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Kitka, Inc.

Oakland, CA            

Kitka is an American women’s vocal arts ensemble inspired by traditional songs and vocal techniques from Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Dedicated to developing appreciation for music rooted in Balkan, Slavic, and Caucasian women’s vocal traditions, Kitka also strives to expand the boundaries of folk song as a living and evolving expressive art form. Kitka’s activities include a San Francisco Bay Area-based home series of concerts and vocal workshops; leadership of community choirs; regional, national, and international touring; programs in the schools; recording, publication, and broadcast projects; master artist residencies; commissioning; community service work; and adventuresome collaborations.

Kitka began in 1979 as a grassroots group of singers from diverse backgrounds who shared a passion for the stunning dissonances, asymmetric rhythms, intricate ornamentation, lush harmonies, and resonant strength of Eastern European women’s vocal music. Kitka has deep ties to Eastern Europe and has traveled there to perform and collect repertoire many times. Kitka has sung in prestigious venues and festivals and has conducted research in rural villages in Bulgaria, Ukraine, Macedonia, Poland, Serbia, Georgia, Armenia, and Turkey as well as in ethnic communities across America. Kitka also hosts several Eastern European folk song masters as artists-in-residence in Oakland, CA each season.

In 2000, Kitka launched the New Folksongs Commissioning Project, which engages some of the most exciting voices in contemporary music to create works that utilize Kitka’s wide-ranging sound palette. To date, Kitka has premiered more than 50 new works by established and emerging composers including Pauline Oliveros, Chen Yi, Dan Cantrell, Marcel Khalife, David Lang, Linda Tillery, Raif Hyseni, Thilo Reinhardt, Janika Vandervelde, Mariana Sadovska, Richard Einhorn, and Meredith Monk. Kitka’s unique sound and innovative sense of programming has led to dozens of other collaborations, ranging from a reconstruction of the medieval Carmina Burana for CalPerformances, to work with Hollywood composers and independent film-makers on motion picture soundtracks. Other collaborations of note include creating the role of the Greek Chorus in ACT’s Hecuba; the creation of Women in Black, a multi-disciplinary work with AXIS Dance Company; Songs from Mama’s Table, with Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir, and the vocal-theater works The Rusalka Cycle: Songs Between the Worlds and Singing Through Darkness (music by Mariana Sadovska, stage direction by Ellen Sebastian Chang and Andre Erlen). In 2014, Kitka premiered I will remember everything a major new composition by Eric Banks with libretto by “Russia’s Sappho”, Sophia Parnok (1885-1933). In 2018 Kitka premiered Iron Shoes, a new folk opera co-created by Janet Kutulas, Michelle Carter, and Erika Chong Shuch.

Kitka has released 14 acclaimed recordings, most recently Evening Star. Broadcast features include PRI’s The World, NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion, Weekend Edition, and All Things Considered, and National Geographic’s World Music Profiles. The film Kitka and Davka in Concert: Old and New World Jewish Music has been broadcast on more than 100 PBS stations and has been an award-winning selection at film festivals from Beijing to Toronto. The ensemble is currently collaborating with Emmy-nominated Oakland-based filmmaker Austin Forbord on The Harmony of Dissonance, a 40th Anniversary documentary.

Footage from the vocal-theater project “The Rusalka Cycle: Song Between the Worlds.” Music and Music Direction my Mariana Sadovska. Stage Direction by Ellen Sebastion Chang. Performed at the Eugene and Elinor Friend Center for the Arts at the JCCSF, San Francisco.

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Kitka performs Krasimir Kjurkchijski’s innovative choral setting of a Bulgarian folksong. Soprano Soloist: Tzvetanka Varimezova

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Fly, Trembling Spirit (2017) arr. Kelly Atkins

Kitka vocalist and composer-arranger Kelly Atkins created this original composite setting of two traditional Greek folk songs from the Epirus mountains of Greece, merged with the American Shape Note hymn “Idumea” (aka “Am I born to die?”). Kitka performed and recorded this work in 2017 as part of our “Evening Star” project.

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