Over the past 40 years, San Francisco-based Chanticleer has gone to great lengths and unexpected places to refine and expand its vocal repertoire, bringing striking arrangements of popular music into the mix as well as commissioning new choral works by contemporary composers. But centuries-old songs can also be full of surprises – including Antonio de Salazar’s 17th-century arrangement of “Salve Regina.”
After a musicology professor discovered the manuscript buried within Mexico’s colonial-era Puebla Cathedral, he prepared it specifically for Chanticleer to perform.
“He unearthed it, quite literally, and he put all the parts together, and we sing it,” countertenor Gerrod Pagenkopf said on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, just ahead of Chanticleer’s concert at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. “And it’s just a marvelous setting by a relatively unknown composer.”
After host Don Marsh played a clip of the renowned vocal ensemble’s recording of the piece for listeners, longtime Chanticleer tenor Brian Hinman pointed out that a “feeling of suspension and release and that dissonance” often accompanies such early music.
“And they were very careful about how they used dissonance in the Renaissance,” Hinman said, “but [de Salazar] uses it to marvelous effect to really get that yearning and sadness through. It’s a remarkable piece of music … to be able to sing music like this that has lasted 400 years – it’s transporting. To be able to combine and carry that message in an appropriate space to an audience, typically you can see on their faces how it affects them.”
In St. Louis, the group will be presenting an all-sacred program titled “Upon This Rock.” Its centerpieces include a shortened mass by Palestrina as well as a setting of four prayers by St. Francis of Assisi.
“We’ll be singing music from the Renaissance up unto some 20th-century spiritual and gospel music as well,” said Hinman, who is also Chanticleer’s road manager.
Described by the New Yorker as “the world’s reigning male chorus,” the 12-member, Grammy Award-winning ensemble is currently on its 40th-anniversary tour and is anticipating the release of its forthcoming album “Then and There, Here and Now.”
Pagenkopf, who serves as Chanticleer’s assistant music director, said the name of the album is indicative of the ensemble’s wide-ranging repertoire.
“I think the great thing about what we do now is we do everything,” said Pagenkopf, who pursued a solo career in opera before making the shift to Chanticleer several years ago.
The incredible vocal range of the all-male ensemble – which includes treble-clef notes that are typically the territory of female sopranos and altos – sets it apart, Hinman noted, as does its status as one of very few ensembles in the U.S. that pay members a full-time salary.
And it truly is a full-time job, he added, with Chanticleer on the road for about half of any given year and busy with intensive rehearsals and other activities when they’re not roaming the country and the world.
“The traveling, recording, educating – education is a huge part of our mission as well,” Hinman said. “As a group we go and work with students and choral musicians, so it’s exhausting. It keeps us very busy, but it’s a marvelous job.”
“To this day I still call it a dream job,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, and it’s sometimes very frustrating, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
What: Cathedral Concerts presents Chanticleer
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Where: Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (4431 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108)
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.