Ten centuries of musical lineage

Julia Bullock

Julia Bullock’s interests range far beyond singing lyric soprano roles at major companies around the world. Her intellectual curiosity and instincts for finding relationships between disparate sources has led to her curating projects such as a five-concert series at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. A representative program was “History’s Persistent Voice,” which combined traditional slave songs with new music by American women of color. Next up for Bullock is “Lineage,” an online event she’s creating for the San Francisco Symphony, where she serves as a collaborative partner for new music director Esa-Pekka Salonen.

“Lineage,” which begins streaming on Thursday, March 11, is designed to showcase the ways that it can inform, influence, impact, and be expressed in contexts combining musical and visual elements. Bullock is joined by pianist Sarah Cahill and members of the San Francisco Orchestra and Chorus for the exploration, which ranges from the 12th century (Hildegard of Bingen’s “O frondens virga”) to the 21st, with a definite tilt to the contemporary and the eclectic.

In fact, only two of the program’s 12 selections are by dead white guys — in this case, J.S. Bach and Francis Poulenc. Ten were written by women and composers of color. George T. Walker Jr., the first Black composer to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Music (Lilacs, 1996), is represented by his Lyric for Strings. Composer, singer, and bassist Esperanza Spalding’s “Little Fly” is set to a William Blake poem for string trio and vocalist, with everyone improvising sections of it at each performance.

At 31, fast-rising Elizabeth Ogonek is the youngest composer on the docket, with selections from 2017’s In Silence (a chamber violin concerto) and 2018’s Orpheus Suite (solo piano). Bullock also performs two songs by singer, composer, and civil rights activist Nina Simone: “Images” and “Revolution.” The latter has become one of the soprano’s calling cards, with the Washington Post saying of it, “Bullock’s a cappella performance, filled with pain and anger and power, was so stunning that the audience rose to its feet, and even the singer needed a minute to collect herself afterward.”

Santa Fe Opera audiences heard and saw Bullock as Kitty Oppenheimer in 2018’s Doctor Atomic. Opera News proclaimed, “the stunning impression she created here sprang from her ability to fill every line she sang with spiritual intensity.” “Lineage” is a welcome opportunity to enjoy her artistry again. Tickets are $15 from sfsymphonyplus.org/products/lineage-julia-bullock; it will be available for streaming from Thursday, March 11, through Aug. 31.

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