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CHANTICLEER FALLS IN LOVE

CHANTICLEER FALLS IN LOVE

Elite Men’s Chorus Dazzles in ‘Secret Heart’ Program

By D. Rane Danubian
artssf.com, the independent observer of San Francisco Bay Area music and dance 
Week of Sept. 19-26,  2016
Vol. 19, No. 3

SANTA CLARA—The virtuoso singers of Chanticleer were ardently declaring their love for all parties concerned. Their “Secret Heart” program from many sources, languages and centuries will whisk them around Northern California with that heart-to-heart musical message.

The 12 are as versatile as ever, performing classical men’s chorus pieces, mixed-chorus, and choirs for men and boys, utiliizing their unique component of male altos and sopranos—the treasure chest that is Chanticleer’s long-standing secret. All of it unaccompanied, rather miraculously.AND sung scrupulously in tune.

The chorus’ super-sleuths were at it again. Modern love songs, we all know. But Chanticleer’s research staff ferrets out  such songs from musty archives in four-century-old Latin polyphony, so similar to a thousand Renaissance sacred pieces except for the text, which can be quite sensual. This repertory is entirely new, even to those who have followed this group since the start.  From the earliest efforts right up to the more streamlined 16th-century music of Palestrina we got artfully interwoven compositions of Guerrero, Clemens non Papa, Vivanco and l’Heritier.

The Sept. 17 highlight was the world premiere of “Hommage a Edith” by the Finnish composer Jaakko Mantyjarvi, 53. It is set to  a poem by the early 20th-century Finnish-Swedish  poet Edith Sodergran, offering one’s heart to “an unknown god…high up in the clouds.” The composer uses bold harmonies over a pedal point , with mild dissonance. The short work is characterized by somber Scandavian restraint.

A poem by the Elizabethan Edmung Waller delves into the mysterious and unplumbed in Eric Whitacre’s “Go, Lovely Rose:” Zounds, written and sung in English!

The most compelling solo of the night was by alto Cortez Mitchell, providing the seamless “ah..ah…ah”‘s  of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” in an unusual arrangement for voice only. It brought down the house.

A set of novel chromatic love songs by Augusta Read Thomas, 52, featured the novelty of the singers rolling raucously with laughter. Modern works also included a spiritual by Freddie Mercury (“Find Me Somebody to Love” in an arrangement) and torchy songs by Francis Poulenc and Noel Coward. Quite a night of high professionalism, all in all, capped by an encore via the Irish folk song “Down by the Salley Gardens.” They did Music Director Fred Scott proud.

A note about the beautiful Mission Santa Clara Church, bathed outside appropriately by a full moon. Like so many stone or plaster-dominated interiors, this one provides  rich and, yes, sensual resonances for those sitting up close, particularly from the higher voices. Sitting toward the back of the hall however afforded a no less appealing acoustic environment, with closer bonding of ensemble as well as somewhat greater intelligibility. Take your pick, or try both!

Chanticleer, a dozen male a cappella voices in the “My Secret Heart” repertory, in many Bay Area cities through Sept. 25. For Chanticleer info: go online.

©D. Rane Danubian 2016
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D. Rane Danubian has been covering the dance and modern-music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area with relish — and a certain amount of salsa — for years.

These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly) will focus on dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into books (by authors of the region), theater and recordings by local artists as well.
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CHORUSES BRANCHING OUT

CHORUSES BRANCHING OUT

You Can Sing—But Can You Also Dance, Act?? 

By Paul Hertelendy 
artssf.com, the independent observer of San Francisco Bay Area music and dance 
Week of May 16, 2016
Vol. 18, No. 70

BERKELEY—When does a youth chorus begin to meld with the concept of a dance troupe? The new reality for choruses is not only singing, but also moving about the stage theatrically—not too far from dance choreography.

There are six works on the current program of the Volti chorus, but the one leaving a mesmerizing impression was the mystical “Eternal Echo,” a choral theater piece, played out, not by Volti itself, but by 35 members of the collaborating Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir. The scene recalls the village solemnity and walking choreography of the Antony Tudor classic “Dark Elegies” (1937). Both begin with performers seated on stage in somber uniforms and long skirts.

“Eternal Echo” evolves with haunting solos, vocalise and echo effects, as if emanating from an isolated group attempting to make human contact. And then the singers “awaken,” walk in seeming disorientation, and sing texts of the Finnish epic poem “Kalevala.” There are elements of quest, loss, and remoteness in this multi-level work somewhere between music-theater, a pantomime, and wispy voices out of the veiled past recalling Arvo Paert.

This 1999 work by Finnish composer Olli Kartekangas (and choreographer Päivi Jäervinen) skillfully blends distinct art forms in hybrid fashion, suggesting a provocative vein for other artists to develop. The wonder here, as seen and heard May 13, is that the young singers, ranging up to about 15 years of age, could bridge the art forms so effectively. Their having memorized the texts did away with lugging bulky chorus books about the stage.

Artistic Director Robert Geary, always eagerly embracing innovation, took down his podium and sat in the fourth row with the audience, conducting intermittently.

A similar hybrid was a much larger-scale life-cycle piece, “Painted Lights” by Beijing-born Kui Dong, depicting coming-of-age with both Volti adults and the youth chorus in simultaneous expositions, eventually trading roles on stage. The piece sets off with intentional chaos and children’s games—beach balls and hula hoops—then encountering discipline, chanting, sustained chords, coherence.

Other works were unaccompanied contemporary and postmodern choruses for Volti, with words and syllables chopped up like a tasty platter of cold cuts. Director Geary told the audience, unlike earlier music (for the church, for instance) when text intelligibility was paramount, now the emphasis is on musical expression at the expense of text comprehension. And all the pieces, composed by Eric Banks, Paolo Longo, John Muehleisen, moved in this direction.

The centerpiece was a world premiere “From Ivory Depths” by Tonia Ko, 27, of Cornell University, some eight minutes in length. It’s a stained-glass window of broken pieces, like a mosaic, built (we’re told) on text fragments of Virginia Woolf prose. That much I had to take on faith. In addition to voices skipping up and down over wide expanses, there were whispers, outcries, speech and babble—all part of the new currency that is contemporary secular choral music.

Director Geary revels in all the novelties and carries them off with conviction, whether his singers are mastering Arabic, Latin, Finnish or—zounds!—even English. His Volti singers, some 20 strong, are clearly an elite group selected by audition over a host of others, drawing some singers so inspired, they commute 40-50 mi. each way to participate.

But if you don’t do either theater or dance, you might not fit in as a triple-threat Volti singer at all.

Volti San Francisco chorus, performing in Bay Area May 13-14. For Volti info: (415) 771-3352, or go online.

©Paul Hertelendy 2016

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Paul Hertelendy has been covering the dance and modern-music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area with relish — and a certain amount of salsa — for years.

These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly) will focus on dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into books (by authors of the region), theater and recordings by local artists as well.

AN UNKNOWN REPERTORY OF SACRED MUSIC

AN UNKNOWN REPERTORY OF SACRED MUSIC

Chanticleeer Seeks and Sings Classics of South America

By Paul Hertelendy
artssf.com, the independent observer of San Francisco Bay Area music and dance
Week of May 8-15, 2016
Vol. 18, No. 68

It’s time for true believers to drop down on their knees and thank the Almighty for the sacred music circulated by the chorus Chanticleer. Who can match their mining the Mother Lodes of early music that was created unnoticed, unheralded in the New World?

And in our era, when even our churches have turned away en masse from Renaissance polyphony in favor of congregational hymns, Chanticleer keeps singing that early music of celestial complexity, keeping alive that elusive flame of creativity.

The Chanticleer spell went far afield last month with mission concerts in Bolivia featuring New-World music. When they sang concerts there using Quechua, the indigenous language, some members of the audience spontaneously began to sing along with them, having learned the works and texts years earlier in school. The singers’ tour de force included memorizing Quechua music for performance.

The importance of this Latino church-and-mission music can’t be overlooked. The development of elaborate choral music in Bolivia, Lima, and Mexico City evolved long before any counterparts in the North American colonies.

Now Chanticleer has brought back that epic “Mission Road” repertory to resounding concerts in six California missions, with music known to a handful of scholarly musicologists screening photocopy scores in the study, little more. Musicologists undeniably shine an essential desk-lamp on forgotten scores; but the klieg-lights really com on bright and clear with public performances in concert.

“Mission Road” brought out a trio of New-World sacred composers active before and after the year 1700: Juan de Araujo, Antonio de Salazar and Manuel de Sumaya. Indeed the Latin motets by the last two, “Inveni David” and “Cum esset,” were being given their first performances in several centuries. Both showed the influence of Claudio Monteverdi and his clean-cut Italian style.

Some surprising works, like Salazar’s “Conceptio Gloriosae,” were mature, relatively modern, animated and vibrant—almost danceable. Please, no shushing by the ushers and sacristans!

25 years ago the Polish priest Piotr Nawrot convinced elders of Bolivian Indian tribes to make public a treasure-trove of ancient baroque manuscripts, some by their ancestors, all squirreled away for safe-keeping. These produced some 13,000 pages (!) of unknown New-World music—some of it now recorded by other groups, some of it parceled for these Chanticleer programs, including villancicos (less formal choruses in Spanish) commemorating Saint Ignatius de Loyola, done in verse/refrain mode.

Some of the Quechua music still used today suggests that the key for missionaries to approaching indigenous New-World people was in translating music to the indigenous languages, and not merely being force-fed via Spanish or Latin.

The 12-man Chanticleer group performed well at Mission Dolores May 7—not so much a cappella, demonstrating their unique mastery, but in part with a trio of instrumental accompaniment, and conducting by the newcomer maestro William Fred Scott. Is their impeccable a cappella magic gradually being phased out by Chanticleer? Stay tuned.
Unfortunately, the unusual church acoustics muddied the texts to near-unintelligibility. In addition the singers were pressing to fill the whole edifice with sound.

By way of concert prelude, other unaccompanied sacred works were sung by the rather astonishing youthful mixed choir LAB XV, an education offshoot of Chanticleer. They too are quite remarkable!

Chanticleer sings “Mission Road” concerts, ending with the May 20 concert at Carmel Mission. For info: (415) 252-8589, or go online.

©Paul Hertelendy 2016
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Paul Hertelendy has been covering the dance and modern-music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area with relish — and a certain amount of salsa — for years.
These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly) will focus on dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into books (by authors of the region), theater and recordings by local artists as well.
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RUSSIAN VOICES, FROM CELESTIAL TO DESPONDENT

RUSSIAN VOICES, FROM CELESTIAL TO DESPONDENT

An Uncommon, Unaccompanied Chorus

Give credit to the Swede Ragnar Bohlin, who moonlights leading his Cappella SF when he’s not leading the prize-winning S.F. Symphony Chorus. What’s more, with Cappella he resurrects choral rarities rarely encountered elsewhere. It’s a gourmet paradise in voice.

This time it was a spectrum of unaccompanied pieces we rarely hear outside the Russian Orthodox Church. And he appended the dark perspectives of modern-day composers who were rankling under the repression and bleakness of Soviet Communism.

The 25-member chamber chorus Capella SF is an elite group achieving letter-perfect tuning and a gorgeous sound—at least, when heard in the inviting acoustics of Mission Dolores Basilica. If the women sounded more accomplished than the men, it’s in part because only in Russia is the landscape overflowing with low, low, low male voices so important in this liturgy. The story’s still told of the great bass Feodor Chaliapin, who ended an aria on a resounding low C, whereupon a Russian near the back of the hall sounded his loud bravo several notes lower! A work like Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil” calls for basses going down the scale toward the end to a subterranean low B flat, beyond the range of these singers here at the Jan. 17 concert. (A typical amateur bass can go down comfortably to an F, a fifth above that elusive B flat.)

No matter, the concert was a resounding and stimulating success. I was mesmerized by dour modern works by Sergei Viluman and the important composer Alfred Schnittke. Schnittke’s “Psalms of Remembrance” (1988), four of which were performed, brought home the bleak Communist-era scene, with much of its drama, and implicit critique of the system, conveyed by falling chromatic scales. As a protest piece, it is quite effective.

Viluman’s “Night, Street, Lamp, Drugstore” uses a secular poem to dramatize loneliness and emptiness with modern harmonies, ending enigmatically.

The others were works for the church, sung in Old Slavonic, with the 24-minute “All-Night Vigil” the biggest and the best known.

I’ve long been a fan of the Beethoven-era composer Dmitri Bortnyansky, who was actually Ukrainian, not Russian. His Cherubic Hymn No. 7 used harmonized chant—a common development, even more than two centuries ago—and it was distinguished by the high sopranos, plus some grand crescendos bearing a Bohlin imprimatur. Also of interest were works of a century ago, Pavel Chesnokov’s “Salvation Is Created,” and Alexander Grechaninov’s “Our Father.”

MUSIC NOTES—-Rachmaninoff had selected for his funeral No. 5 of the “All-Night Vigil,” with a text recalling Bach’s last work: “Lord, now lettest Thy servant depart in peace….” Cappella SF, now two years old, had conceived this program to celebrate the older calendar’s New Year Old Style of Jan. 14…. The group carries out typically two programs a year, with the next one Norwegian music May 15, again at Mission Dolores under Bohlin’s leadership.

Cappella SF’s Russian program given Jan. 17 at Mission Dolores Basilica, San Francisco. Ragnar Bohlin artistic director. For Cappella SF info: Go online.

©Paul Hertelendy 2016

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Paul Hertelendy has been covering the dance and modern-music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area with relish — and a certain amount of salsa — for years.
These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly) will focus on dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into books (by authors of the region), theater and recordings by local artists as well.
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CHANTICLEER PERENNIALS FOR CHRISTMAS

CHANTICLEER PERENNIALS FOR CHRISTMAS

Spotlighting Brilliance of a One-Time Wonder

By Paul Hertelendy
artssf.com, the independent observer of San Francisco Bay Area music and dance
Week of Dec. 12-23, 2015
Vol. 18, No. 33

STANFORD, CA—Heaping wreaths and encomiums on the elite Chanticleer chorus’ Christmas program for the 37th time? No—pointless and repetitive.

Let’s learn instead from the once-in-a-lifetime burst of genius coming to ordinary folk like you or your neighbor——folks such as Franz Biebl, who wrote the beloved signature piece “Ave Maria” and provided each of us with an invaluable lesson. If this one seemingly simple little work were omitted from Chanticleer’s December, riots could break out in the sanctuary and patrons might attack each other with umbrellas in abject frustration. It is an extraordinarily eloquent, moving sacred piece in Latin for male voices, without conductor or accompaniment.

Biebl (1906-2001) had been an obscure organist and choirmaster in the Bavarian town of Fuerstenfeldbruck after World War Two when a fireman asked him to write a work for the firemen’s amateur chorus. Biebl was struck by inspiration as never before, among many dozens of every-day works for voice that he had produced. He pieced it together from different liturgical sources, contrasting chant-like unison voices against a rich choral harmony, sung in alternation. Totally consonant, it contains just one brief flirtation with modulation, as effective as truffles on a gourmet entree.

The “Ave Maria” attracted no widespread attention for years. Eventually the Cornell University Glee Club brought it back to the U.S., and the Chanticleer professionals took it up, sang it and recorded it with extraordinary impact. Many choruses (and various arrangements) have flourished ever since. Eventually Chanticleer took this devotional hymn to the Virgin back abroad on tour and sang it for the long-lived Biebl himself, who was, like so many thousands on both sides of the Atlantic, deeply moved by both the proliferation and the professional performance touch.

Was this another Schubert, a nonstop genius laboring in obscurity? Hardly. Musicians and musicologists leafing through Biebl’s vast output could find no other work of note; the “Ave Maria” (divine inspiration?) stands alone.

Whether or not we are believers or church-goers, the profound Biebl lesson for us is that any one of us might reach above our humble creative status for that one grand burst of inspiration of a lifetime. There are many one-time wonders in the past music world who have been singularly creative, starting with the impromptu Austrian-village collaboration of Gruber and Mohr in a frenzied Christmas emergency to produce “Silent Night,” light-years above and beyond anything else ever in their extended lifetimes. Other one-time stars and marvels might include M. Praetorius (“Lo a Rose E’er Blooming”), Pachelbel (Canon), Holst (“The Planets”), Orff (“Carmina Burana”), Humperdinck (“Hansel und Gretel”) and Rodrigo (the guitar concerto containing the later hit single “Aranjuez Mon Amour”).

This is not unique to music. For similar phenomena in other fields you need look no further than the seafarer-author Herman Melville (“Moby Dick”).

The same creative lightning could also strike you, or any one of us. Food for thought, impetus to creativity!

This year’s Chanticleer Christmas program followed the familiar pattern: the 12 unaccompanied male singers delved into a broad range of sacred works spanning a couple of millennia, from Gregorian chant by candlelight in a darkened hall to moderns and spirituals, all without a conductor. The repertory changes annually, but the impeccable tuning and the spirited renditions do not. This year, there are old Latin standards by Byrd, Victoria, Morales, Mouton and Handl (not Handel!). Totally unfamiliar to Chanticleer addicts are works of the living composers Bruno Gousset and Alberto Grau, supposedly in French and Spanish—though not even the vaunted Chanticleer enunciates enough consonants to make those recognizable.

Thereafter, modern selections by John Tavener, Howells and the Bavarian Biebl. Ah yes!

As always, Chanticleer is uniquely blessed with three mature male sopranos: Nathaniel Pence, Kory Reid and Darita Seth, enabling the group as well to sing pieces for mixed-chorus and choirs of men and boys in unsurpassed versatility.

When heard Dec. 10, the crowd jammed here into the giant Memorial Church (despite the rainy night) gave it the spirited standing ovation. And wherever he is, Herr Biebl can take part of the credit. The encore was that carol by Gruber & Mohr, sensitive enough to bring tears to one’s eyes.

Chanticleer Christmas choral program through December in Northern California: San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Berkeley, Santa Clara, Carmel, Petaluma. For info: Go online.

©Paul Hertelendy 2015
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Paul Hertelendy has been covering the dance and modern-music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area with relish — and a certain amount of salsa — for years.

These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly) will focus on dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into books (by authors of the region), theater and recordings by local artists as well.
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CHANTICLEER IN MUSIC (VERY) OLD, (VERY) NEW

CHANTICLEER IN MUSIC (VERY) OLD, (VERY) NEW

BERKELEY—With Chanticleer there’s a musical magic that sweeps you, right along with the perfection of harmonies and tuning.
The all-male local chorus of 12, unaccompanied throughout, remains a paragon to compare with the elite European groups. Having in the mix that rarest of all species, male sopranos, enables Chanticleer’s performing a much wider repertoire, including mixed choruses, or choirs of men and boys.

“Singing in Chanticleer is basically a young man’s game,” explains the new Music Director William Fred Scott, a veteran coming in from Atlanta and the Robert Shaw Chorale. And, he adds with a chuckle, “Fortunately, that’s not required for the music director!”

Between the 180 concerts a year, the high tessitura (vocal lines), and the heavy touring schedule, the regimen here is exhausting, requiring something comparable to sports-type conditioning.

The current fall program in the Bay Area this month is “Over the Moon,” a whimsical mix of very old and very new music—sacred, secular, romantic, in five different languages. Along with everything else, the Chanticleer guys are polyglots too.

The premiere this time comes from fast-rising composer Nico Muhly, 34, already tapped twice over to create new works for the Metropolitan Opera. Muhly’s “Three Poem Songs” is drawn from the nebulous Symbolist set of poems “Pierrot Lunaire” by Albert Giraud. These are visionary works, restless, full of unresolved enigmas. I liked Muhly’s fast-paced perpetual-motion effects, and wobbly vocal lines where the text “grows tipsy on the sacred liquor.” Muhly also sets the soprano voices like a high parasol while the others navigate their lines beneath. I find the Giraud-Muhly combination irresistible.

Other exotic novelties incuded “The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls” by the Finnish Mäntyjärvi, with the vocal lines echoing the undualation of the waves. He found eloquence within a small compass, producing an exultant expressiveness.

In “Observer in the Magellanic Cloud,” Mason Bates offset a rhythm group against a lyrical group, singing in Maori language. It was another case of an urbane choral group taking up quasi-ethnic folk material, a challenge that the group loves to undertake, but with only middling success.

Composer Stephen Paulus, who died last year at 65, left us “The Lotus Lovers,” set in English translation to Chinese poems attributed to the fourth-century Chinese woman poet Tzu Yeh. The irregularity of the music, with stops and starts, reflected the irregularity of the four poems, ending with “Illusions,” a memorable song of the insomniac.

An array of polyphonic works, mostly in Latin from before 1600, placed Chanticleer on familiar ground, singing almost impeccably. But I’ll admit, there was one spot, among the 21 works showcased at Mt. Mark’s Church Sept. 23, where the singers sounded marginally muddy. Quite possibly no one, not even Chanticleer, is perfect.

If you came away hankering for a cappella music written in the three centuries after 1600, well, just wait for some future program by the group.

Chanticleer, 12-man a cappella chorus in “Over the Moon” program through Sept. 26: Santa Clara, Sacramento, Berkeley, San Francisco. For info: (415) 252-8589, or go online.

©Paul Hertelendy 2015
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Paul Hertelendy has been covering the dance and modern-music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area with relish — and a certain amount of salsa — for years.

These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly) will focus on dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into books (by authors of the region), theater and recordings by local artists as well.
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