Begun as a way for musicology student Louis Botto to rediscover music from the Renaissance period and have it heard, Chanticleer, the only independent full-time classical vocal ensemble in the United States, developed into much more. In addition to a mastery of the male-sung Renaissance genre, Gregorian chant, opera, jazz, gospel, and twentieth-century pop became hallmarks of the group’s repertoire. Performances worldwide and over 20 successful CD releases helped the group gain international recognition. The 12 men of Chanticleer handle the full range of vocal parts— including soprano and alto, which are sung in a developed falsetto—without the help of a conductor. “They are, to put it directly, one of the world’s best,” wrote one San Francisco Chronicle critic in comments included in Chanticleer promotional materials.
Botto, a graduate student in musicology, found it strange that the music he was studying— vocal music from the Renaissance period—was never performed. In 1978, he gathered some fellow singers around a dining room table and proposed an idea. He had decided to start a group to sing this forgotten music using male voices in the Renaissance tradition. He plucked friends from the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and Grace Cathedral’s Choir of Men and Boys to form the first group of nine men. The ensemble began rehearsals for their debut performance at San Francisco’s historic Mission Dolores. Named for the “clear-singing” rooster from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the group performed music that would become part of Chanticleer’s repertoire. Before an enthusiastic, capacity audience, the ensemble performed works by Byrd, Isaac, Ockeghem, Morales, Morley, Dufay, and Josquin. After the successful show, the men agreed to commit to Chanticleer with a goal to perform at least three concerts per year.
The group initially performed on arduous tours of the United States for little money. Botto, a proficient cook, often bragged he could cook dinner for the entire Chanticleer ensemble for less than $50. The size of the group fluctuated during its first years, but the group settled on 12 singers, the number which provided the best flexibility to perform their varied repertoire; since its start, more than 65 men have been part of the Chanticleer ensemble. At San Francisco’s Festival of the Masses in 1980, esteemed American choral director Robert Shaw heard Chanticleer perform and declared it “one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.” In 1983, countertenor Joseph Jennings joined Chanticleer and had such a positive influence on the group as a whole that the other members soon asked him to become Chanticleer’s first music director.
Chanticleer’s success grew steadily, and the men were invited to their first overseas performance, which took place in Belgium at the International Josquin Symposium in 1984. International travel would become a mainstay for Chanticleer, which became regular fixtures at such European festivals as the Salzburg Festival, Austria; the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, Germany; the Brisbane Biennial Festival of Music, Australia; the Taipei International Choral Festival, Taiwan; and the Voices Festival, Netherlands. They have also performed in a variety of venues worldwide, everywhere from the world’s finest concert halls to a barn in Canada, a roofless church in Germany, and New York’s Central Park.
Though Chanticleer were among the only performers of Renaissance-period music, they found no interest from record labels in recording and releasing their work. As a result, in 1998, the Chanticleer Records label was founded and the first release, The Anniversary Album, was a tenth-anniversary celebration recording by the group. Chanticleer released ten records on their own label including On the Air: Live Radio Highlights, Psallite!: A Renaissance Christmas, Antoine Brumel!: Missa Berzerette savoyenne, and With a Poet’s Eye: New American Choral Music. In 1994, they signed an exclusive contract with Teldec Classics International, which gave the group the international exposure it needed. Teldec released Chanticleer albums as diverse as Gregorian chant, gospel music, and folk songs to over 60 countries worldwide.
By 1991, Chanticleer was financially stable enough to hire all 12 members as full-time employees. The move freed the group to perform and rehearse more frequently. Chanticleer performs over 100 concerts per year, spending about half its time on the road, and
Members include Eric Alatorre, bass; Matt Al-ber, soprano; Jesse Antin, alto; Kevin Baum, tenor; Thomas Bold, bass-baritone; Chris Fritzsche, soprano; Ian Howell, soprano; Michael Lichtenauer, tenor; David Alan Marshall, baritone; Matt Oltman, tenor; Jay White, alto; Philip Wilder, alto
Founded by Louis Botto to sing vocal Renaissance repertoire, 1978; proclaimed “one of the most beautiful musical experiences” by conductor Robert Shaw, 1980; Joseph Jennings joined group, became music director, 1983; formed own label, Chanticleer Records, released tenth-anniversary CD, 1988; employed all 12 group members full time, 1991; signed by Teldec Classics International label, 1994; released Colors of Love, 1999.
Awards: Grammy Award, Best Small Ensemble Performance (with or without Conductor) for Colors of Love, 2000.
Addresses: Record company —Teldec Classics International, Schubertstraßße 5-9, 22083 Hamburg, Germany, website: http://www.warner-classics.com/teldec/home2.html. Business —1182 Market Street, Suite 216, San Francisco, CA 94102, phone: (415) 252-8589, fax: (415) 252-7941.. Website—Chanticleer Official Website: http://www.chanticleer.org. E-mail —[email protected]
rehearses five hours per day, five days a week. Jennings told the New York Times how a Chanticleer singer is chosen and how each member flavors the group: “It’s a clear sound but one that has lots of color to it,” Jennings said. “We choose singers who are flexible vocally and stylistically, and incorporate all the voices into the total fabric. We try to be as authentic as we can to each style, but we color that authenticity with our twentieth-century American existence.” Botto’s death in 1997 was a great loss to the group. He had sung with Chanticleer from 1978 to 1989 and served as its artistic director until his death.
Though Chanticleer’s roots were in Renaissance music, the group came to perform and record a diverse body of work. Jennings’ inventive arrangements of gospel and pop music became part of the group’s repertoire. In 1994, the ensemble performed a fully-staged version of Benjamin Britten’s opera Curlew River. Chanticleer twice performed and recorded previously unknown work by Mexican composers Manuel de Zumaya and Ignacio de Jerusalem with an orchestra specializing in period-instrument performance. Mexican Baroque, was released in 1994, and Jerusalem: Matins for the Virgin of Guadalupe was released in 1998. Chanticleer teamed up with the London Studio Orchestra and the Don Haas Trio to record an album of pop and jazz standards called Lost in the Stars, released in 1996. An American Record Guide critic called 1997’s Wondrous Love, a collection of folk songs, “brilliant, yet intimate” with “clever arrangements” and “superb musicianship with clean-as-a-whistle vocalism.”
Though most Chanticleer concerts are a cappella performances, the group demonstrated its versatility and talent through a number of creative and sometimes unusual collaborations. The group has shared a stage with orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, as well as with Japanese dancers Eiko and Koma and jazz legend George Shearing. The ensemble commissioned many new works from contemporary classical composers including David Conte, Anthony Davis, Morton Gould, Bernard Rands, Steve Sametz, and Augusta Read Thomas. Composer Chen Yi was the group’s composer-in-residence from 1993 to 1996. Chanticleer’s 1999 release, Colors of Love, is a collection of works by these composers which earned a Grammy Award for Best Small Ensemble Performance in 2000.
The Anniversary Album, Chanticleer Records, 1988.
Our Heart’s Joy: A Chanticleer Christmas, Chanticleer Records, 1990.
Antoine Brumel: Missa Berzerette savoyenne, Chanticleer Records, 1991.
Psallite!: A Renaissance Christmas, Chanticleer Records, 1991.
With a Poet’s Eye: New American Choral Music, Chanticleer Records, 1991.
Josquin des Prez: Missa Mater Paths, Alexander Agricola: Magnificat and Motets, Chanticleer Records, 1992.
On the Air: Live Radio Highlights, Chanticleer Records, 1992.
Cristóbal de Morales: Missa Mille regretz and Motets, Chanticleer Records, 1993.
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Missa Pro Defunctis and Motets, Teldec Classics, 1994.
Mexican Baroque: Ignacio de Jerusalem and Manuel de Zumaya, Teldec Classics, 1994.
Out of this World: A Chanticleer Portrait, Teldec Classics, 1994.
Where the Sun Will Never Go Down: Spirituals and Traditional Gospel Music, Teldec Classics, 1994.
Mysteria: Gregorian Chants, Teldec Classics, 1995.
(With The London Studio Orchestra & The Don Haas Trio) Lost in the Stars, Teldec Classics, 1996.
Sing We Christmas, Teldec Classics, 1997.
The Music of Chen Yi: The Women’s Philharmonic with Chanticleer, New Albion Records, 1997.
Reflections: An Anniversary Collection, Teldec Classics, 1997.
Wondrous Love: A World Folk Song Collection, Teldec Classics, 1997.
Chanticleer Performs Byrd: Regina Coeli, Harmonia Mundi, 1998.
Jerusalem: Matins for the Virgin of Guadalupe, Teldec Classics, 1998.
Colors of Love, Teldec Classics, 1999.
Ave Maria: The Myth of Mary, Teldec Classics, 2000.
Magnificat: A Cappella Works by Josquin, Palestrina, Titov, Victoria, and others, Teldec Classics, 2000.
American Record Guide, November/December 1994; September/October 1997.
BBC Music Magazine, September 1999; November 2000.
Billboard, September 30, 2000.
Boston Globe, December 8, 1998.
Chicago Sun-Times, July 21, 1999.
Chicago Tribune, December 4, 1996.
Dallas Morning News, March 23, 1995.
Gramophone, Awards Issue 2000.
New York Times, December 5, 1999.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), January 23, 2000.
Sacramento Bee, August 8, 2000, p. D3.
Singapore Straits Times, April 1995.
“Chanticleer,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 18, 2001).
“Chanticleer,” Teldec Classics, http://www.warner-classics.com/teldec (April 27, 2001).
Chanticleer Official Website, http://www.chanticleer.org (April 18, 2001).
Additional materials provided by the Chanticleer publicity department, 2001.