What do you call a classical vocal group that does it all - from plainchant to Baroque to new music, along with a large helping of jazz, spirituals, folk music and Broadway show tunes?
Daring? Ambitious? Creative?Just call them Chanticleer. This 12-member ensemble, which takes its name from the singing rooster in Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," is made up entirely of men's voices. They don't shy away from music, no matter what its form or style. And according to Craig Hella Johnson, the group's newly appointed artistic director, this multi-faceted approach is easily explained.
"When we perform music of the past, it deepens our relationship with that music," Johnson explained. "Performing contemporary music keeps us fresh. And also, new music has a way of informing our performance of early music."
And true to form, Chanticleer will bring along a healthy mix of old and new during a performance in Abravanel Hall, Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m.
For this Salt Lake appearance, the group has put together a program combining the timeless beauty of early music with the sonic explorations of such 20th century composers as Alberto Ginastera, Per Norgaard and John Tavener. And to end the concert on a more upbeat note, the group will sing a selection of bird songs, including the Beatles' "Blackbird."
"We think it's good (to bring) a variety of music to people," Johnson says. "We need to have fun, too."
Johnson, who officially joined Chanticleer on Sept. 1, is the newest member of this 20-year-old San Francisco-based ensemble. With degrees in both piano and choral studies, Johnson coaches, rehearses and directs the singers. He also selects the repertoire the group performs.
And he knows the importance of trying out new concepts. "We're starting a new series called `Chanticleer and Friends.' This will be a once-a-year concert featuring a solo artist or ensemble performing with Chanticleer."
For the time being, this concert series will just be in the Bay area, the first next August in San Francisco, with Frederica von Stade as guest artist. "Once we get some relationships established and going, then maybe we'll take this series on the road. There's already been some interest shown for that.' '
Chanticleer is one of the busier performing groups, giving about 125 concerts a year. Besides extensively touring throughout the United States, the group will also be on two extended foreign tours, first to Japan, then Germany, Switzerland and Israel.
The latter concert tour will be connected with the April 1999 release date of Chanticleer's 20th CD, a collection of contemporary works dealing with the various aspects of love.
Reflecting on the strenuous work schedule the group endures, Johnson can't help but praise the singers' inner strength. "I'm (amazed) at the professional stamina of these musicians. I'm very proud of their professionalism."
As proud as Johnson is of Chanticleer's ability and success, he is equally proud of the group's ongoing commitment to bringing music into the schools.
"We share with the kids how (music) happens, and that these are actually humans making these sounds," Johnson says. "We're happy that we can be a source of inspiration for these kids, and that we can also be a source for choral music programs in the schools.
"This is a very positive thing that (Chanticleer) has been doing for the past 13 years. We're fighting the good fight, and it's a way of giving back to the community."
For tickets or information on Chanticleer's concert, contact ArtTix at 355-ARTS (2787), or 1-888-451-ARTS. Tickets can also be purchased at the Abravanel Hall box office, the Capitol Theatre box office, or at any Albertson's Food Store with an ArtTix outlet.
Utah Symphony subscribers can purchase extra single tickets by calling 533-NOTE (6683).