Vance George

Vance George Photo

An exceptional talent inspires others to excel

Vance Y. George is recognized internationally as one of the world’s leading choral conductors. He has conducted throughout the U.S. as well as Europe, Australia and Asia. Most recently he conducted concerts in New York, Salzburg, Austria, Sydney, Australia, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Spokane, Washington, Indianapolis, Indiana, Akron, Ohio, the Berkshire Choral Festival and the Ventura Bach Festival.

Notable concerts with the forces of the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus include Bach’s “Mass in B Minor” and Handel’s “Messiah” plus a host of seasonal and pops concerts. His performances encompass the major choral/orchestral repertoire including the passions of Bach, the choral works of Brahms, Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Verdi, Fauré, Poulenc and Stravinsky. Other 20th and 21st-century composers in his repertoire include John Adams, Tarik O’ Regan, Arnold Schönberg, William Walton, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Kystof Penderecki, Witold Lutosławski, and Meredith Monk.

Diverse influences foster an intuitive gift

Born into a farm community in Northern Indiana, near Chicago, his musical training began at Goshen College. Teaching and conducting adventures followed in Mussoorie in Northern India at Woodstock School, at the University of Wisconsin, then as Associate Director of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, the Blossom Festival School, Kent State University and The San Francisco Symphony.

His unique range of musical styles, knowledge of languages, mastery of vocal colors, and synthesis of the choral-orchestral tradition has been lauded by audiences, critics, and conductors. In the words of San Francisco composer Conrad Susa: “Vance creates a choral sonority that is unique to each work he’s asked to perform. His knowledge of vocal colors is unsurpassed.” His work embodies the legacy of the great maestros and mentors he has known as protege and colleague, especially Kurt Masur, John Nelson, Helmut Rilling, Edo de Waart, Herbert Blomstedt, Michael Tilson Thomas, Robert Shaw, Julius Herford, Margaret Hillis, Robert Page, Otto Werner-Mueller, and Mary Oyer.

Guiding artists to their fullest promise

Highly regarded as a teacher of conducting, Vance George has taught and presented workshops and lectures at many Universities including the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, Eastman School of Music, the San Francisco Conservatory, Cincinnati Conservatory, Kent State University and the Berkeley California School of Music, and in China the conservatories of Xi’an, Beijing and Shanghai. He has written on the subject of conducting for “The Cambridge Companion to Conducting,” Cambridge University Press, 2003 and his article “Choral Colors” appeared in the American Choral Director’s Journal, October, 2007. There is also an interview in the August 2007 issue of the ACDA Journal by Dr. Susan Medley with some personal history of choral music as he lived it from 1951-2006 and some ideas about conducting.

Accolades for a talent in demand

During his twenty three years as conductor with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus the group was hailed as one of the finest in the world. On their behalf he accepted two Grammy awards for Best Choral Performances in 1992 and 1995 for Orff’s “Carmina burana” and Brahm’s “Ein deutsches Requiem”. Other Grammy-winning recordings featuring the San Francisco Symphony Chorus include Stravinsky’s “Pérsephone” and Mahler’s Symphony No 3.

A televised production of Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” a video/DVD, won an Emmy award. Additionally the Chorus received Grammy nominations for its recording of Mahler’s Symphony No 2 and the album entitled “Christmas By The Bay“. The discography of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus under Vance George’s direction includes “Voices 1900–2000: A Choral Journey Through the 20th Century”; John Adams’s “Harmonium”, with the composer conducting;  Mahler’s “Das klagende Lied”; Grieg’s “Peer Gynt”; and a Brahms collection featuring “Nänie” and “Schicksalslied”. Film soundtracks featuring the chorus include “Amadeus”, “Godfather III” and “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”.

A graduate of Goshen College and Indiana University, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Musical Arts by Kent State University and a Lifetime Achievement award by Chorus America and the National Collegiate Choral Organization. He belongs to the International Federation of Choral Musicians, the American Choral Director’s Association, Chorus America, the Conductor’s Guild and the National Collegiate Choral Organization. He has served on the Board of Chorus America and the National Endowment of the Arts.

The work of a master continues

Today Vance George’s passion for making music in the great choral/orchestral tradition is undiminished. During his conducting travels he also presents workshops, coachings and residencies in choral/orchestral techniques. His fervor for giving back by teaching young conductors is a synthesis of what he was given by his teachers: Otto Werner-Mueller, a “less is more” approach, “no more energy than for the desired result”; from Julius Herford “look like the music” phrasal structure seen in gestures that arrive at the peak of a phrase. Much of music is making your singers and players aware of a two bar phrase or a four bar phrase through your shoulder, elbow, wrist, fingers and baton. Vocal coloring of those phrases comes from listening and working with greats like by Dietrich Fischer Diskau, Barbara Bonney, Marlene Malas, Christine Brewer, Stephanie Blythe, and many others. Choral colors have become Vance George’s trademark.