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Our Heart's Joy: A Chanticleer Christmas

Notes & Reviews:

Share the joy of the season with family and friends as the Grammy-winning "orchestra of voices" performs its beloved holiday program amid the rich acoustics and ornate interior of Memorial Church. Hailed as "the world's reigning male chorus" (The New Yorker), Chanticleer brings its trademark precision and inspiration to centuries of holiday repertoire, including rareties of Gregorian chant, American gospel classics, and plenty of everyone's favorite Christmas carols

Chanticleer is known around the world as "an orchestra of voices" for the seamless blend of its twelve male voices ranging from countertenor to bass. Founded in San Francisco in 1978, Chanticleer has developed a worldwide reputation for its impeccable musicianship, beauty of sound, and wide-ranging repertoire from Renaissance and Mexican Baroque to jazz, gospel, folk, and adventurous new music. Chanticleer has sold over a million records and enjoys a devoted and passionate fan base.

Called "the world's reigning male chorus," by the New Yorker magazine, and named "Ensemble of the Year" by Musical America in 2008, Chanticleer will perform more than 100 concerts in 2010-11, the GRAMMY Award-winning ensemble's 33rd Season.

A Chanticleer Christmas features the ensemble in its natural a cappella setting. Selling more than a million records over the years, Chanticleer's holiday recordings have been their most beloved. Here they offer unforgettable renditions of "The First Nowell", "Away in a Manger" and "O Holy Night" as well as a new LIVE recording of their signature song, the Biebl "Ave Maria".

"Chanticleer, the twelve-member all-male ensemble, has a clear but testosterone-infused sound, the timbral opposite of pre-pubescent boy sopranos or all-female choral groups.

True, when the stellar vocal ensemble, named for the "clear singing" rooster in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, began in San Francisco more than three decades ago, the idea of an all-male choir seemed a relic of times when women were forbidden from performing in churches.

But with its tight, virtuosic ensemble, wide repertoire, unique showmanship and rapport with audiences, Chanticleer serves as a reminder of what a mesmerizing, haunting and ethereal sound an all-male adult choir can achieve. Nowhere is what this a cappella chorus can do more apparent and appealing than when the group makes its annual pilgrimage to Fourth Presbyterian Church to perform its vast variety of Christmas music.

Monday night's program spanned the gamut from medieval chant and Renaissance polyphony to swinging arrangements of jazz and spirituals along with contemporary compositions and carols. With the Gothic-style church arrayed with wreaths decorated with ribbons of Advent purple and pews so packed that additional aisle seating was set up to accommodate the overflow, anticipation was high.

The church was suddenly immersed in complete darkness until a silence was achieved that would be the envy of any concert hall. Gradually, in the distance, faint Gregorian Chant could be heard, gaining in intensity as Chanticleer members proceeded slowly into the church down the center aisle, their faces faintly illuminated only by the single candle that each held in his hand. The chant itself proclaimed Hodie Christus natus est (Today Christ is born) reaching its dynamic climax when the group arrived on a raised platform at the front of the church with Gloria in excelsis Deo, Alleluia.

With the evening's concert taking place on the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Marian texts dominated the program. These included a sumptuous High Renaissance setting of the Ave Maria for six voices by Josquin Des Prez, a spicy Spanish setting of Sancta Maria yn ilhuciac (Hail Mary, Queen of Heaven) by 16th-century Mexican composer Don Hernando Franco, and a 1964 Ave Maria setting by German composer Franz Bibel in rondo form with a touch of jazz harmony.

The largest and most revelatory piece of the evening was an elaborate Russian Magnificat by Cesar Antonovich Cui, the least known and least performed of the so-called "Russian Five." Cui's piece for solo soprano (all three sopranos sang alternate verses) and chorus fascinatingly evoked the shifting pitches of Russian Orthodox liturgical music and the reckless abandon and contagious rhythm of Russian folk music.

The carols and spirituals that finished off the concert are always surefire crowd pleasers, to be sure, but to these ears always sound somewhat jarring and overdone compared to the rest of these contemplative programs. The arrangements tend to be rather showy and schmaltzy, with abrupt key changes, finger snaps and excessive vocal virtuosity for its own sake. Yes, we get it, these guys can sing anything, but just because they can, doesn't mean that they should." - ChicagoClassicalReview

"Called "the world's reigning male chorus," by the New Yorker magazine, and named Ensemble of the Year by Musical America in 2008,CHANTICLEER will perform more than 100 concerts in the 2010/11 season, the Grammy-winning ensemble's 33rd season. Praised by the San Francisco Chronicle for their "tonal luxuriance and crisply etched clarity," Chanticleer will tour to Canada and 22 of the United States, including appearances at Walt Disney Concert Hall, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the National American Choral Directors Association Conference in Chicago. In early 2010, Chanticleer gave 14 concerts in 11 European countries, appearing at many of Europe's legendary concert halls. In June, Chanticleer returned to Shanghai (after its May 2009 China debut tour) as part of the San Francisco delegation to Expo 2010. Other highlights of the 2009/10 season were Chanticleer's first National Youth Choral Festival in San Francisco in March, residencies at two American Choral Directors Association conferences, the release of a new recording - Best of Chanticleer - and an appearance on Prairie Home Companion.

Chanticleer - based in San Francisco - is known around the world as "an orchestra of voices" for the seamless blend of its 12 male voices ranging from countertenor to bass and its original interpretations of vocal literature, from Renaissance to jazz, and from gospel to venturesome new music.

Chanticleer's recordings are distributed by Chanticleer, Rhino Records, and iTunes, among others, and are available on Chanticleer's website (chanticleer.org). New this season will be A Chanticleer Christmas - favorite Christmas music from live performances as broadcast on American Public Media. Let it Snow, a collection of Christmas music released in 2007, was on the Billboard charts for twelve weeks. Colors of Love won a Grammy in 2000 for Best Small Ensemble Performance (with or without Conductor) and the Contemporary A Cappella Recording Award for Best Classical Album. The world-premiere recording of Sir John Tavener's Lamentations and Praises was released in January 2002 to critical acclaim and garnered two Grammys for Classical Best Small Ensemble Performance (with or without Conductor) and for Best Classical Contemporary Composition. The DVD Mission Road: Our Journey Back has been broadcasted extensively on public television. 2009 saw the release of the DVD Fireside Christmas with Chanticleer - a "burning log" accompanied by favorite Chanticleer Christmas songs as well as Best of Chanticleer, a compilation with three new tracks including Mahler's "Ich bin der welt" and Gershwin's "Summertime."

With the help of individual contributions and foundation and corporate support, the Ensemble involves over 5000 young people annually in its extensive education program, which includes in-school clinics and workshops, Chanticleer Youth Choral Festivals in the Bay Area and around the country - including the National Youth Choral Festival every four years - master classes for university students nationwide, and the Chanticleer in Sonoma summer workshop for adult choral singers. The Singing Life, a documentary about Chanticleer's work with young people, was released in 2008. In 2010 Chanticleer's education program received a Chorus America Education Outreach Award.

Chanticleer's long-standing commitment to commissioning and performing new works was honored in 2008 by the inaugural Dale Warland/Chorus America Commissioning Award. The group also received an ASCAP/Chorus America Award for Adventurous Programming for the 2006/07 season, in which ten new works were premiered.

Named for the "clear-singing" rooster in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Chanticleer was founded in 1978 by tenor Louis Botto, who sang in the Ensemble until 1989 and served as Artistic Director until his death in 1997. In 1999, Christine Bullin joined Chanticleer as President & General Director. Music Director Emeritus Joseph Jennings joined the ensemble as a countertenor in 1983, and shortly thereafter assumed the title of Music Director, which he held until his retirement in 2008. Jennings has arranged some of Chanticleer's most popular repertoire, most notably spirituals, gospel music, and jazz standards. In 2008, tenor Matthew D. Oltman was named Music Director.

Chanticleer is the current recipient of major grants from The Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, The Bernard Osher Foundation, The Bob Ross Foundation, Wells Fargo Bank, Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund, and The National Endowment for the Arts. Chanticleer's activities as a not-for-profit corporation are supported by its administrative staff and Board of Trustees." - Laphil



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