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Much-loved a cappella group Chanticleer returns to HBPA lineup

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Of all the repeat artists to the Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts series, the group of 12 men appearing at Bethel College later this month is certainly one of the best loved.

Chanticleer, “an orchestra of voices” named for a clear-singing rooster in the tales of Geoffrey Chaucer, will perform Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. in Memorial Hall on the Bethel campus. Their last appearance with HBPA was in 2011.

This concert is funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, funding from which will also allow Chanticleer to present a choral masterclass, free and open to the public, in Memorial Hall from noon-1:30 p.m. February 23, the day of the concert.

The masterclass will feature performances by the Bethel College Concert Choir under the direction of William Eash, the Hesston College Bel Canto Singers under the direction of Russell Adrian and the Buhler Singers of Buhler High School under the direction of Greg Bontrager.

This group of a cappella singers has been called “the world’s reigning male chorus” by The New Yorker. Based in San Francisco, Chanticleer is in its 38th season in 2015–16, with performances in the United States, Germany, Austria, Italy, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macao, the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China.

Chanticleer will also represent the United States at the biennial international music festival in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, in April that celebrates the rich musical heritage of the South American missions.

Praised by the San Francisco Chronicle for their “tonal luxuriance and crisply etched clarity,” Chanticleer is known around the world for the seamless blend of its 12 male voices, ranging from soprano to bass, and its original interpretations of vocal literature, from Renaissance to jazz and popular genres, as well as contemporary composition.

Chanticleer was named Ensemble of the Year by Musical America in 2008, and inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame the same year.

In 2014, Chorus America conferred the inaugural Brazeal Wayne Dennard Award on Chanticleer’s music director emeritus Joseph H. Jennings, acknowledging Jennings’ contribution to the African-American choral tradition during his 25-year (1983-2009) tenure as a singer and music director with Chanticleer.

The hundred-plus arrangements of African-American gospel, spirituals and jazz that Jennings made for Chanticleer have been given thousands of performances worldwide (live and on broadcast) and have been recorded by Chanticleer for Warner Classics and Chanticleer Records.

Chanticleer’s long-standing commitment to commissioning and performing new works was honored in 2008 by the inaugural Dale Warland/Chorus America Commissioning Award and the ASCAP/Chorus America Award for Adventurous Programming.

Among the more than 80 composers commissioned in Chanticleer’s history are Mason Bates, Chen Yi, Shawn Crouch, Brent Michael Davids, Gabriela Lena Frank, Guido López-Gavilán, William Hawley, Jackson Hill, Jeeyoung Kim, Tania León, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, Michael McGlynn, Roxanna Panufnik, Stephen Paulus, Shulamit Ran, Jan Sandström, Paul Schoenfield, Steven Stucky, Sir John Tavener and Augusta Read Thomas.

Since Chanticleer began releasing recordings in 1981, the group has sold well over a million albums. Colors of Love, Chanticleer’s 1999 release devoted to contemporary choral works, won for Best Small Ensemble Performance (With or Without a Conductor). Lamentations and Praises, music by John Tavener, won two Grammy® Awards in 2001.

From time to time, Chanticleer collaborates with other artists. Working with musicologist Craig Russell, Chanticleer has performed and recorded three programs of unknown works by 18th-century Mexican composers Manuel de Zumaya and Ignacio de Jerusalem with a period-instrument orchestra (Mexican Baroque, Matins for the Virgin of Guadalupe and Mission Road).

Chanticleer has performed with Frederica Von Stade, Al Jarreau, Garrison Keillor and the Shanghai Quartet, as well as the New York, San Francisco and St. Paul orchestras.

The group’s education program was recognized in 2010 with the Chorus America Education and Outreach Award. It serves more than 5,000 students every year with supervision by a full-time education director.

Chanticleer has had the opportunity to sing in some of the most beautiful concert halls and churches in the world. But the group has also sung in a barn in Canada, a roofless church in the former East Germany, a gymnasium in Sweden and in Central Park with the New York Philharmonic.

Chanticleer was founded in 1978 by tenor Louis A. Botto, who sang in the ensemble until 1989 and served as artistic director until his death in 1997.

Current, and fifth, music director William Fred Scott was named to the position in 2014 and began his tenure in 2015. A native of Georgia, Scott is the former assistant conductor to Robert Shaw at the Atlanta Symphony, former artistic director of the Atlanta Opera, an organist and choir director.

Reserved seating and general admission tickets for Chanticleer are available at hesstonbethel.org or by calling 620-327-8158; general admission tickets are for sale at Thresher Shop on the Bethel campus. Ticket prices range from $23 to $27 with discounts available for students and senior citizens.

The final concert in the 2015–16 HBPA series is the London-based vocal ensemble The Swingles, April 3 at Hesston Mennonite Church.

The Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts series is funded in part by the cities of Hesston and North Newton, Excel Industries and Hustler Turf Equipment (Hesston), the Hesston Community Foundation, the North Newton Community Foundation and Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission, which receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts. KMUW-Wichita Public Radio is a media sponsor for this event.

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