Music

Chanting Clear with Chanticleer

Photo by Lisa Kohler.
Photo by Lisa Kohler.

Chanticleer have been busy.

The past five years they’ve recorded so many albums I’ve lost track. And now, after last year’s Gypsy in my Soul tour, they’re back on the road with their latest programme entitled Mystery. Though they’ve been busy recording and touring, they haven’t made a stop in Seattle for quite some time.

I will be there.

I first heard Chanticleer’s music at the University District Tower Records back in 1993, when I suddenly fell inexplicably in love with William Byrd’s masses. At that time they had been around for fifteen years already, but with only a couple of recordings. Even then, however, their name carried respect. Growing up as a musician in the 1970s and 80s, I rarely heard Renaissance music, and what I did get a chance to hear was generally performed with mixed male and female choirs. Louis Botto, Chanticleer’s founder, wanted to take the music back to its roots and perform it the way it had been performed in the composers’ lifetimes.

That move was bold. Though David Munrow’s work with the Early Music Consort was widely available, and the period instrument movement initiated by Christopher Hogwood, Roger Norrington and others had heated up when I was in school, Botto’s approach to vocal music was quite unusual. The Tallis Scholars and their approach seemed to dominate recorded music at the time. While I adored The Talllis Scholars and Huelgas Ensemble work from that time, hearing Chanticleer and their genuine sound and how very, very good they were was a revelation. “Historically informed performance” of choral music these days is so widespread listeners tend to take it for granted that it has always been this way. It hasn’t. Chanticleer’s hard work helped make the contemporary music world possible.

In that sense it is difficult to say something about Chanticleer that someone hasn’t already said. They are exceptional singers, and exceptionally renowned, with two Grammys for their work and even more praise from those who love choral singing. So I suppose what remains is their program.

The press release tells you that “Mystery, explores the mysteries at the core of the Christian story – perceived and set to music by composers from different corners of Western culture, viewing the profound ideas through their cultural prisms, united by awe.”

Take that as you will. Myself I’m simply looking forward to the music on display, a curious mix of old and new. William Byrd (yes!), Josquin Desprez, and Palestrina find themselves on the same ticket with Georgy Sviridov and Rachmaninov, with appearances from Orlando di Lasso, Tomás Luis de Victoria, Gabrieli and Golovanov. A nice union of Eastern and Western traditions. I’ve also heard there is some Poulenc and Hugo Wolf.

It’s been awhile since I last saw Chanticleer in Seattle. Much too long. Some of these pieces hearken back to their earlier period and recordings like their wonderful Magnificat. Some I have never heard. I’m excited also to hear the new members of the group who haven’t had the challenge of our Town Hall’s acoustics. The programme is promising and the time is right.

Saturday, April 25th, 8:00 p.m. // Part of Early Music Guild’s International Series at Town Hall Seattle. // Tickets $20-45, available at www.earlymusicguild.org/chanticleer or call (206) 325-7066.

Omar Willey was born at St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Seattle and grew up near Lucky Market on Beacon Avenue. He believes Seattle is the greatest city on Earth and came to this conclusion by travelling much of the Earth. He is a junior member of Lesser Seattle and, as an oboist, does not blow his own trumpet. Contact him at omar [at] seattlestar [dot] net