'Chanticleer' to bring a capella harmony to Northshire Performing Arts
MANCHESTER, VT. — You never know who you might run into at the post office who will help solve a problem.
Paula Albertsson, the executive director of Northshire Performing Arts, a nonprofit group based in Dorset, Vt., that stages one major concert a year in Manchester and then uses the proceeds to help fund an educational outreach program, had a problem, or maybe a question — how to follow up last year's successful performance by the 5 Browns, a brother-and-sister musical quintet who had charmed their audience?
Enter Roger Squires, a local innkeeper, who happened to be standing next-in-line with Albertsson at the Dorset Post Office earlier this year. Albertsson asked him who he would like to see. An earlier round of surveys to their mailing list had returned with inconclusive results.
For Squires, who is a singer in his church choir and had enjoyed the 5 Browns concert, his suggestion was simple and unequivocal — get Chanticleer.
He had seen them two years ago at Tanglewood and said it was the best concert he had ever attended, Albertsson said.
"He spoke so highly of them that I went right back to the office and looked them up online," she said. "I called their agent and they were available on July 26," the date Northshire Performing Arts had booked the Arkel Pavilion at the Southern Vermont Arts Center for their annual event.
Not just available, but the San Francisco-based singing group would be in the midst of a New England tour and in the neighborhood. They will be making a return appearance at Tanglewood on Wednesday, July 27, the night after their show in Manchester.
Squires, who said he had been singing in one way or another for practically his entire life and "knows good singing," said the 12-man a cappella vocal group was exceptional.
"When you close your eyes and listen to them, it's as though you're hearing a full choir of voices," he said. "They are spectacular. Their range is enormous.'
Chanticleer is a men's singing group established in 1978. They have sold more than one million albums since they began releasing recordings in 1981 and have won numerous awards and accolades over their now 38-year history, including two Grammy awards.
They tour internationally — this year they will have touched down in Germany, Austria, Italy, Hong Kong, China and Singapore, and represented the United States in a musical festival in Bolivia this past April.
Their vocal range runs the full spectrum from soprano to bass, as they blend their voices across a variety of musical styles and genres, said Fred Scott, their music director.
The ensemble was originally formed by two men who sang with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus who wanted to sing Renaissance music as it was originally sung — just by men — to recreate that original sound, he said.
But that's not the extent of their repertoire by any means. They also sing Gregorian chants, Romantic music as well as more popular fare, some of which will be part of the program they will perform both in Manchester and Tanglewood, he said,
"Over the Moon," as the program is known, will include treatments of jazz standards by Mancini and Bart Howard, as well as pieces written for Chanticleer by composer Nico Muhly, who as it turns out, was born in Vermont.
The title and music program is designed to talk about all the ways the moon and the heavens affect our lives in the broad sense, from being "over the moon" about someone or a "lunatic," he said.
"What I like about it is that it gives us a chance to blend sacred and secular music with music of the early Renaissance with a cycle of songs by Muhly," he said. Standards like "Moon River" and "Fly Me to the Moon" are part of it, he added.
Getting the harmonies just right and 12 voices articulating absolutely perfectly on key and tempo are formidable challenges, and they are the same for a 12-member group as they are for a 200-member chorus, Scott said.
"You have to add the kind of emotional quality that the text gives you without ruining the architecture of the piece," he said. "There are things you have to do with any group once you get beyond three singers, you've got agree on vowel colors and vowel sounds that have to be precise and the dynamics have to be right on."
Their 12 singers are all so talented they could easily perform as soloists — and there are moments when solos break out in the middle of the songs — but without taking away from their individuality, the goal is to come up with something that sounds like the entire room is "breathing together," Scott said.
The ensemble will at least have a chance to bunk down together, as Roger Squires and a group of fellow Dorset innkeepers are hosting the vocalists and supporting cast during their stay in Vermont before they head on to Tanglewood, Albertsson said.
Northshire Performing Arts was launched 12 years ago by a group of women, led by founder Jane Gilbert, who saw a need for bringing top-tier musical entertainment to the Manchester-Dorset area.
Past performers have included Salvatore Licitra, Midori, Ingrid Fliter, the Vienna Choir Boys, and of course, the 5 Browns (twice). In October, they plan to bring a repertory company from Virginia to present a theatrical production for local schools, she said.
Albertsson has also reached out to several Vermont-based choral groups from around the state and anticipates at least some will show up, she said.
"We're hoping to get them to meet and maybe build a relationship with Chanticleer's own educational mission and hope something will grow from that," she said.
For more information, or to purchase tickets, call Northshire Performing Arts at 802-867-4146 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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