COURTESY AUBREY HAWK PUBLIC RELATIONS
Vocal orchestra rules the roost
The Honolulu program of the 12-male-voice Chanticleer will include folk songs from Pacific Rim areas
There seems to be no challenge too great for the male choral ensemble known as Chanticleer.
The 12-voice orchestra -- named for the "clear-singing" rooster of Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" -- is known the world over for what the Los Angeles Times calls its "luxurious perfection."
In concert: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Place: Orvis Auditorium, University of Hawaii-Manoa
Tickets: $35 ($20 students and Honolulu Symphony musicians)
Call: 483-7123 or online at etickethawaii.com
Also: Free discussion with group members precedes the concert, at 6:30 p.m. in Music Building Room 36
The ensemble is in the midst of an interisland tour, with a stopover Saturday at Orvis Auditorium as part of the Honolulu Chamber Music Series season.
Matt Oltman, assistant music director and tenor in his seventh year with Chanticleer, said the group was founded in 1978 in San Francisco by Louis Botto, who served as artistic director until his death in '97.
"A group of singers got together due to a great love of early music," Oltman said. "It was a new idea at the time, before the popularity of that movement took off. Chanticleer wanted to re-create the sound of Renaissance and sacred music. With no women in the group, the high, countertenor voice was used right at the beginning. Our repertoire has since expanded to classical, more modern classical, commissioned work, plus folk, jazz, gospel and mostly a capella music."
One anticipated commissioned work is "And on Earth, Peace: A Chanticleer Mass," a collaboration of five contemporary composers from distinctive cultural and musical backgrounds. It will be performed at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in April.
Chanticleer spends upward of 23 weeks a year on the road. Combine that with its own home season in the Bay Area, plus master classes, and it amounts to about 100 concerts a year.
"We have done some pretty difficult repertoire," Oltman said, "although the program we're bringing to Hawaii is quite accessible. ... But I admit that some of the harmonic language of the pieces we'll be doing can be very challenging."
Chanticleer's program in Honolulu will include a variety of love songs, from early to contemporary classical, and folk songs of the British Isles, as well as Pacific Rim areas such as Korea, China and Japan.
"THE GROUP draws from a unique sound," Oltman said. "You may think you might know how 12 males sound as a group. But with our use of countertenors, as well as sopranos and bass singers, it's a mix chorus with a wide variety of ranges. It makes for a more homogenous sound that's unique to choral ensembles. We also tend to be more personable, as we make it a point to talk to the audience."
Oltman is proud of the diversity of Chanticleer's 30-CD catalog. "Our most recent is 'Sound and Spirit,' a more experimental CD about discovering more of our spiritual nature. There's chanting, droning, free music, and time and word association. And our next two recording projects will include one that juxtaposes Renaissance and commissioned work, and then a new Christmas CD."
The ensemble has been ending its Hawaii concerts with their rendition of Queen Liliuokalani's "Aloha Oe." "We're doing an old 1930s-'40s parlor room arrangement, which is very sweet."
Oltman said he first proposed singing the piece six years ago when Chanticleer first visited Hawaii. A Hawaiian friend cautioned him that the piece means so much to native Hawaiians, they didn't want to see it popularized.
"We had a vague idea of the story behind the song, which we first heard at a luau on Maui, and we hope we're able to perform the piece in the manner and sentiment it was meant when it was first written," he said.
"As with the folk music of other cultures, our goal is to sing any particular piece not in a Western style, but as reinterpreted from a genuine place of emotion. Our program is quite varied, and for any new people, I hope it will be something not what they expected."