The Sacramento Choral Calendar
She Said, He Said - September 29, 2013
by Dena Kouremetis
Twelve men with perfect voices and near-perfect pitch (okay, nobody’s perfect): that’s how I think of Chanticleer, one of the nation’s premier all-male a cappella choral groups. The Sacramento area concert, held at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church this past Sunday, was only the 4th time the group performed its “She Said, He Said” concert, bringing the most important of human relationships from ancient motet mode into the 21st century. The journey was an inspiring one that evoked three standing ovations and created an unforgettable evening for all.
First, I must admit that while my spouse and I have been long-time Chanticleer fans, the last concert we attended (and we always seem to attend them at Christmas-time) left us less than impressed after having driven the two hours to see them in the Bay Area. It was at a time when veteran director Joseph Jennings had just retired from his position and an interim director was in charge. The concert that year (2011?) was woefully short and uncharacteristically loose compared to any other of the many magnificent performances we had attended. This concert, however, made us the most ardent of believers once again.
(Click here to open key parts of the concert program in a new window.)
Chanticleer’s collectively expressive faces and movements engaged the audience when launching the program with Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s joyous and inspired motet, "Gaude gloriosa à 5." The group went on to perform Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria’s "Regina caeli laetare à 8," accompanied by a short narration by soprano (and assistant music director) Gregory Peebles explaining that its joyful hallelujahs held the Virgin Mary as the historic feminine ideal of the first “she” to which a huge number of musical compositions were dedicated back in the day. At times the men’s voices resembled the sounds of violins, ebbing and flowing in volume and tone. Hildegard von Bingen’s "O frondens virga," a Gregorian chant-like number, found alto Adam Ward soloing as other singers harmonically droned quietly in the background.
The dramatic "Tirsi morir volea" played on the common Renaissance poetic theme of dying being akin to eroticism (as the program explains) and employed seven (SATB) parts to create a sensual dialogue between two ardent lovers, higher-pitched voices representing the nymph Clori and deeper voices responding as the shepherd Tirsi.
"Oime se tanto amato" showed off the lively and varied rhythms employed by Claudio Monteverdi, with its abrupt ending evoking rousing applause from a startled but delighted audience. The mellifluous voices of Cortez Mitchell, Michael Bresnahan and Gregory Peebles were featured in the fast-moving "Trois Chansons," one of Maurice Ravel’s only forays into the world of choral music, one that tells the story of love-for-money, elders warning youth about the perils of the dark woods, and mythological creatures.
One of my favorite first half numbers was Steve Hackman’s ‘Wait’ Fantasy, arranged in 2013 and commissioned this year for Chanticleer’s new album, Someone New. The song incorporates Emily Dickinson’s "I Sing to Use the Waiting," dealing with death and the illusion of time. Achingly beautiful dissonant chords resolve into harmonies as interesting contemporary melody lines ask if time is friend or foe.
Having sung (and worked hard at doing so) many of modern-day composer Eric Whitacre’s choral pieces myself, "A Boy and a Girl" reminded me once again of the artistic images his instantly recognizable harmonies can evoke. Chanticleer’s skillful use of dynamics washed over listeners “like clouds exchanging foam” as the piece spoke volumes about the silent power of youthful love. They say that the most difficult thing for most choral groups to master is the art of the triple pianissimo. Anyone in attendance who heard the ending of this piece would agree this group has mastered it in spades.
Shifting gears to American pop and Brazilian jazz, the group showed its versatile chops with Cole Porter’s classic, "So in Love" and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s "Chega de Saudade (No More Blues)." The program inched toward a close with Joni Mitchell’s "Both Sides Now"; a song written on an airplane when the composer watched clouds float beneath the aircraft. Also memorable was the group rhythmically stomping its feet and clapping its hands to British composer Peter Eldridge’s (Elbow) "Mirrorball," where soloist Adam Ward informed us “everything has changed.” Indeed it had, as the group had transported us through the centuries with its bluesy encore number, "Willow Weep for Me," beautifully arranged by Joe Jennings.
Event reviewer Dena Kouremetis studied languages and psychology at Ball State University, Deree University in Athens, Greece and at l'Aliance Française in Paris. A native of San Francisco, she grew up in a family of musicians as well as in and around her father's piano store. A writer, author and journalist, Kouremetis is also a professional blogger for Forbes. She has sung alto voice under Sacramento's Donald Kendrick in University Singers, under Alan Simon for Soli Deo Gloria in the San Francisco Bay Area and currently sings with Placer Pops Chorale under Lorin Miller, where she also serves as corporate sponsorship chair for the newly-formed non-profit organization.
Dena Kouremetis may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org