Ragnar Bohlin, center, leads Cappella SF, a new, already critically acclaimed, Bay Area professional choral group. (Courtesy photo)

Top-notch pro vocalists light up Cappella SF

There are hundreds of choruses in the Bay Area, but only one professional group singing a cappella music from all periods of the choral repertoire.

That’s the niche Cappella SF filled when it formed last year, says founding artistic director Ragnar Bohlin, who also has been at the helm of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus since 2007.

“In the past, I conducted a cappella in Sweden, I and missed it,” says Bohlin, who, after toying with the idea of creating his own mixed ensemble over the years, was able to use his connections to reach out to “top-notch” vocal artists.

His “fine group of 24 select singers” opens its second season on Saturday at Mission Dolores with “Songs for the Earth,” a concert of environmentally themed music honoring the 10th anniversary of Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit focused on securing corporate and government accountability related to basic human resources.

Calling the choral literature about the beauty of nature a “treasure trove” filled with music celebrating forest, seas and skies, Bohlin has programmed a concert of old and new works, from Claudio Monteverdi’s 16th century “Ecco mormorar l’onde,” which describes a sunset, to contemporary American composer Eric Whitacre’s thundering 1992 piece “Cloudburst,” to a premiere by David Conte, Cappella SF’s composer-in-residence and chair of composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Readings, of poems and prose by notables including Pope Francis, John Muir, Carl Sagan and Theodore Roosevelt, round out the unique performance.

The lineup exemplifies Cappella SF’s broad and unusual scope: “Our angle is that we do all the genres, from medieval to contemporary, Bach motets, romantic music — the entire spectrum of the repertoire,” says Bohlin, who adds that the group’s ample size increases programming options.

An all-Russian concert, with works by Rachmaninoff and Schnittke, is slated for March, and after that, an all-Norwegian program.

Unlike many choral groups, Cappella SF won’t perform an official holiday concert in December (Bohlin will be engaged leading the “Messiah” with the S.F. Symphony). Yet it already has released a beautiful recording of Christmas music, and another CD is well in the works.

With a “wonderful board that helps with logistics,” Bohlin’s thoughts for the future include “a bit of expansion,” from doing more recording, more local concerts, and perhaps even going on tour.

IF YOU GO

Capella SF
Where: Mission Dolores Basilica, 3321 16th St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Nov. 7
Tickets: $35 to $55
Contact: www.cappellasf.org
Note: A reception follows the peformance.

Cappella SFDavid ConteRagnar BohlinSan Francisco Symphony Chorus

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