Here’s what critics have to say about Chanticleer:
“precise, pure, and deeply felt singing” New York Times
“The singing of Chanticleer is breathtaking in its accuracy of intonation, purity of blend, variety of colour, and swagger of style” The Boston Globe
“I can’t think of another ‘orchestra of voices’ that can shuttle with such proficiency from Renaissance polyphony to gospel, contemporary classical to jazz” The Chicago Tribune
“Chanticleer fascinates and enthrals for much the same reason a fine chocolate or a Rolls Royce does: through luxurious perfection” Los Angeles Times
Chanticleer's mission is to present choral music at the highest level of excellence and to encourage worldwide appreciation for the art of ensemble singing through live performances, education, recording and the creation of new choral work. We are committed to using our unique brand, flexibility and experience to adapt to the rapidly changing dynamics of the music industry.
Chanticleer - History
Over the years, Chanticleer founder Louis Botto was often asked if, at that first convening of singers around a dining room table in San Francisco he had any idea it would become what it is today. He would usually answer, "yes," with a broad smile and a twinkle in his eye.
As a graduate student in musicology, Louis found it odd that much of the repertoire he was studying–vocal music of the medieval and Renaissance periods–was not being performed. He decided to form a group to sing this neglected repertoire, using only male voices, as was the tradition in most churches during the Renaissance. Louis turned to members of choirs in which he sang, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and the Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys, asking if they might be interested in this endeavor.
Nine members were selected, including Louis (who sang tenor), and rehearsals began for their debut performance. One of the founding members, baritone Charlie Erikson, was in the midst of reading Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. To name the group, he suggested Chanticleer, the name of the "clear singing" rooster in The Nun's Priest's Tale. [Chaucer had actually borrowed the name from the ancient French tale, Renard the Fox; it is a combination of the French words chanter ("to sing") and clair ("clear").] Everyone approved this choice, and Chanticleer debuted on June 27, 1978 before a capacity audience at San Francisco's historic Old Mission Dolores. The program featured works by composers that would become staples of the ensemble's repertoire over the years: Byrd, Isaac, Ockeghem, Morales, Morley, Dufay, and Josquin. Buoyed by their success, they agreed to continue rehearsing with the goal of performing a new concert approximately every four months.
Louis was always concerned that there were not enough career positions available to choral singers and he decided early on that Chanticleer should provide full-time, salaried employment for its members. This was not an easily attainable goal and in fact was not realized until 1991. The group's early years were marked by long, arduous tours traveling by van, often for eight to ten weeks and dozens of concerts in a row in as many cities. The group earned little money in those days. Louis, a gourmet chef, often bragged that he could make dinner for all of the members of Chanticleer for less than $50, and he frequently did so, cooking in their tiny motel "kitchenettes." Conditions gradually improved, but those early days in the van are fondly remembered.
Chanticleer's first tours covered every state in the union. International recognition came in l984 when the ensemble performed a Mass at the International Josquin Symposium held in Belgium. Chanticleer was invited to replace a last minute cancellation by another group, which required the Mass to be rehearsed on the plane! Today, Chanticleer tours biannually to Europe’s most prestigious concert halls, including the Musikverein in Vienna, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Prague’s Rudolfinum, Budapest’s Bela Bartok Hall, among others. Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan have offered concerts regularly, and in 2009 Chanticleer made its debut in the People’s Republic of China.
In those early years, Chanticleer was the beneficiary of good luck and good friends. It could not have succeeded in those early years through hard work alone. In 1980, the group participated in the Festival of Masses, a large choral festival held in San Francisco with the legendary Robert Shaw serving as Festival Conductor. Chanticleer performed a solo concert of three complete masses: one in plainchant and polyphonic settings by Dufay and Byrd. Mr. Shaw attended the performance and told the group "it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life." Louis, ever the entrepreneur, wrote down the Maestro's statement and asked him to sign it the next day. He did so, with one addition: stating that it was one of the most beautiful musical experiences of his life.
More than 100 men have sung in the ensemble each leaving an individual legacy. In what was to be a defining moment in l983, Joseph Jennings joined the group as a countertenor. His talents quickly led him to be named Music Director, a post he held until 2008. His legacy is far-reaching, and includes a wealth of gospel and jazz arrangements, as well as a long list of works commissioned by Chanticleer under his direction.
It was obvious that recording would increase the ensemble’s exposure, but difficult to find a label willing to venture into the varied repertoire that the group performed. In 1987, with its tenth anniversary approaching, Chanticleer decided to create an independent label to release its first CD, and Chanticleer Records was born. The risk paid off: the ensemble released a total of ten discs over a period of only six years. These recordings were successful enough that in 1994, Teldec signed Chanticleer to an exclusive recording contract, which lasted until 2008. Teldec recognized the appeal of Chanticleer’s diverse repertoire, making the CD’s available in more than 60 countries, and vastly increasing Chanticleer’s name recognition internationally. Colors of Love, Chanticleer's 1999 release devoted to contemporary choral works, won the GRAMMY® Award for Best Small Ensemble Performance (With or Without a Conductor.) Lamentations and Praises won two GRAMMY® awards in 2001.
From time to time Chanticleer collaborates with other artists. In close collaboration with musicologist Craig Russell, Chanticleer has performed and recorded three programs of unknown works by 18th-century Mexican composers Manuel de Zumaya and Ignacio de Jerusalem with a period-instrument orchestra (Mexican Baroque, Matins for the Virgin of Guadalupe, and Mission Road). Chanticleer presented a fully staged opera by Benjamin Britten, Curlew River, to critical acclaim, a musical play about Hildegard Von Bingen, and dramatic work by Sir John Tavener entitled Lamentations and Praises. Chanticleer has performed with Frederica Von Stade, Al Jarreau, Garrison Keilor, the Shanghai Quartet, as well as the New York, San Francisco, and St. Paul orchestras. Chanticleer has commissioned over 70 composers who have written over 90 pieces premiered by the group.
Its education program was recognized in 2010 with the Chorus America Education and Outreach Award, and serves over 5000 students every year in a sequence of programs supervised by a full-time Education Director.
Chanticleer has had the opportunity to sing in some of the most beautiful concert halls and churches in the world. But the group has also sung in a barn in Canada, a roofless church in the former East Germany, a gymnasium in Sweden, and in Central Park with the New York Philharmonic. No matter where the group travels, Chanticleer has become a "polished performing machine that … could fairly be called Botto's miracle" (The Wall Street Journal). Louis should be proud.
Chanticleer Current Biography
Called “the world’s reigning male chorus” by The New Yorker magazine, and named Ensemble of the Year by Musical America in 2008, the San Francisco-based, GRAMMY® award-winning ensemble Chanticleer embarks upon its 36th season in 2013-14, performing in 23 of the United States. A winter international tour of 9 European countries will see debuts in Dublin, Moscow, and St. Petersburg; and returns to Paris, Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Antwerp, Rotterdam, and Bruges. Praised by the San Francisco Chronicle for their “tonal luxuriance and crisply etched clarity,” Chanticleer is known around the world as “an orchestra of voices” for the seamless blend of its twelve male voices ranging from countertenor to bass and its original interpretations of vocal literature, from Renaissance to jazz, and from gospel to venturesome new music.
Chanticleer’s 24-concert 2013-14 Bay Area Season opens in September with the launch at SF Jazz of a new studio album, Someone New, a collection of jazz/pop tunes by composers such as Brubeck, Jobim, Gotye, Waits, Mercury, Elbow, M83 and others newly arranged for Chanticleer. The concert season opens with She Said/He Said, featuring music by Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn, Brahms, Ravel, Barber, as well as the premieres of “Give Me Hunger” by Stacy Garrop and Vince Peterson’s arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” A Chanticleer Christmas is in high demand at the Christmas season with performances from coast-to-coast in venues including New York’s St. Ignatius Loyola, Chicago’s First Presbyterian Church, Walt Disney Concert Hall and churches and missions in the San Francisco Bay Area. A Chanticleer Christmas is broadcast annually on over 300 affiliated public radio stations nationwide.
Two unprecedented collaborations round out the Bay Area season. Atlantic Crossing in March, with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the New Century Chamber Orchestra, recalls the period of electric creativity before World War I through the music of Rosza, Bartok, Weill, Ellington and Gershwin and features special arrangements by Clarice Assad. Concluding the season in June will be Chanticleer’s first all Russian program, Russian Dreams, featuring music written for Russian male choruses–from chant, folk songs, and battle songs, to secular chorales and Romantic liturgical masterpieces–all prepared by Elena Sharkova.
Since Chanticleer began releasing recordings in 1981, the group has sold well over a million copies and garnered two GRAMMY® awards. Chanticleer’s recordings are distributed by Chanticleer Records, Naxos, Rhino Records, ArkivMusic, and iTunes among others, and are available on Chanticleer’s website: www.chanticleer.org. In addition to Someone New, Chanticleer will release a live recording of She Said/He Saidon its Chanticleer Live in Concert (CLIC) series.
With the help of individual contributions, foundation and corporate support, the Ensemble involves over 5,000 young people annually in its extensive education programs. The Louis A. Botto (LAB) Choir—an after school honors program for high school and college students—is now in its fourth year, adding to the ongoing program of in-school clinics and workshops, Chanticleer Youth Choral Festivals™ in the Bay Area and around the country, master classes for students nationwide, and the Chanticleer in Sonoma summer workshop for adult choral singers. The Singing Life—a documentary about Chanticleer’s work with young people—was released in 2008. In 2010, Chanticleer’s education program was recognized by the Chorus America Education Outreach Award.
Chanticleer’s long-standing commitment to commissioning and performing new works was honored in 2008 by the inaugural Dale Warland/Chorus America Commissioning Award and the ASCAP/Chorus America Award for Adventurous Programming for the 2006-07 Season in which ten new works were premiered. Among the eighty composers commissioned in Chanticleer’s history are Mark Adamo, Mason Bates, Régis Campo, Chen Yi, David Conte, Shawn Crouch, Douglas J. Cuomo, Brent Michael Davids, Anthony Davis, Guido López-Gavilán, Stacy Garrop, William Hawley, Jake Heggie, Jackson Hill, Kamran Ince, Jeeyoung Kim, Tania León, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, Michael McGlynn, Peter Michaelides, John Musto, Tarik O’Regan, Roxanna Panufnik, Stephen Paulus, Shulamit Ran, Bernard Rands, Steven Sametz, Carlos Sanchez-Guttierez, Jan Sandström, Paul Schoenfield, Steven Stucky, John Tavener, Augusta Read Thomas and Janike Vandervelde.
Named for the “clear-singing” rooster in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Chanticleer was founded in 1978 by tenor Louis Botto, who sang in the Ensemble until 1989 and served as Artistic Director until his death in 1997.
Chanticleer, a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, is the current recipient of major grants from Chevron , The Dunard Fund/USA, The Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund , The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts , The Bernard Osher Foundation, The Bob Ross Foundation, and The Wallis Foundation. Chanticleer’s activities as a not-for-profit corporation are supported by its administrative staff and Board of Trustees.