This year, the San Francicso-based, male a cappella chorus Chanticleer will present 24 holiday concerts: half in the Bay Area and the other half on the road. Two of those tour dates will be Dec. 4-5 in Chicago, when the Grammy Award-winning ensemble returns for its 18th annual yuletide residency.
Chanticleer’s holiday concerts, an engagement of Symphony Center Presents, have become one of city’s most beloved ways to celebrate the season. “We look forward to the annual Chicago visit with much happiness,” said music director William Fred Scott. “We feel that we have made great friends in Chicago over the years. When we talk to them in the lobbies or near the CD table, we find out very quickly how loyal they are. They shower us with a great deal of affection. I hope that they feel it is reciprocated.”
As usual, the concerts will be at the Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut, which was dedicated in 1914 and is the oldest building on Michigan Avenue north of the Chicago River. The prominent landmark, which combines English and French Gothic styles, was designed by Ralph Adams Cram, who was also the architect for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York.
“Whenever I’m sitting in Fourth Presbyterian, and wherever I’m sitting, I love the ambience of that church,” Scott said. “To begin with it is an enormously impressive building architecturally. Frankly, as we walk in the doors for the first time each year, the view we have of that magnificent pipe organ puts us in just the right mood — although we don’t use it in our concerts! The beauty of the sanctuary, especially at holiday time, and the terrific acoustics complete the picture. Without a doubt, it is one of my favorite places to perform, and I know our men share that feeling.”
Although “A Chanticleer Christmas” follows a similar format from year to year, with candlelit Gregorian chant and Renaissance music, followed by Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria (1964), international offerings and familiar American carols, the program is never the same. “The only piece that is constant is the Biebl,” Scott said, “and I’m sure I’d be run out of town if I tried to replace it with any other version.”
A version of this article previously appeared on Sounds and Stories.
TOP: Chanticleer performs at the Fourth Presbyterian Church during its annual Chicago residency. | Todd Rosenberg Photography