Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Three World Premieres!

The five performances of the concert are now over. It was great to see audiences loving the new music - they were moved by the profundity of the anti-war statements in Shawn's piece - particularly as they are expressed in the Lullaby section. Some left humming the jazzy Quechua movement of Mason's "Sirens." . Having Mason and Shawn there to present their pieces and then to talk about them afterwards made for a really enjoyable evening. We'll be streaming it on Chanticleer Radio ( home page) so you can hear it too.

Reviews are in from Chloe Veltman, Joshua Kosman ( SF Chron), Georgia Rowe, Paul Hertelendy: Rowe's review is entitled "Beauty and Danger, In Song." Veltman says " I was tossed from shore to shore by Chanticleer's performance. The linguistic capabilities of the group are astounding. I didn't hear a vowel out of place..." Joshua Kosman begins by remarking "... there's an alluring piquancy in Chanticleer's new commissioning project, "Composers Our Age." read the reviews in their entirety by clicking on comments below.

We'll leave in a few days for concerts in North Carolina, Maryland, Richmond and Connecticut, including a Youth Choral Festival in Darien, Connecticut on the 31st. We'll let you know how it goes!

Shawn and Mason before the concert in Berkeley. We sang for the first time in public "No Matter" by Tarik O'Regan (who couldn't be present,) "The Garden of Paradise" by Shawn Crouch, and "Sirens" by Mason Bates. Chanticleer has a long history of adding to the choral repertoire through commissioning and performing new music; when we turned 30 last year we decided to find a new generation of composers for us, and here they are.


  1. Siren Call
    March 18, 2009

    Contemporary composers can't seem to get enough of working with Chanticleer. The multiple Grammy Award-winning, all male vocal ensemble might have originally established its international reputation with incandescent interpretations of Renaissance and Medieval works and gone on to earn a mass following through catchy Christmas carol and gospel arrangements. But these days, it's the group's partnerships with cutting-edge composers such as Douglas Cuomo, Shulamit Ran and Chen Yi that are setting the music world alight. "The biggest challenge is writing a piece that's worthy of the group's greatness," longstanding Chanticleer collaborator Augusta Read Thomas recently said.

    To celebrate entering its third decade, the 31-year-old ensemble has commissioned three emerging artists in their early thirties to create new works for Chanticleer's upcoming Composers/Our Age concert series. Also known on the club scene as DJ Masonic, the Virginia-raised, Berkeley-based composer Mason Bates' first major choral work Sirens explores the magnetic call of the ancient Greek mythical seductresses through setting of poems about sirens from several different traditions. Samuel Beckett's abyss-staring 1983 monograph, Worstward Ho, serves as inspiration for No Matter by the Grammy-nominated, London-born Tarik O'Regan. Meanwhile, the poetry of Iraq war veteran Brian Turner and the 13th century Persian bard Rumi come together in New York composer Shawn Crouch's The Garden of Paradise.

    The highlight of the group's first concert of these works which I saw last night in Berkeley, was undoubtedly Bates' Sirens. It was only during this piece, which took up the entire second half of the program, that Chanticleer's singers hit their stride. The first half of the program, though less memorable, possesses some beautiful moments. No Matter entombs Beckett's nihilistic poetry in whispering-undulating phrases and stark fifths. The Garden of Paradise features wild contrasts between the flighty, bird-like upper lines and the constantly shifting, belly-rumbling lower voices. The piece also includes some memorable word painting -- such as on the word "maut" (meaning death) which stands out like a car wreck from the preceding texture. The piece makes for a powerful war requiem with its contrast between Rumi's ancient words and Turner's contemporary reflections on life in a war zone. ("Akbar stirs the chai, the carries his sleeping four-year-old, Habib, to bed under glow-in-the-dark stars arranged on the ceiliing" is a line, sung heartacheingly simply by the tenors, that I won't easily forget.) But No Matter suffers from a thinness to the sound -- the piece comes across as anemic and there were some intonation problems in the challenging soprano lines in last night's performance. And the group's articulation of Beckett's and Turner's texts wasn't as clear as it ought to have been.

    Chanticleer's talent crystallized in Sirens, however. I felt like I was being taken on a journey through space and time with this piece, which mixes together passages in Ancient Greek from Book XII of The Odyssey, Heinrich Heine's poem "Die Lorelei", Pietro Aretino's lovely sonnet from the 16th century, "Stelle, Vostra Merce L'Eccelse Sfere", a poem of the native Quechua (a South American tribe) entitled "Sirinu Nuqa Rikuni A", a section from the Book of Matthew "The Calling of the First Disciples", and, finally, a return to the The Odyssey at the close.

    The piece glitters with mesmerizing textures throughout, luring the audience, like the unfortunate sailor in Heine's poem, to temptation and ultimate doom. The piece is an essay in the art of seduction, in fact. Shakers and heavy vocal whispers lace the Quecha poem with mystery. The hyperbolic dynamic contrasts in the section from Matthew (the singers go from quiet to loud and back again in the space of a single bar at times) create extreme intensity -- suggesting the meeting point of beauty and danger. Bates' setting of Heine rolls forward like waves crashing over rocks while exuding a sparse, despairing quality. And reflecting Bates' interest in electronic music with its ambient throbbing lines and parts almost reminiscent of hip-hop scratching, Sirens brings to mind a slightly sinister courtship dance between ancient and modern sensibilties.

    I was tossed from shore to shore by Chanticleer's performance. The linguistic capabilities of the group are astounding. I didn't hear a vowel out of place, despite the complexity of the changing tongues in which the movements of the work are set. There is a lively flow to Bates' music, and the vocalists seemed as much swept along by the sounds, seduced by them, as the audience was.

    Chanticleer's Composers/Our Age concerts continue this week at the following venues:

    Mission Santa Clara, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, Wednesday, March 18 at 8 p.m.

    San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak Street, San Francisco, Friday, March 20 at 8 p.m., Saturday, March 21 at 8 p.m., Sunday, March 22 at 5 p.m.

    posted by Chloe at 8:5

  2. Chanticleer masterfully presents 3 commissions
    Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic
    Thursday, March 19, 2009

    Although a composer at 30 is still considered young, a 30-year track record qualifies an arts organization as an institution. So there's an alluring piquancy in Chanticleer's new commissioning project, "Composers Our Age."

    To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the estimable men's chorus called on three composers - born around the same time the group was founded - to contribute pieces on subjects of their own choosing. The resulting program, introduced in Berkeley's First Congregational Church on Tuesday night, was enlivened not only by a wide stylistic range but by the combination of youthful energy and technical mastery on display.

    Of the three pieces, the most ambitious and satisfying was "Sirens," an expansive study of musical seduction by Berkeley composer Mason Bates. This collection of six diverse movements approaches the Greek legend of the Sirens from a variety of angles, rendering all of them with beauty and vivacity.

    The two framing movements set the stage with excerpts from the "Odyssey" (with the ancient Homeric Greek, bizarrely, pronounced as though it were modern Greek). In between come settings of Heine's "Die Lorelei" - give Bates credit for facing down Schubert - as well as a 15th century Italian sonnet, a poem in Quechua and an excerpt from the Gospel of Matthew.

    I don't begin to understand the relevance of that last one (Jesus was a Siren, luring Simon Peter to destruction?), but the music Bates writes for it is as lush and inviting as the rest. What's most striking about the piece, in fact, is how unabashedly the composer embraces both tonal sensuousness and rhythmic patterning.

    Those are the time-honored tools of musical entrapment, of course, but they're also a potential pitfall for composers drawn into the snare of crafting merely pretty sounds. Bates dodges that peril by combining irresistible beauty with structural rigor and careful attention to the text.

    The Homer movements are bold and muscular - these Sirens are just the sort to appeal to a Greek warrior's sense of pride - while the Heine setting unfolds in a Romantic mist of cushiony harmonies. The Italian sonnet by Pietro Aretino settles into a 6/8 rhythmic groove that interacts tellingly with the rhythms of the text, while the Quechua poem is a rough-hewn adventure yarn, punctuated by maracas and explosive whispers. The chorus sang every movement of the piece with the relevant stylistic fervor.

    Composer Shawn Crouch offered a similar textual counterpoint in "The Garden of Paradise," a delectable five-movement motet based on poems by the Iraq War veteran Brian Turner and the 13th century Sufi mystic Rumi.

    Like Bates, Crouch opts for sumptuous tonal harmonies when it serves his purpose - particularly in the gorgeous, unadorned "Lullaby" movement - but he also finds room for dense post-Romantic tangles. Those contrast revealingly with the more clear-cut textures of the Rumi sections, in which an open-toned drone accompanies fleet, delicate settings of the text in translation.

    The program opened with "No Matter," composer Tarik O'Regan's arctically spare setting of excerpts from Samuel Beckett's "Worstward Ho."

    Chanticleer: 8 p.m. Friday- Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday. San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak St. Tickets: $25-$44. Call (800) 407-1400 or go to

    E-mail Joshua Kosman at

  3. Hi People,

    What a fantastic experience we all had last night.

    I'm not a musicologist, but for me, I left the Mission as if I had been meditating for several hours.
    Every moment of the music was so exquisitely beautiful, but my mind (left brain) did not have a melody or pattern to grab-onto, so I was just in the "Now" each moment. Like Eckhart Tolle, has written about the Power of NOW.

    I have done an 8-day meditation retreat with the Buddhists, and the feeling was a lot like that. Feeling captivated for each moment.... but no by thought.
    At the end of the concert.... the feeling was like.... "I just want it to go on... and not stop".
    It seemed to me that much of the audience was similarly... captivated.....
    Bob and Mary Lou Hostetter

    (If You Were Born in 1978)
    By Paul Hertelendy, the independent observer of San Francisco Bay Area music and dance
    Week of March 18-25, 2009
    Vol. 11, No. 81
    BERKELEY---Three emerging composers have created world-premiere opuses for male chorus, unveiled here on St. Patrick’s Day without fanfares, as it was all a cappella.
    These are works with a flavor tied much more to the classical or Renaissance era of music than to the romantic. The preponderance of high voices particularly recalls the renaissance, where baritones and basses were often omitted altogether. And all three works tended toward the ascetic as well as the aesthetic.
    Chanticleer, that elite professional group of 12 singing with neither accompaniment nor conductor, is dominated by (male) sopranos, altos and tenors. Its singers can thread the needle on very difficult vocal lines, often with all 12 having distinct assignments. There is no room for weak links.
    Mysticism and textual juxtapositions dominated the new works; both Berkeley’s Mason Bates and East Coast composer Shawn Crouch zigzagged through contrasting texts, while British composer Tarik O’Regan hewed to a nihilistic poetic text by Samuel Beckett. Chanticleer came up with a clever unifying force in its commissions: All three composers were born the same year as the founding of the chorus, 1978.
    O’Regan’s 14-minute “No Matter” was a particular challenge, a solemn, subtle piece featuring sustained consonances without start or end, tricky enough to sing that the ensemble veered a bit off-pitch (while bouncing up and down to try to maintain the elusive beat). Much of this divided the chorus into two groups, one high and one low, with an untouched octave or so between---an unusual, ear-catching approach.
    Shawn Crouch’s “The Garden of Paradise” interspersed texts of a returning Iraq soldier, via Brian Turner, with translated love poetry by the 13th-century Persian known simply as Rumi. The former is reactive---“It should break your heart to kill”---while the latter is reflective, ending in the exuberance of love, of release, of celestial visions. The Crouch-Turner part recalled the evocative voices of the pacifistic Britten-Owen “War Requiem.”
    Mason Bates’ “Sirens”---at 30 minutes, the night’s longest---offered the added challenge of foreign languages in its world literary tour: ancient Greek, German, Quechua, and Italian, reflecting an exercise where Chanticleer had clearly labored to improve its diction (The German was especially well enunciated, much more so than the Italian). The work is nobly framed by Homer’s “Odyssey” excerpt. There were beautiful halos of high sound in the Quechua “siren” portion, along with soft percussive rattles. Including the German “Die Lorelei,” where both poem and timeless song are learned by every German youngster, seemed pointless. Far more effective was the St. Matthew gospel on Jesus’ “fishers of men” quote, reminding me of some the distant serenity heard in Arvo Pärt’s vocal music. This one could effectively be excerpted for a sacred program.
    All in all, the three premieres added up to a mammoth achievement by emerging talents covering new ground in esoteric fashion. Too bad that other performing groups don’t have the same relish for adventure and renewal as our fearless Bay Area choruses.
    As is customary, Chanticleer repeatedly altered its formations standing in the sanctuary for optimum vocal cohesion. Music Director Matthew Oltman annotated the event, which is a (belated) highlight of Chanticleer's 30th season.
    The concert was given in the First Congregational Church, where the resonances greatly enriched the choral output.
    Chanticleer, the all-male professional a cappella chorus in three world premieres. Repeating at Mission Santa Clara March 18, then March 20-22 at the Conservatory of Music, San Francisco. For info: (800) 407-1800, or go online.
    ©Paul Hertelendy 2009

  5. Thanks to everyone for making this program such a success! And thanks to those who came out to share this new music with us. All three composers put a lot of care into crafting these pieces for us, and they were a joy to sing.

    I'm sad it's over!
    -Brian Hinman, Tenor

  6. Beauty And Danger, In Song
    EMAIL PRINT SHARE COMMENTS (0) Chanticleer was founded in 1978 to explore the vocal music of the Renaissance, but the ever-questing 12-man chorus makes a regular habit of looking to the future. Last Tuesday, at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church, the San Francisco–based ensemble ushered three newly commissioned works into the repertoire, giving each the kind of vibrant, lustrous performance that has become synonymous with the Chanticleer name.

    The program, titled “Composers/Our Age,” featured premieres by living (and, in two cases, present) composers Mason Bates, Shawn Crouch, and Tarik O’Regan, all commissioned by Chanticleer as part of its 31st season.

    The program, which repeated March 20-22 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, was sparsely attended — a shame, since it offered splendid evidence both of Chanticleer’s continued vocal excellence (the group has several new members, all fine additions) and of the quality of music being written by today’s “young” composers. (In an amusing aside, it was revealed that the represented composers were all roughly the same age as Chanticleer — Bates and Crouch were born in 1977, O’Regan in 1978.)

    The evidence was particularly strong in the second half’s performance of Bates’ “Sirens,” an arresting 30-minute song cycle cast in six movements. In his prefatory remarks, Bates, now a graduate student at UC Berkeley, said his aim was to explore “the intersection of beauty and danger” embodied in the sirens of Greek mythology. That’s as inviting a premise as any; what Bates has done with it is remarkable. Drawing from an eclectic list of texts — source material as hallowed as Heine’s Die Lorelei and as obscure as South American Quechua poems — the composer creates a sound world of rare seductive beauty.

    Bates wastes no time in establishing an atmosphere of enchantment. The cycle starts with an excerpt from Homer’s Odyssey set in a kind of sonic echo chamber, with the voices, pulsing and ecstatic, growing increasingly agitated before yielding to the next movement, a soft, undulating setting of Die Lorelei. Here, Bates animates Heine’s siren, sitting on a rock beside a river — the rippling water, the glint of her golden hair, the irresistible sound of her voice — in an aptly alluring score; the singers invested it with a palpable sense of wonder. The brief but potent third movement — a setting of Pietro Aretino’s Stelle, vostra merce l’eccelse sfere (Stars, thanks to you the lofty spheres) — praises the sirens of heaven in ravishing, long-breathed phrases.

    With the long fourth movement, “Sirinu” (Yes, I saw the Siren), Bates departs from everything that has come before. The Quechua text recalls a trancelike vision of a siren, who appears to the narrator in a rain-washed hollow. Intensely rhythmic and otherworldly, the tale is told in song, wordless cries, and whispers, with the singers supplying percussion sounds on handheld shakers.

    In Chanticleer’s fervent performance, the music reached out and enveloped the audience. So, too, did the penultimate movement, a radiant setting of text from the Book of Matthew that imbues Jesus’ summoning of the first disciples with the flavor of a siren call. The cycle ended where it began, with a beckoning movement drawn from The Odyssey, sung by the group with poise and precision.

    Garden of Horrors
    Before intermission, Chanticleer performed Crouch’s The Garden of Paradise. The composer, who introduced the work, incorporates contemporary poems by Iraq war veteran Brian Turner in chants, lullabies, and rhythmic settings, interspersed with chorale settings of texts by 13th-century Persian poet Rumi. There’s a lot going on in the piece, and, despite Chanticleer’s committed advocacy, not all of it cohered. But the central movement, “Sadiq,” which contains Turner’s admonition to an unknown solider (“It should break your heart to kill”), came across with undeniable force.
    “Composers/Our Age” began with O’Regan’s No Matter. The British composer has devised an appropriately minimalist setting of excerpts from Samuel Beckett’s late-life prose poem “Worstward Ho.” Hearing Beckett’s singular voice divided among the 12 voices of Chanticleer took a little getting used to, but O’Regan’s spare, insistent score proved persuasive in the end.