The world-renowned a cappella male vocal ensemble Chanticleer is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2018 with a tour that includes Boston’s Trinity Church, Copley Square on Friday, May 4th at 7:30pm. Founded in San Francisco by Louis Botto in 1978, the group is celebrated as much for its astoundingly wide range of repertoire as for its superb musical skills and gift of communication. Over these four decades it has amassed over 40 recordings and received three Grammy awards. Chanticleer has performed with Frederica von Stade, Al Jarreau, Garrison Keillor, the Shanghai Quartet, as well as orchestras in New York, San Francisco, and St. Paul.
Chanticleer’s music director William Fred Scott’s “The Heart of a Soldier” speaks to “the art of soldiering, the pageant of war, the absurdity of battle, the loves left behind and the hope of peace.” And it reminds us that since 1978, we have continued to inhabit a world with multiple conflicts, large and small, potential and actual. Scott’s selections reflect an unexpected variety of moods, encompassing the grim realities of war, musical evocation of the sounds of warfare, the consolation of nature’s beauty, heartfelt tributes to the fallen, and even some morale-boosting lighter fare.
The show’s spans approximately five centuries, from the early Renaissance to the present decade. Highlights include Clément Janequin’s La guerre (The War), a depiction of the 1515 Battle of Marignan and as awesome a display of musical onomatopoeia as you are ever likely to hear; Thomas Tomkins’s anthem “O Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem:” an arrangement of Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”; C. H. H. Parry’s “My Soul, There is a Country;” and the Andrews Sisters’ classic “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
Chanticleer also includes some less known but similarly inspiring works: the troubadour song L’homme armé (The Armed Man), which formed the basis for around 50 Mass settings; Vladimir Mantulin’s arrangement of “The Battle of Borodin” (Napoleon’s 1812 incursion into Russia); John Musto’s haunting setting of a poem by Archibald MacLeish, “…a silence that speaks,” and the chorus “Our Beautiful Country” from the opera Cold Mountain by Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962). As should be evident, another hallmark of the ensemble’s work is its unwavering commitment to the music of 20th and 21st centuries; they have commissioned and premiered over 90 works from 70 composers.
This ensemble can work wonders with a mere 12 voices (six countertenors, three tenors, three bass-baritones), and a number of Chanticleer’s carefully chosen singers have made it the central focus of their singing careers over the years. One such is bass Eric Alatorre who will retire at the end of this, his 28th season. This will be Boston’s opportunity to bid a fond farewell to one of the mainstays of this group of imaginative, intelligent, versatile, and supremely musical performers.