brahms concert notes

Concert Soloists Bios:
Marcelle Dronkers, Soprano
Eric Howe, Bass


Because We Sang Composer Robin Eschner


Brahms - Ein Deutsches Requiem


At the age of thirty-six Johannes Brahms completed A German Requiem, the work that brought him international fame. The Requiem was most likely written to honor the memory of his friend and benefactor, Robert Schumann, although the fifth movement, added after the first performance, probably commemorated his mother’s death. Unlike traditional requiems, the selections Brahms used from the Lutheran Bible contain no mention of Christ, and the overall message is one of comfort.


The Soloists:


Marcelle Dronkers

Marcelle Dronkers, soprano

Marcelle Dronkers has appeared locally in concert with the San Francisco Symphony, Joffrey Ballet, Handbell Ensemble SONOS, Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra, Bella Musica, and with the Festival, West Bay, and Berkeley opera companies, among others. She was heard recently as soloist in Britten’s War Requiem in San Francisco’s Davies Hall. Her favorite operatic roles include Fiordiligi in Cosi fan tutte, the Countess in Marriage of Figaro, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni (all by Mozart); Verdi’s Lady Macbeth; Mrs. Ford in Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Queen Elizabeth I in Donizetti’s Roberto Deveraux, and the title role in Handel’s Alcina, all with Donald Pippin’s Pocket Opera.


Ms. Dronkers holds degrees from Indiana University at Bloomington and the Royal Conservatory at The Hague, The Netherlands, and has been a participant in the master classes of Thomas Hampson, Elly Ameling, Leonard Bernstein, Robert Holl, Edo de Waart, James Schwabacher and John Wustman. She is on the voice faculty of Notre Dame de Namur University and maintains a private voice studio in Kensington, where she lives with her son Christopher and five felines, one of which is a feral foundling named Figaro.


Eric Howe

Eric Howe, baritone, is a frequent guest soloist, chorister, conductor, and piano and organ accompanist.  Eric has taught voice for over thirty years and is currently teaching private students in Oakland, as well as teaching vocal physiology and pedagogy courses at Holy Names University and the San Francisco Conservatory. He also teaches voice lessons and supervises graduate projects at Holy Names, has taught organ and conducting and has conducted the HNU Chamber Chorus.


Eric served on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Teachers of Singing as former Cal-Western regional governor.  He also was president of the San Francisco Bay Area NATS chapter and chaired its annual Singing Festival.  Previous faculty positions include San Francisco State University, Columbia College (Chicago), Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, and the University of Notre Dame, (South Bend, Indiana.)  He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Westminster Choir College, and a Master of Music degree cum laude from Indiana University.




Robin Eschner

Because we sang composer

Since graduating from the University of California at Davis in 1976, Robin Eschner has enjoyed a dual career as a painter and a composer.


As a painter Robin has gained international recognition for her work through gallery exhibitions as well as for published works that include books, fine art cards, posters and prints. She has had the good fortune to participate in projects with such authors as Barry Lopez, Phil Cousineau, and William Iverson.


As a composer, Robin’s body of work includes numerous choral and instrumental works, songs in the singer/songwriter vein, and a musical adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, entitled, A Song for Vanya, which she co-wrote with Bret Martin and John Shillington. She has studied composition privately with Allaudin Mathieu and at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with Dusan Bogdanovic and David Garner. Her composition Hear the Bell was the winner of the 2007 Julian White Memorial Choral Composition Competition sponsored by the Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra.


Robin is also one half of TONE BENT, a duo in which she and her husband, Bill Horvitz, double up on guitars and vocals. Their second CD, Angels In the Kitchen was released in April of 2011.


Because we sang

A representative of BCCO called me in the fall of 2009, wanting to commission a new work as a tribute to Arlene Sagan, who would be retiring following BCCO’s 2011 spring concert series. I was very moved by this and felt honored to write something for this particular chorus and for Arlene, whom I admire and respect.


I wanted to find a text that would speak not only to the miraculous journey BCCO and Arlene have shared but also to the broader universal experience of the way the heart gladdens when we get together with others to sing and play music, to tap a shoe or lend an ear.  I found such a text in a book of poems written by Eugéne Guillevic and translated by Denise Levertov.


Elegy of the Forest of Saint Croix, #36


Parce que nous chantions

En demeurant a table,

En allant par les champs,


Parce que nous chantions

Parfois rien qu’en silence,

Rien que par le regard,


Nous gardions pour l’année

Ce qu’il faut de raison.



Because we sang

at the table

and while we walked through the fields,


Because we sang

sometimes even in silence,

simply by looking,


we kept for the rest of the year

what sanity we needed.


I was intrigued by the prospect of setting these words, which I found to be profound in their simplicity, and, in addition, quite intimate, even as they spoke to a bigger picture. I opted to have the soloists introduce the original French and to follow this with repetition, in English, from the chorus. I also considered works BCCO has worked on through the years with Arlene, the many requiems with their Latin texts, and incorporated into the score an Alleluia and a portion of Dona Nobis Pacem. I am familiar with the journey of learning choral music, of the challenges and the rewards and the way everyone has to really be there to make it work. I also recognize how a conductor such as Arlene, with her ever-deepening musical knowledge, inquisitive nature, thoughtful interpretations, sweet and feisty spirit and generous heart, can bring music to life and, in so doing, make the world a bit more spherical. I thank BCCO for this opportunity. Because We Sang is dedicated to Arlene Sagan and the Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra, with love and admiration.