Northside SF
Kitka meets Monk for an evening of modern song

photo: Peter Ellenby
For the first time, the acclaimed Bay Area vocal group, Kitka, is collaborating with Grammy nominee Meredith Monk for an unusual performance of pieces composed by Monk for women’s voices.

The program, on May 15 at the Jewish Community Center, includes the world premiere of Monk’s Quilting and Phantom Voices. The evening will be unusual – not only for Monk’s rarely performed pieces – but also because the all-female Kitka produces a sound like no other vocal group. Its haunting, beguiling repertoire is gleaned from East European folk melodies. The tunes come from Bulgaria, Germany, Georgia, Armenia, and Spain. They even sing in Ladino, a near-extinct language that’s a mix of old Spanish, Hebrew and Aramaic. The result is hypnotic, even transformative. Kitka can sing astoundingly close harmonies and tackle complex, near-incomprehensible rhythms.

They may explore obscure, ancient tunes, but Kitka also loves to introduce the music of contemporary composers like Meredith Monk.

It would not be an exaggeration to call Monk a genius. After all, she’s the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called “genius grant.” It’s safe to say her awards and accolades are staggering. Kitka and Monk have admired each other’s artistry for decades. Now, they come together for an evening of song at the JCC. The program includes Monk’s The Politics of Quiet, Quarry, American Archeology #1: Roosevelt Island, and selections from the movie score of Book of Days.

Monk says she has discovered that the human voice is “the most essential instrument of expression.” She’s been anointed as “one of America’s coolest composers.” That could be the highest praise of all.
Kitka has been singing for 31 years. Aside from the arcane music that’s as old as the hills – like the Carpathian Mountains – they are attracted to other modern composers and have premiered works by Richard Einhorn, Mariana Sadovska, Roy Weldon, David Lang, Chen Yi, Dan Cantrell, Janika Vandervelde, Pauline Oliveros, and others. The group has released 11 albums, all hits with the critics. Cradle Songs, their most recent recording, was named Most Memorable Internationally-Flavored CD of 2009 by the Los Angeles Times, and NPR calls it “one of the top 10 CDs of 2009.” Kitka often appears on radio shows, such as A Prairie Home Companion, All Things Considered and San Francisco-based West Coast Live.


Kitka Sings Monk: Jewish Community Center, Kanbar Hall, 3200 California Street (at Presidio); May 15, 7 p.m.; tickets $32–$41 at 415-292-1233 or

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