San Francisco Renaissance Voices brings on the Boar’s Head Festival 

A classical concert followed by a feast of “roast pork pie, king’s cake and wassail” (a kind of hot mulled cider) is a rare happening — but it’s what San Francisco Renaissance Voices is offering to celebrate the Boar’s Head Festival on Saturday.

The festival represents the British way of marking Twelfth Night — the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day or Epiphany — bringing the Christmas period to an end.

The Boar’s Head Feast precedes Christianity, going back to ancient times when the boar was sovereign of the forest.

Hunted as a public enemy, boar was the first dish served at banquets. As Christian beliefs overtook pagan customs, the presentation of a boar’s head at Christmas, beginning in the 14th century, came to symbolize the triumph of over sin. (Note: The feast portion of Saturday’s Renaissance Voices event will settle for roast pork — boar will not be served.)

In addition to historical and religious aspects, the Twelfth Night presentation also has a practical consideration.

Katherine McKee, Renaissance Voices’ assistant music director and conductor, says the show gives the group the opportunity to introduce a 650-year-old tradition to prospective audience members who are busy in December. She says, “Now you can enjoy performances featuring traditional holiday music apart from the hectic pace of last month.”

While Renaissance Voices is known for its a cappella choral performances of 15th- and 16th-century music, especially lesser-known and rarely performed works, it also explores music of other periods and music outside traditional European literature.

Saturday’s concert program consists of English music ranging from traditional songs through contemporary classical, from Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) to Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) and Bay Area composer Alva Henderson.

Renaissance Voices’ 13 singers will be joined by guest soprano Susan Gundunas, known for her “Phantom of the Opera” appearances. The audience is expected to sing along to “The Boar’s Head Carol” after scenes from Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”

The production also features local actors Antonio San Toro and Paul Dana, with Gabrielle Motarjemi as Queen Elizabeth I.

Back to the food and history: “King’s cake” is a brioche-type cake, baked in a circle to represent the circular route taken by the Three Kings to confuse King Herod, who was trying to follow the wise men so he could kill the Christ Child.


Boar’s Head Festival

Presented by San Francisco Renaissance Voices

Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1329 Seventh Ave., S.F.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

$29 to $25

Contact: (415) 664-2543,

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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