A holiday preview story about "A Chanticleer Christmas" incorrectly reported the location of its first performance. It takes place Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Stanford University's Memorial Church.
It shouldn't be like this, but the holidays are a time of exquisite stress. At the office, work always seems to reach a new level of madness -- am I right? Fun, fun, fun: all the stupid shopping, the cooking, the cleaning and then the visits from family, which begin with a bang but can't end soon enough. Get me out of here!
To where? In the 10 years I've been writing full-time about classical music, nothing has proved more soothing than the annual choral program known as "A Chanticleer Christmas."
A gift for the holidays
Chanticleer, the Grammy-winning 12-man chorus, has a way of going to work on your deep brain tissues; that happens pretty much whenever it sings. But its holiday program ups the payout. Here's how I described it two years ago: "Call it a brain massage, or a soul massage, but, if you've been there, you know the feeling of sitting in some darkened church as the dozen members of Chanticleer -- named for the clear-singing rooster in Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales' -- process down the center aisle, each holding a glowing liturgical candle while singing solemn medieval plainchant, voices curling like incense, enveloping you and the audience, going deep inside your cranium."
It's a mood of true serenity, which, remarkably, Chanticleer sustains and even intensifies throughout the two-hour program. This is a sensational chorus, floating lush or delicate textures and effects, highly atmospheric and soulful, with tremendous precision. Widely and glowingly reviewed, the group -- founded in 1978 and based in San Francisco -- is influential, expanding audiences for choral music, commissioning scores for new choral works. But its greatest gift may be "A Chanticleer Christmas," which touches people: transports them, gives them peace. It's an annual de-stresser amid the pressures of the holidays.
Across the Bay AreaThis year's "A Chanticleer Christmas" has its first performance at Stanford University's Memorial Church and then hits the road with stops across the Bay Area, veering up to Sacramento and, lastly, down to Carmel on Dec. 23. The program tells the story of the Nativity in music written from the 13th to 21st centuries. Expect plainchant and Renaissance songs, traditional carols from England and France, a work by Rachmaninoff, a world premiere by East Coast-based composer Steven Sametz (his setting of "O Magnum Mysterium") and a good deal else, including a medley of African-American spirituals (arranged by Joseph Jennings, Chanticleer's music director emeritus) and Franz Biebl's "Ave Maria," which, if Chanticleer has a hit tune, is it.
I once spoke with Dale Warland, an esteemed choral composer and conductor, about Chanticleer. He described its sound as "vital, rich, alive." He lauded the group's versatility in moving across genres and the centuries, as well as its ability to maintain a fineness and beauty of sound, even as old members depart and new ones arrive, as tends to happen once or twice each season.
"It's a culture that's been established -- a sound culture, a tradition," Warland explained. "These guys just sort of do it all."
If you want to go
Details: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11; Memorial Church, Stanford University. $28-$56. http://live.stanford.edu. Tickets to all other performances are $30-$65 at www.chanticleer.org: 8 p.m. Dec. 13, Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland; 8 p.m. Dec. 14, First Congregational Church, Berkeley; 8 p.m. Dec. 15, St. Ignatius Church, San Francisco; 6 and 8:30 p.m. Dec. 17, St. Vincent Church, Petaluma; 8 p.m. Dec. 18, Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Sacramento; 6 and 8:30 p.m. Dec. 19, Mission Santa Clara; 8 p.m. Dec. 22, St. Ignatius Church, San Francisco; 6 and 8:30 p.m. Dec. 23, Carmel Mission.