BERRIEN SPRINGS - Chanticleer is beginning its 36th season by expanding their musical horizon.
Known mostly for interpretations of Renaissance music, the male classical vocal ensemble has begun exploring more modern sounds on their new album, "Someone New," which will be available later this month.
"Someone New" features songs from jazz artists (Antônio Carlos Jobim and Dave Brubeck) and rock and country legends (Tom Waits, Freddie Mercury and Johnny Cash), as well as songs from newer bands like M83, Elbow and Keane.
Chanticleer has explored contemporary music idioms in the past, most notably in jazz, gospel, folk and pop music genres, but never to this extent.
"Chanticleer, for a long time, has considered it part of our mission to commission new choral works and expand the greater choral repertoire," Chanticleer interim music director Jace Wittig says by telephone from the choral ensemble's office in San Francisco. "We have commissioned composers to write forward-thinking works for us. We have certainly commissioned plenty of gospel arrangements from our former music director, Joseph Jennings. But we haven't commissioned a lot of jazz and pop arrangements."
Chanticleer selected several songs that they wanted to perform and commissioned new arrangements from composers they hadn't worked with before, like New York-based composer and conductor Steve Hackman and a couple of members from the vocal ensemble New York Voices.
"Certainly, this isn't something new for us," Wittig says. "It's an area of renewed focus. That was one of the ideas behind the album, to expand that part of our repertoire. We got together a song list, everything from jazz standards to Johnny Cash to Peter Gabriel to indie-pop bands from England."
Fans of the Grammy Award-winning 12-man vocal group need not worry that they have abandoned their "orchestra of voices" sound.
"We have commissioned arrangements that still sound like Chanticleer," Wittig says. "They're still interesting and intelligent, but they're a bit on the lighter side. We chose the songs for the album that had lyrical content or melodic content, or both. It had to hold its own against a piece by Eric Whitacre or a gospel arrangement that our audiences have heard before."
Chanticleer, dubbed "the world's reigning male chorus" by The New Yorker magazine, will bring their new show "She Said/He Said" on Tuesday to Andrews University's Howard Performing Arts Center.
"In some ways, it's a typical tour program for us," Wittig says. "We cover a lot of musical territory - everything from Hildegard von Bingen, who is one of the earliest known female composers, writing music way back in the 11th century, all the way up through things that were written for us just this past spring. We do the tour de force in terms of musical history, starting with the Renaissance, working our way through romantic lieder from Germany and some early 20th century French pieces by Ravel, who is one of my very favorite composers. American works, modern works, folk songs, jazz, a little bit of everything."
The title of the program, Wittig says, is a reference to the male and female perspectives of romantic love.
"We begin the program with a bunch of really special Marian motets by composers from Italy and Spain and the Renaissance," he says. "We go from there through the Romantic era, where we feature a pairing from Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn. We actually have a bit of a literal feminine perspective mixed in, as well."
The first half of the program ends with a composition from modern composer Samuel Barber and an arrangement from Hackman of "Wait" from the French band M83.
"Both settings are Emily Dickinson texts that deal with time and eternity and death and life's impermanence," Wittig says.
The M83 song is a good example of how easily contemporary music can blend in with the classical standards.
"That is definitely the most classical piece on the album, which is why it's on the first half of this program," Wittig says. "It's very orchestral and very expansive."
"She Said/He Said" also premieres "Give Me Hunger" by Chicago-based composer Stacy Garrop and Vince Peterson's arrangement of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now."
"She is considered by some to be one of the most important songwriters, male or female, of the entire 20th century," Wittig says of Mitchell.
In the past, classical music audiences may have looked down their noses at the "low art" of rock music, but Wittig says times have changed.
"We do have a big 'early music' audience, but just as much nowadays, we have people that know us through gospel albums or through folk albums, the things that Chanticleer has released in the last 10 or 15 years," he says. "... I don't think we differentiate the way we approach any sort of music. If we are going to perform it, we are going to dig in and find what makes it interesting, and what makes it special for the audience."
-- WHAT: Chanticleer
-- WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday
-- WHERE: Andrews University Howard Performing Arts Center, 4160 E. Campus Circle Drive, Berrien Springs
-- HOW MUCH: $30, $25 for faculty and staff; $10 for students
-- CONTACT: 471-3560, 888-467-6442 or www.howard.andrews.edu
-- ARTIST INFO: www.chanticleer.org