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On Entertainment

Steven Libowitz has reported on the arts and entertainment for more than 30 years; he has contributed to the Montecito Journal for more than ten years.

by Steven Libowitz

Great Scott: Music Director on a Mission


Chanticleer comes to town Saturday night as part of its Mission Road tour

hanticleer, the dozen-member strong male choir from the Bay Area, returns to town for a stop on its quadrennial Mission Road tour of the California missions this Saturday night, May 21. The ensemble will perform its new program of Bolivian and other South and Central American music at Mission Santa Barbara at 7 pm under the leadership of William Fred Scott, the Grammy-winning choir’s fifth music director since its founding in 1978. Scott – the former director of choral music at Atlanta’s Westminster Schools, artistic director of the Atlanta Opera (1985-2005), and the associate conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (1981-1988) – talked about his new post and the upcoming program over the telephone from San Francisco last weekend. Q. What attracted you to take over as music director? A. I fell in love with them 20 years ago when I first worked with them as a guest and never fell out during their searches for music directors, I would come out to San Francisco and put together a touring program, or even just listen to what they were doing on an advisory capacity. The timing was right two summers to come on full time. What I love is the level of music making is unlike any I have ever known before. I’ve worked with great orchestras and ran my own opera company for 20


years in Atlanta. We did good work. But there are things these 12 men can do in terms of working diligently to uncover what a piece means, and what it should sound like, and elements of sound and structure, where they go more deeply into things than anyone else I know. And I love the repertoire. It’s not just the old music. We have new works that commission, so there’s a wide variety of music we get to learn and perform. We also have male sopranos and altos. That’s very unusual. Most of the choral groups around America use females. But it’s part of our DNA. We sing the early music the way they did it. It provides a particular sound that’s very appropriate and it’s become our trademark sound. How have you effected change in your brief tenure so far? It would be churlish to me to suggest I had a big agenda coming in. They were really good long before I got here and will be long after I leave. So it’s about maintaining standards and continuing to investigate new pieces of music. For me, what’s most important is to achieve that really beautiful sound, especially now when we’re so geared toward Pitch Perfect and Glee and the a capella movies, where there’s a brashness and marketing quality to the sound, when no matter how loud or soft we sing, the sound is always polished and blended. That’s what we’re always working together to do.

Your current tour brings you back to the California Missions, this time with a new batch of music from Bolivia and Central America. What can you tell us about the program? We’re doing all religious music that grew out of our invitation to sing at a Baroque festival in Bolivia. Chanticleer is famous for unearthing treasures of music that was written for the California and Mexican missions, and musicologists seek us out. Unlike with European composers, who had opportunities for publishing, these pieces were written for single occasions and then put away in a drawer, because people writing for a church in Bolivia in the 1700s has no outlet. Many of them were performed once or twice and haven’t seen the light of day since. Polish priest Piotr Nawrot – who discovered these works, thousands of manuscripts, and had been a fan of ours since seminary – told us that it would be one of the great pleasures in his life if we would come sing some of the music that we had never seen before. I fashioned a program that represented some of this great music from Bolivia, as well as music from elsewhere in Central American and in California missions. It’s a very special program. There must be a special challenge singing music with no reference points beyond the score. Yes, and we love it. Most of what anybody does in Western music has by now been found, and you can

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hear it on a recording or at least on YouTube. But here the men and I have to make decisions. How loud does it need to be? How fast should we sing it? How do we discover the composer’s fingerprint and add that to what we know about basic singing techniques? The pieces come alive as we’re rehearsing. There is one that’s addressed to a butterfly that is flying toward the flame of passion, which is the missionary zeal of the Jesuits. On the page, it looks rather simple and not terribly interesting in terms of melody lines or chord structures. But once those 12 men started singing those lines, it came to life in amazing ways. It’s hauntingly beautiful. And it’s thrilling to have these sorts of opportunities. What else should we look for? The four villancicos, which is the Spanish word for carol, commemorating Saint Ignatius de Loyola, are not only religious but also folkloric, so we have added percussion instruments – an organ, guitar, and bassoon which is how we think they were originally performed. And there is also a mass by Padilla for two choirs – quartet and octet – all a capella, which is just heavenly. So, you have both the noisemaker quality and the serenity of the mass. Chanticleer’s 40th anniversary is coming up in two years. Anything special planned yet? We started our existence with a quiet candlelit concert in the little Mission Delores, the original one. I think it would be marvelous if we could re-create that concert with some of our best friends and invite some of the old members to join us. But that’s all I can tell you now.

Sounds of Ceremonious Resounds

Santa Barbara’s Adelfos Ensemble served as a sort of local version of Chanticleer from its founding in 2004 as a men’s a cappella choir before transitioning to a mixed-voice choral ensemble six years later, two years after Temmo Korisheli took over direction of the group from Dr. Michael Eglin, who among other positions serves as composer-in-residence with Quire of Voyces. (Korisheli is also assistant music director at All Saints by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Montecito.) Adelfos’s broad repertoire spans more than a millennium, from ancient chant and Renaissance motets to folksong arrangements and contemporary works. They’ll perform Sunday May 22 in the final Music at Trinity concert of the season, titled “Ceremonious Resounds for Solo Soprano, Choir, Organ and Piano,” which also features soprano Tess Altiveros and Trinity Episcopal 19 – 26 May 2016

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