Nova Singers, a Galesburg local choir directed and founded by Knox College Choir Director Laura Lane, kicked off its 25 season by hosting Chanticleer, a world-renowned male chorus, in a stunning concert at the Orpheum Theatre. Chanticleer’s 33 season-opening program, “Out of This World,” featured a span of over 500 years of musical responses to the planets, the moon, the sun and the stars. The program also covered a wide range of musical ground, with anything from Romantic offerings and Renaissance polyphony, to both classical and popular recent works.
As expected from a group as well received as Chanticleer, each piece in the program was absolutely splendid. Founded in 1978 by Louis Botto, tenor, the chorus has seen its share of changes in personnel, including this season, in which two of the 12 singers are new. Nevertheless, the group still maintained a trademark sound, a smooth blend, a wide dynamic range and a purity of tone.
The night began with a lovely and warm introduction by Lane, followed by a fascinating selection of Renaissance and Medieval-era pieces, three of which were versions of “Ave Regina Caelorum.” Chanticleer performed the Plainchant, Guerrero and Gabrieli versions all in a row, a rare experience which gave the audience a chance to find themselves in the Latin lyrics and really witness the group’s sound.
After these amazing introductory pieces, the members split into smaller groups to perform two separate madrigals. The small groups allowed for the audience to hear both each beautiful, individual voice and the group sound. Following the first two madrigals, the members rejoined for another two which were composed specifically with Chanticleer in mind. These pieces did a spectacular job of showing off the singers’ power, technicality and general amazing abilities.
When asked about her experience after the show, a mother of a Knox student described Chanticleer as, “extremely accessible”—a most accurate description. One of the most magical parts of Chanticleer is their accessibility. You don’t need to be a choir music expert, or even like choir music; you don’t have to understand any of the various languages they perform in; you probably don’t even need to like music in general to be blown away by Chanticleer. You just need the will to witness and be amazed at the capabilities of the human voice.
Benjamin Britten’s “Hymn to St. Cecilia,” was most likely the highlight of the first half of the program. The piece is an ode to the titular character, the patron saint of poets and musicians. St. Cecilia must have been there, watching over them, admiring the precision and beauty of the performance. The first half also reached out into the 19th century with Schumann’s, “An die Sterne,” and Mahler’s, “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,” two pieces written for performances very different from what Chanticleer is. Nonetheless, they were performed eloquently and the group managed to capture the Romantic yearning of the pieces quite well. Overall, the pieces sounded, well, out of this world.
After the stunning first half, the audience was abuzz with talk during intermission. The discussions ranged from how astonished and blown away they were to trying to match a face or name to a voice they particularly enjoyed. Nearby, someone was telling their friends how each note, every chord, was so beautiful, so brilliant, it gave them chills. As the second half came closer and closer, the excitement of the audience became a tangible energy, vibrating throughout the whole theatre. With just the first chord of “Island in Space,” Chanticleer satisfied the hunger of the audience and the piece was very successful at bringing us back into the program. Bates’ “Observer in the Magellanic Cloud,” a piece showing the ritualistic ceremonies and chants of the Maori tribes of New Zealand who invoke the dwarf galaxies of the title group, stunned the audience with its use of marching, electronic metronome clicks and handheld percussion. The long drones of Hopkins’ “Past Life Melodies” entranced the audience and the incredible overtones produced rang in our ears for the rest of the night.
A Galesburg resident described his view of the group, saying, “When they perform, they look like a well-oiled machine. Every look they give each other is equally met, as if choreographed.”
How exactly does the group go about finding this rhythm? “A lot of rehearsal,” said Brian Hinman, a tenor, currently on his fifth season with Chanticleer and soloist for “Lost in the Stars.” He said the group rehearses four hours a day and an hour before concerts, of which they can have as many as 120 every year. “We all know the music well enough to really look up and connect,” Hinman said. “We each have to be the conductor since we don’t have one.”
Near the end of the night, each member of Chanticleer put away his music and the audience then knew that what was coming would be a treat, specifically, the songs that the group loves and has performed so often, they could sing them in their sleep. These songs were also of the more popular variety and had the first real instances of solos. The audience was at a loss for words when it came to describing the soloists. Who could blame them? Even members of Chanticleer sometimes seemed blown away at the sounds produced. Hinman talked about his experience joining the group, and the growth he has made. “It’s fabulous! A dream come true,” Hinman said when describing how it feels to be in such a renowned group. “You get to know your voice and learn what you can accomplish when you have no choice, when you have to give 100 percent, even when you don’t have it.”
The night ended with a gospel piece, the spiritual “Walk in Jerusalem.” The audience gave a standing ovation, one that was lengthy but well deserved, sounding off the perfect end to a near perfect concert.