Chanticleer returns to the road after a year away

The male a cappella vocal ensemble Chanticleer returns for its annual holiday engagement at the Fourth Presbyterian Church, sponsored by Symphony Center Presents.

Lisa Kohler

After a season away from live performance, the vocal ensemble Chanticleer has returned to the road, including its annual two-night run at Chicago's Fourth Presbyterian Church.

The holiday-themed concert, titled "A Chanticleer Christmas," cleaves to founder Louis Botto’s original vision to offer "joy and transcendence through beautifully sung music of all centuries from classical to carols."  

From just after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve, Chanticleer typically performs about 25 holiday concerts, about half at home and half on the road, including two in Chicago (this year, Dec. 7-8), organized by Symphony Center Presents. Due to the pandemic, the San Francisco-based ensemble stayed home last year and offered a virtual concert instead.

Chanticleer is helmed by Tim Keeler, the group’s sixth music director. Keeler, who sang with Chanticleer in 2017-18, most recently served as conductor of the men’s choir at the University of Maryland, where he was working on his doctorate and is finishing his dissertation.

“Singing is brilliant, and I love doing it, but there is that extra bit of perspective you get as a conductor," Keeler said. "You get to think about a lot of other things, and I find that fascinating and exciting, so that’s always been the trajectory for me.”

After Chanticleer music director William Fred Scott announced he was retiring, Keeler got a phone call inquiring about his interest in the job. He jumped at the chance. “For any choral musician in America, you say, ‘Yeah, absolutely,’ because Chanticleer’s the top of the game,” he said.

Because of the many challenges prompted by the pandemic, Keeler is committed to the idea of bolstering Chanticleer’s digital presence. While live concerts will always remain central to the group's mission, online activities provide an added dimension and larger reach.

“The direction that arts organizations have had to take during the pandemic is the direction that the 21st century is going,” Keeler said. “That was already going to be a focus of mine moving forward with Chanticleer, and now we’re sort of thrust into it from day one.”

But the emphasis will remain on the art of vocalism, especially on the holiday tour. “One of the things the Chanticleer Christmas concert does not do — and this is a tradition I’m happy to have inherited," Keeler said,   "there is no Santa Claus, there are no silver bells, there are no reindeer.”

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