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April 10, 2007

Vocal ensemble Chanticleer takes a Mass-ive step


Contemporary composers are often recruited to write new music for celebrated San Francisco-based vocal ensemble Chanticleer. Since its founding in 1978, it has commissioned works from such notables as Mark Adamo, Chen Yi, Jake Heggie, Steven Stucky, John Tavener and Augusta Read Thomas.

In addition, the Grammy Award-winning group is well-known for venturing far outside the confines of the Western classical canon. Through the years, it has performed and recorded everything from jazz standards to Chinese folk tunes. The act's newest commission, "And on Earth, Peace: A Chanticleer Mass," melds those diverse interests together in an innovative way.

The piece is grounded in a fascinating premise. Led by director Joseph Jennings, Chanticleer invited five composers to write a Mass; each composer was assigned a different section of the piece. Working independently of one another, the composers were challenged to reimagine all assumptions about what a Mass should or could be, even as they wrote within the traditional five-movement contour.

American composer Douglas J. Cuomo (whose best-known work is probably the theme music for the HBO series "Sex and the City") has penned the Kyrie. Turkish-American Kamran Ince contributed the Gloria, while Israel's Shulamit Ran wrote the Credo. Ivan Moody from England composed the Sanctus, while Ireland's Michael McGlynn wrote the Agnus Dei. Warner Classics is releasing a recording of "And on Earth, Peace" on May 8, following the Mass' world premiere April 26 in New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Temple of Dendur. "What we hoped," Jennings says, "was to create a Mass that embraces many musical -- and spiritual -- impulses. As I envisioned it, it wouldn't even just be limited to the Christian faith."

Indeed, two composers set texts from their own cultural and belief backgrounds. Ince drew upon words written by 13th-century poet Jalaluddin Rumi, whose ecstatic and mystical form of Islam called Sufism has inspired and influenced many Muslims around the world for generations.
In preparing her portion of "And on Earth, Peace," Ran says, "I agreed to participate in this project if, and only if, I could bring my own religious perspective to the piece." Her Credo begins with the same words as the traditional Christian prayer: "I believe in one God . . . maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible" -- a belief shared by Jews and Christians.

"From there," she continues, "I chose a few selections from a text written by the philosopher Maimonides, as well as the Sh'ma, perhaps the most central of all Jewish prayers, which says, 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.' I also weaved in a number of spoken testaments, mostly from Holocaust survivors, but also one about September 11 (2001)."

The composers who worked on this piece were as inspired by Chanticleer itself -- a group known for tonal loveliness -- as much as for the interesting challenge the Mass' nature and intention provided. "The combination of all these elements with the beautiful sound of Chanticleer is surely a project that every composer would wish to participate in," McGlynn says. Moody adds, "Collaborative Masses have been written before in musical history, but when the idea comes from Chanticleer, it is impossible to resist."

Posted by acapnews at April 10, 2007 8:47 PM