‘The Singing Life’ to fill Davies Symphony Hall 

‘This is the biggest thing we’ve ever done,” says Chanticleer Music Director Matthew Oltman.

Considering the international fame of the award-winning San Francisco treat — the only full-time classical vocal ensemble in the U.S. — the statement piques curiosity.

Oltman is talking about Chanticleer’s first National Youth Choral Festival, now in progress, climaxing tonight in a Davies Hall program called “The Singing Life,” in which Chanticleer performs with 416 high-school singers from around the country.

The festival, which started Friday, is a large-scale celebration of choral music, bringing together 12 high school choirs, including five from the greater Bay Area.

They include the San Francisco School of the Arts High School Choir directed by Todd Wedge, a former Chanticleer member; San Francisco’s Lowell High School Choir directed by Jason Chan; Palo Alto High School Concert Choir directed by Michael Najar; Piedmont High School’s A cappella Choir directed by Joe Piazza and Santa Rosa High School’s Chamber Singers, directed by Kira Bombace.

The young singers had an intensive three-day residency including vocal master classes led by luminaries, The City’s two most famous mezzo-sopranos, Frederica von Stade and Zheng Cao (seen in the title role of San Francisco Opera’s “The Bonesetter’s Daughter”).

Cao is helping the students with the Chinese pronunciation of a work by Taiwanese student composer Yi-Wen Chang. In the fashion of the cyber age, composer Michael McGlynn will be Skyping from Ireland at 5 a.m. local time to assist with Gaelic pronunciation of another piece.

Tonight’s program includes the American premiere of “L’Annonciation,” a cantata by French composer Jean-Yves Daniel-Lesur (1908–2002), and the massive 1964 “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl (1906-2001), a popular choral work recorded by Chanticleer.

Oltman says the festival has many components: individual choral master classes, many hours of rehearsal, vocal lessons for students with members of Chanticleer, public master classes in solo singing, and classes for students and directors in the fundamentals of the choral art.

Additionally, Oltman is putting together a 24-voice honor choir, the result of individual auditions, to perform a madrigal “in the way that Chanticleer does.” That means the singers won’t know what the piece will be until rehearsal; and they’ll have to learn and perform it on their own, without a conductor.

A 40-piece orchestra of high school students drawn from San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose youth symphonies will accompany the vocalists. Singers and instrumentalists will have 16 hours of rehearsal by the time tonight’s gala show opens — a far more intensive preparation than most “adult”  concerts are given.


If you go
Chanticleer’s ‘The Singing Life’
Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. today
Tickets: $20 to $44
Contact: (415) 392-4400; www.chanticleer.org

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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