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    Interview with New SFGMC Artistic Director Jacob Stensberg Ahead of Holiday Season Debut

    The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (SFGMC) Holiday Spectacular at the Sydney Goldstein Theater in San Francisco on December 2 (8 pm) and December 3 (3:30 pm and 8 pm) will mark the first holiday shows led by new Artistic Director Jacob “Jake” Stensberg. There is always excitement ahead of SFGMC’s holiday season of performances, but that anticipatory vibe is even more so this year given the return to in-person events after the long pandemic shutdowns and slowdowns, and curiosity over Stensberg and this year’s SFGMC program.

    In an interview with the San Francisco Bay Times, Stensberg shared that classics like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” will be mixed in with songs in different languages such as Hebrew, Tagalog, and Swedish, as well as with classical works like “Sure On This Shining Night” by California composer Morten Lauridsen. There will also surely be plenty of high-energy showstoppers with creative choreography by the mighty Chorus.

    Stensberg additionally told us about his new life here in California, after moving to the city from Purdue University in Indiana to take over the role held for over a decade by Dr. Tim Seelig, who is now a San Francisco Bay Times columnist.

    San Francisco Bay Times: You moved here just five months ago. How are you adjusting to your new life in San Francisco?

    Jacob Stensberg: The adjustment period could not have gone any better. I love the apartment and neighborhood I’ve landed in. I live five blocks from our SFGMC home at 170 Valencia and near public transit. Coming from Indiana, where I’ve lived most of my life, you can’t go see world class opera or ballet or music or dining on a Wednesday or Thursday night.  So, to be here and have those opportunities has been a real joy and a fast adjustment. It’s a life that soaks up art and culture and community and a life that I have really loved creating in these last five months.

    San Francisco Bay Times: What are some of your favorite places in the Bay Area so far?

    Jacob Stensberg: I love walking down Fillmore Street all the way from my apartment to the water, stopping at the coffee truck and sitting and looking at the bridge. It’s one of my favorite morning routines. But I love getting out and enjoying the parts of the city that are grand and spacious with water and bridges and trees, as well as the parts of the city that have that big city feel, like going downtown and going out to dinner and seeing a show. 

    I love seeing everything that comes through Broadway SF. There’s nothing like a good musical! Oh, wait, there’s also wine country! Musicals and wine. I have read wine books for years and have only really had access to supermarket wine labels in the Midwest. Being able to drive an hour north and taste with the winemaker and talk about oak profiles and aging processes has been something that I have dreamed of doing for years and get to now!

    San Francisco Bay Times: You are busy now, though, preparing for the opening of the SFGMC Holiday Spectacular. How are you getting ready for that pivotal moment, marking your official start with an SFGMC season?

    Jacob Stensberg: I am so blessed to spend every Monday night with 250 of the kindest, most talented, singers in the Bay Area as we rehearse with the SFGMC. When we all come together with a shared goal of performing, I feel like anything can happen. I really lean into the support I feel from the community. And it’s even beyond the singers. We have an incredible volunteer group, staff, board of directors, and most important, loyal supporters who show up and buy tickets to our events. I feel so supported walking up to the podium.

    I don’t know that there really is a way to fully prepare for that moment of starting the first song of this first concert. I don’t think I’ll know what it feels like until it happens. But I know that the support and the love coming from the audience, the singers, the backstage crew, and front of house staff—everyone has put in countless hours into creating this production. That support will really propel me forward.

    San Francisco Bay Times: What can audiences expect from SFGMC’s holiday concerts?

    Jacob Stensberg: The Chorus will deliver powerful moments of inspiration, joy, laughter, chills, and holiday warmth. We’ll have an incredible band of 8 musicians, some of the best players around town. We’ll perform music that’s upbeat that’ll get you tapping your toes, dancing in your seat, and humming on your way out. And we’ll perform music that makes you think. Music that makes you feel. Music that makes you wonder a little differently about the topics we care so much about. It’s a concert that I’m deeply proud of. I think that audiences will fall in love with the music that we sing, as well as the singers who are singing it!

    San Francisco Bay Times: How has creating this holiday concert helped to shape your artistic vision for SFGMC?

    Jacob Stensberg: We went in with certain goals, asking ourselves, “What do we want? Why do we perform? Where are we doing it? Who’s coming?” Then we set some parameters of what we wanted to deliver. One thing I’m passionate about is supporting new artists. So, we started the inaugural composition competition where composers from around California are able to submit their work. 

    This has enabled us to support Ryan Garrett, who has done some work in film scoring previously, but never written choral music before. He has written a beautiful, dramatic, theatrical setting of poetry about snow. 

    Supporting new artists and creating new, fresh work by living composers is a vision I have for the Chorus, and a vision that the Chorus has held for a long time with commissions like I Am Harvey Milk, Unbreakable, and Songs of the Phoenix. I really look forward to continuing that trajectory of supporting a diverse group of new music and new artists.

    San Francisco Bay Times: How are you spending the holidays?

    Jacob Stensberg: One of the reasons I love being here in San Francisco is that San Diego is a 90-minute flight away. My brother’s family is there. In Indiana, it was a five-hour flight with a three-hour time change. It was just impossible to get out here very often. I have a newborn niece who’s just about five weeks old and a two-year-old nephew whom I could play with every day for the rest of my life and I hope I get to. So, I will be down in San Diego with my brother, sister-in-law, niece, and nephew.

    But on December 24, I’ll be in San Francisco conducting at the traditional Home for the Holidays show at the Castro Theatre. We do three high energy, best of the best, fast shows at 5 pm, 7 pm, and 9 pm. There will be about 150 singing members on stage with our band. I expect we’ll be rocking to a full house! 

    We cannot wait to celebrate in this community that I am so proud of and am honored to call home.

    To get tickets for Holiday Spectacular visit https://www.sfgmc.org/

    The San Francisco Bay Times is a proud sponsor of SFGMC’s Season 45. Bay Times readers get a 20% discount on tickets to the performances at the Sydney Goldstein Theater on December 2 and 3, 2022. User the code: HOLIDAY22

    Published on December 1, 2022