storied SoCal fixture, the Welsh Choir of Southern California. All this, while still actively singing and teaching at Scripps College, Chapman University and Chaffey College to boot, makes for a very busy, car-centric life: the West L.A. resident reports that she’s averaging about 500 miles on the road per week.
The key, of course, is to truly love what you’re doing, and this is clearly evident as Alex talks about the groups she’s working with. Even before she took the helm with SGVCC, she admits, “I must have been a rather difficult assistant conductor, as I had a LOT of ideas: ‘Zanaida, we should do this…’, or ‘ we should really try that’.” But that enthusiasm and vision made her an obvious candidate as the group’s new leader, and she makes her directorial debut this weekend. This season kick-off leads into a year that will introduce more contemporary repertoire to the group’s programs, but will also tackle perhaps the biggest challenge for a community choir: to develop a new financial structure for the organization. Grabarchuk looks forward to continuing the groundwork that Robles had laid before her, broadening horizons, especially with African-American repertoire. “Zanaida’s work for the last five years resulted in an upward artistic trajectory… it just got better and better.”
Can an ensemble that has existed for decades tackle big changes like this? According to Alex, they’re ready, and their enthusiasm is a big part of what drives her. “This group loves to perform. They get really jazzed, so we’re a great fit.” Their enthusiasm for her shows in the unusual welcome gift Grabarchuk received from one of the choir members: a personalized, custom-built podium, crafted by Jimi Hendrix (yes, that’s his real name). But the zest for singing shows in their annual calendar, too: SGVCC typically performs four concerts each year rather than the usual three, and they start earlier than many community groups. “Our October concert is usually one of the best attended,” which points to the dedicated following and community spirit that SGVCC has fostered over the years — something this blogger has witnessed in full swing when reviewing their concerts in the past. As for the coming season, it all starts next weekend, with an All Soul’s concert on Saturday, October 28. (More about that below.) The season opener will be followed by
- December 9 — “In dulci jubilo“: A stylistically mixed concert of seasonal choral work, including traditional Christmas music as well as some surprises, such as an arrangement by a member of the choir.
- March 3 — “Mother Tongue“: The program explores ‘Anglophone choral works’, aka works in English. “As singers, we spend so much time singing in lots of other languages. This is an attempt to focus on our own.” Works will highlight poetry and contemporary work, including songs by C3LA composers.
- June 9 — “A Taste of Broadway“: This is ‘our fun concert’, wrapping up the season with solos and ensemble pieces from beloved stage works.
As for this week’s offering, “All Souls’ Eve” is a concert to honor the departed, particularly in the wake of so many recent events like the Las Vegas shooting earlier this month, where one of Grabarchuk’s friends was in attendance. “It’s a tough theme, and can be emotionally draining, so we’ve included some lighter, uplifting songs,” to balance the lineup that includes requiem works by Mozart, Lauridsen, and Rutter; a piece by an Albanian composer; Alice Parker’s arrangement of “Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal”; and a recent work by LA composer Michael A. Gray, which sets Shakespeare’s “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun” from Cymbeline.
We wish our Lister well, with all of her ensembles, in what promises to be a very hectic and rewarding year!
San Gabriel Valley Choral Company presents
All Souls’ Eve
Saturday, October 28, 7:30pm
St Luke’s Episcopal Church
122 South California Avenue
Monrovia, CA 91016
Tickets $5 – 20