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Thursday, January 27, 2005

Chanticleer in with the old, out with the new

News-Journal Fine Arts writer

DAYTONA BEACH — Chanticleer was in fine form Tuesday, offering its Central Florida Cultural Endeavors audience a vocal selection that ranged from serene plainsong to the most ornate art songs and even an archly finger-snapping "Frankie and Johnny."

What the 12-man vocal ensemble from San Francisco couldn't offer was the clarity stated in its name. Chanticleer, named after the clear-singing rooster in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," is famous for its pure, unadorned vocal line.

But those in the back rows, especially to the side and rear of the lofty, spacious Our Lady of Lourdes Church at Tuesday's sell-out performance, often heard only garbled words, notes and harmonies. That was a shame: Chanticleer's extensive tours since it was founded in 1978, bolstered by its long recording list, have made the a cappella ensemble practically a household name.

The opening pieces in "Women, Saintly and Otherwise" offered just that ringing, singing, reverberating Chanticleer sound. "Gaude virgo, mater Christi," by Renaissance master Josquin Desprez, soared from a sacred drone straight to celestial sopranos, while the subsequent chant, "Ave Maria" by Tomas Luis de Victoria filled Lourdes.

The songs that followed, broken only by applause, explored a range that was simply divine. Madrigals and ditties by Maurice Ravel and Francis Poulenc offered Chanticleer the chance to revel in the guise it can wear so elegantly: Glee Club revelers.

Its dramatic inflections were flawless in Claudio Monteverdi's tributes to a dead singer, and just as somber in the close harmonies of Pearsall's "Lay a Garland."

It was only with the spoken introductions and performances of its modern pieces that Chanticleer's well-deserved sublime tones stumbled seriously. "The Uncertainty of the Poet," from Cary John Franklin's "With a Poet's Eye," was choppy and uneven, while Augusta Read Franklin's arrangements for Emily Dickinson's poems, "Purple Syllables," was a disjunctive jumble of notes and utterly incomprehensible words -- ironically, given the many languages presented in the program, in English.

Chanticleer's concert offered a lively sampling of the ensemble's vast repertory, but seemed at the same time to overreach -- either by cramming nearly 27 years of diverse repertory into a single concert in a less-than-ideal setting, or by shifting from reverence to a rather fey kitsch in its pop pieces.

Still, however garbled by acoustical distortion or the rambling program's odd leaps from faith to folly to infidelity, Chanticleer came through loud and clear at key moments, chanting clearly and most memorably.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Getting job ‘good fortune’ for twentysomething singer

News-Journal Fine Arts writer

Jesse Antin has been singing alto for five years now with Chanticleer, the vocal ensemble whose Central Florida Cultural Endeavors concert is Jan. 25.

Jesse Antin
Jesse Antin

But Antin still can barely believe his good fortune.

“I was quite young when Chanticleer invited me to join,” said Antin, 27, who married just last summer. “Nothing like that had ever happened to me before — it blew my mind. There is nothing you can do to prepare for a life in Chanticleer, but it’s been the best thing in my life,” he said. “To be a singer with these guys, to sing for thousands of people and tour all over — imagine. It’s actually our job.”

Well, one thing he did prepared Antin for his dream job. He’s been singing all his life, as a countertenor in a men-and-boys choir in his Princeton, N.J., hometown, before establishing himself as a soloist and freelance singer while studying music and philosophy at Brown University in Providence, R.I. Along the way, Antin also played the organ and piano, conducted and composed.

Still, becoming part of Chanticleer, the 12-member ensemble The New Yorker calls “the world’s reigning male chorus,” was more than Antin had ever expected. He grew up listening to recordings by the San Francisco-based group that was formed in 1978, and aspired to what he now calls the “tradmark sound” of Chanticleer. Founder Louis Botto, who died in 1997, was inspired by the name of the rooster in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” — Chanticleer, or “clear-singing.”

A local tenor, Earnest Murphy, is also impressed by Chanticleer’s sound. “I am certainly looking forward to their concert — I just found one of their old recordings, ‘Lost in the Stars,’ and was reminded of how much I enjoy their work,” said Murphy, a Daytona Beach resident who is a former member of the New York Pro Musica and the Robert Shaw Chorale.

“What impresses me most about Chanticleer is that they take chances with their music, they really go all out — you never know what they might take on next,” said Murphy, who performs in many regional concerts. “They’re a very versatile group, and professionally they are very fine — they’ve always had great people.”

And then there is that clear sound, said Antin. “The Chanticleer sound means two things,” said Antin. “First, we use men to sing the upper parts, soprano and alto. And, second, the purity of the sound is very clear-sounding — it’s straight tone singing, with very little vibrato to obscure the pitch.”

Yet that sound is one that over the past 27 years has lent itself to a variety of musical types. They range from an early emphasis on medieval and Renaissance vocal compositions to Gregorian chants, contemporary compositions written just for Chanticleer and the latest of the ensemble’s 25 recordings, “How Sweet the Sounds — Spirituals and Traditional Gospel Music.”

Chanticleer sings with a sound that is all their own, Antin said. In Daytona Beach, as at the nine other stops on the January tour that begins in Palm Desert, Calif., and ends in Lincoln, Neb., that will mean presenting a “tour program” that includes everything from baroque tunes by Henry Purcell to bawdy songs from Maurice Ravel, pieces by Cole Porter and George Gershwin and even a new work by Chanticleer’s composer-in-residence, Jeeyong Kim.

“The program has a great variety of music,” Antin said. “It showcases many of the various styles we enjoy singing — old pieces, Gregorian chants and more contemporary pieces, one we premiered just this year, and even jazz.

“We want to show our audience our songs, to offer a sampling,” he said. “The same 12 people can use their voices in many different ways — the important thing is to serve the music well, to meet the wishes of the composer and not to be corny or gimmicky.

“What we really want to do is just sing the heck out of it.”


Award-winning Vocal Ensemble to Perform in Daytona Beach

Singers: (L to R) Jesse Antin, John Bischoff, Eric Brenner, Eric Alatorre, Ben Johns, Clifton Massey, Tim Maguire, Dylan Hostetter. (Seated L to R) Mark Sullivan, Matthew Oltman, Justin Montigne, Fraser Walters

Daytona Beach, Fla. (Jan. 3, 2005) - Central Florida Cultural Endeavors (CFCE) proudly presents Grammy® Award-winning vocal ensemble, Chanticleer, as the fourth production of the Totally Classical! Winter Season '04/05. The concert takes place on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2005 at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, (201 University Boulevard) in Daytona Beach, beginning at 7:30 p.m.

The evening's program is entitled "Woman Saintly & Otherwise." But, the women of Chanticleer's program are not merely objects of musical expression. Several pieces are composed by women and listeners will also hear lyrics penned by women, including the great Emily Dickinson, and a selection by Augusta Read Thomas and Jeeyoung Kim (Chanticleer's 2003 Composer in Residence.) The pieces of "Women, Saintly and Otherwise" encompass a vast spectrum. Some are anonymous; others are medieval, baroque, romantic, or modern. Music from numerous national origins is sung: Russian, Spanish, French, Italian, Netherlands, English, Korean, and American. The program's range of genres stretches from Gregorian chant to African-American spiritual, from madrigals and folk songs to laments and popular tunes.

Chanticleer has developed a remarkable reputation for its vivid interpretations of vocal literature, from Renaissance to jazz, and from gospel to venturesome new music. With its seamless blend of 12 male voices, ranging from countertenor to bass, the ensemble has earned international renown as "an orchestra of voices."

Hailed by the New Yorker magazine as "the world's reigning male chorus," and praised by the Los Angeles Times for its "luxurious perfection," the ensemble's 28th CD, How Sweet the Sound: Spirituals and Traditional Gospel Music, debuted in September 2004. The recording is Chanticleer's second full-length gospel CD.

The ensemble's catalog includes Colors of Love, which won the GRAMMY® Award for Best Small Ensemble Performance (with or without Conductor) and the Contemporary A Cappella Recording Award for Best Classical Album. The world-premiere recording of Sir John Tavener's Lamentations and Praises was released in January 2002 to high praise, and garnered two GRAMMY® awards, for Classical Best Small Ensemble Performance (with or without Conductor) and for Best Classical Contemporary Composition.

Named for the "clear-singing" rooster in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Chanticleer was founded in 1978 by tenor Louis Botto, who sang with the group until 1989 and served as Artistic Director until his death in 1997. In 1999, Christine Bullin joined Chanticleer as President & General Director. Music Director Joseph Jennings joined the ensemble as a countertenor in 1983, and shortly thereafter assumed his current title. A prolific composer and arranger, Jennings has provided the group with some of its most popular repertoire, most notably spirituals, gospel music, and jazz standards.

For concert tickets, contact the Box Office at (386) 257-7790 or visit at 210 S. Beach St., Daytona Beach or

Central Florida Cultural Endeavors, Inc. is a non-profit organization that presents a wide variety of cultural events in Volusia and Flagler counties, including a winter season of chamber music. The most prominent CFCE project is the Florida International Festival, featuring the London Symphony Orchestra, which takes place July 15-30, 2005.

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