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BWW Interview: The World According to Sue Fink and Angel City Chorale

For 23 years, Angel City Chorale and Artistic Director Sue Fink have been bringing people together with their community-building world music concerts. Celebrating the spirit of diversity, they make music in a wide variety of musical styles and for all people to enjoy.

Up next for the illustrious group is Rhythm Planet, featuring the music of two-time Grammy-winning composer Christopher Tin and other world composers. These two family-friendly evenings (June 4 & 5 at 7pm) will feature 150 voices in a grand collaboration that celebrates the Earth's rich cultures and beauty.

I asked Sue to share her thoughts about working with Christoper Tin on Rhythm Planet and what is in store for audiences this weekend.

Sue, you have had a long association with composer Christopher Tin. What is it about his work that excites you?

Several years ago, we performed Christopher Tin's Grammy-winning song "Baba Yetu" from the video game Civilization. He graciously came to the concert and liked it enough to join our advisory board. While I was searching for more of his material, I found that he had recorded "Baba Yetu" on an album called Calling All Dawns, which up until that time had not been performed live anywhere. In fact, our west coast premiere of the piece came just one month after its world release performance at Lincoln Center in New York City.

Soon after, Christopher approached us to sing on his next album, The Drop that Contained the Sea, which would be his second world music release. The theme: one drop of water has the essence of all the ocean just as one person holds the essence of all humanity. The Chorale sang on 7 of the 10 tracks. We also sang at the world premiere at Carnegie Hall and then followed it with our own west coast premiere in Los Angeles two years ago. The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Classical Music Chart.

Why do you love Christopher's music?

His musical landscaping, vivid cinematic orchestrations, and world music view resonate with our vision of creating community through music and finding respect for diversity while celebrating what unites us all. It is a thrill to sing and also an exciting challenge musically. His sweeping musical travelogue takes the singer and listener on a world voyage in language and feels as diverse as Khosa to Turkish to Bulgarian crossing oceans while scaling Earth's mountains and borderlines.

Our next adventure will be the concerts on June 4th and 5th here in Los Angeles, Rhythm Planet, which will be a preview of our England tour with Christopher this summer. The highlights of the tour will be a performance with Chris and I co-conducting the Royal Philharmonic, and also the experience of making a recording at Abbey Road Studios.

Angel City Chorale singers. Photo credit: Danny Moloshok.

One of the other pieces on the concert is your cover of Toto's "Africa." In 2013 Angel City Chorale released it on YouTube and, to date, it has received over 3 million views. That must have been exciting.

Yes, we uploaded the song over two years ago but it wasn't until this January that we got the surprise and thrill of it going viral. We have made friends all over the world from it.

Your 2-minute opening is stunning. What inspired you to direct it as you did and is this how it will be performed for Rhythm Planet?

We are certainly not the first group to use our bodies as well as our voices to tell a story or create a rainstorm. We were inspired by performances of an African choir from Kearnsy College, Perpetuum Jazille of Slovenia and by pieces by composer Eric Whitacre. The piece is truly stunning and not just for the effect of the created storm, though that is so fun. I believe the real magic of Angel City is the spirit in which we perform. As commenters on YouTube put it, "The joy and emotion left me in tears." "There is something magical here."

What other pieces will be included on the program and how did you choose them to be part of this world music concert?

The theme of Rhythm Planet, much like Christopher's music, celebrates our diversity while honoring what all humanity shares in common. In our search to find music that complements this, I found composer Eriks Esenvald's "Stars." We will use tuned glasses as our orchestra and lighten up a darkened stage. For don't we all look up to the same stars?

Sue Fink leading Angel City Chorale. Photo credit: Linda Weiss

Absolutely, and it sounds lovely.

We will also perform Copland's "The Promise of Living" and Moses Hogan's "Hold On!" Both in different musical styles, they encourage the love of the land and the perseverance, encouragement, and community it takes to survive and thrive through the hard times we all face. Our rainstorm will be introduced with U2's "MLK."

It is clear that music is your passion. If money was no object and you could create a musical experience anywhere in the world with anyone you wanted - living or deceased - what would you do?

Don't get me started! I have a few fantasies rolling around in my head. I would like to experiment with mixed medias. Next spring we will present Interactive as our concert. If possible, I want to involve the audience, and perform with a group remotely through computer and screen. I am forming ideas and looking for more creative ways of making an interactive performance.

In another fantasy, I'd like to create a virtual performance online. I would love to have a special guest like Joni Mitchell perform with us. Hopefully, if we get the funding, we could commission new works by composers....can I bring Carl Orff back to life for this? I would love to perform in great performance venues all over the world with the group and with full orchestra. I could go on and on but I feel so lucky to be having the experiences we are having right this minute.

Angel City Chorale in concert (Dec 2015). Photo credit: Mel Stave

June 4 & 5, 2016 (7pm)
Wilshire United Methodist Church
4350 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010
(Adjacent to: Mid-Wilshire, Koreatown, Larchmont Village, and Hancock Park)
Tickets and more info:
Online ticket sales close at 10pm PST the day before each show.
Same day tickets may still be purchased at the door.

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