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SFCM Composition Students Win Residencies with SF Choral Artists

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The American Prize in choral performance-winning San Francisco Choral Artists' is under the artistic direction of Magen Solomon.

November 30, 2022 by Alex Heigl

By Alex Heigl

Three of SFCM's composition students are adding their voices to a long-running chamber choir in the city as part of their composer-in-residence program.

José Daniel Vargas (studying with David Conte), Clark Evans (studying with Elinor Armer) and Sam Nedel (studying with David Garner) won their positions with San Francisco Choral Artists as part of SFCM's May 2022 Biennial Choral Composition Competition: Nedel's term begins in December, while Evans and Vargas will begin their time in March and June of 2023.

"I look at a lot of composers' works through our New Voices program and I have to say that the quality of the writing, construction, thought, and form of the pieces that we get from the Conservatory are head and shoulders above most of the submissions that we get," SFCA Artistic Director Magen Solomon said. "I've always been impressed with the composers at the Conservatory and the way the students are trained."

"SFCA has always tried to specialize in American composers, and young composers," she continued. "We're really proud of the fact that we've premiered over 300 pieces over the years and have had a lot of the composers work with us in various ways." In fact, SFCA's General Manager, Michael Kaulkin, is an SFCM composition alumni and an SFCA composer-in-residence in the 2017-18 season.


Nedel's work was his first commissioned piece of choral music. He grew up singing extensively in choruses and playing orchestral double bass, and the pieces of Latin text he used—Christus natus est and Psallite, unigenito—were familiar to him. "For this piece, I decided to start with a very specific mode—phrygian—and as I kind of sketched the piece, I decided I would have very strict modal writing in the first section and then move into more common harmony in the second. I wanted that kind of angular feeling, so that it wouldn't go exactly where you'd expect."

Nedel transitioned from composition to enrolling in the Professional Studies Certificate in SFCM's Technology and Applied Composition (TAC). As he prepares to see his work performed by SFCA in December, he said he's also working on a composition for SFCM's annual Highsmith Competition.


Vargas, like Nedel, is a relative newcomer to the form: This setting was only his second choral work. The theme for the SFCA June 2023 performances during his residency is "Shakespeare and friends," so he chose a traditional Scottish ballad called "Lord Randall" for his text.

"David Conte always told me, 'Singers don't have keys, or frets,'" Vargas said. "So the weaknesses in your compositional technique are the most present in writing a cappella choral music, because your music really has to connect with the ear so they can hear all their notes before they sing them. And my music is usually very chromatic and florid, I guess you could call it, so I had to really be very conscious that every note really meant something."

"Restrictions breed creativity," Vargas continued, "so I had to make the music sound like myself while working in this medium, so it showed me a side of myself that I had never seen before."

Learn more about studying composition at SFCM.