Voices of Ages
I Cantori di Carmel celebrates 25 years of choral excellence.
Thursday, May 4, 2006
Back in the day before instruments took over, there was just one music delivery system: the human voice, the original musical instrument. Multiply the voices by about 30 and you’ve got yourself a force to be reckoned with, or in the case of I Cantori di Carmel, a chorus devoted to the overwhelming power of song.
Kicking off their 25th Anniversary season, I Cantori presents “Hear the Voice” this Saturday night at the Carmel Mission Basilica. A sampling of music from the past four centuries, the concert will be mostly a cappella with the Monterey String Quartet backing up the chorus on several pieces.
The chorus, made up of Monterey Peninsula College students ranging in age from their late teens to mid-‘70s, has been led since its inception by MPC music professor Sal Ferrantelli. A man with eclectic musical tastes, in the swinging ‘70s Ferantelli worked his way through his undergrad days at San Diego State as a piano bar “lounge lizard” performing everything from jazz to pop with a little between song comedy patter thrown in for good measure.
Since joining the music department faculty at MPC in 1982, Ferrantelli has gone the extra mile to spread the joy of music around. When Frances Vail, a blind student, signed up for I Cantori, Ferrantelli took her under his wing and had her tape record every rehearsal so she could memorize the music. Ferrantelli would even accompany Vail for performances at Park Lane, an independent living facility near MPC where Vail lived. Even though Vail’s since moved to Texas, Ferrantelli still does the weekly concerts.
While he obviously cares about his students, Ferrantelli’s no softy. He’s adamant that I Cantori not devolve into a run of the mill community college chorus. He sees it as being on the same level will university groups. “I strive for as high a standard as I can achieve,” says Ferrantelli. If they screw up, say, the elocution of a particular piece in rehearsals, he’ll admonish them and then launch into an impersonation of noted mumblers like Elvis or Johnny Cash to make his point.
Saturday’s concert will highlight Ferrantelli’s penchant for spiritual music ranging from sacred 16th century motets to African-American spirituals. Sung in Latin, motets are derived from the hypnotic sound of Gregorian chant (now making something of a comeback in some Catholic churches). Because in some instances each of the vocal ranges of the chorus—soprano, alto, tenor and bass—share the same melodic material, “there’s an equality to the music,” says Ferrantelli. If the sacredness of the motets doesn’t renew your faith in humanity, the rousing spirituals “Oh, Elijah” and “Wake Me Up, Lord,” might do the trick.
In addition to the sacred music, the chorus will perform several Brahms waltzes from the 19th century. Describing them as “true love waltzes” with the “one, two, three, one, two, three” tempo you’d expect of the dance, Ferrantelli says most are about the torments and pitfalls of falling in love. “You get into a love relationship and then you’re bound to get screwed over,” says Ferrantelli of the selections. But, in the end, Brahms concludes that seeking love is not entirely in vain. For the last movement he provides evidence of this with a little help from Goethe’s comforting muses “Alexis und Dora.”
The I Cantori will also perform four choruses from Stabat Mater by Emanuel D’ Astorga and pieces by Bernardi, Schumman and Tallis. The chorus will also debut a work by local wunderkind composer Nathanael Pangrazio, 20, a former student of Ferrantelli’s now studying music at the University of Indiana. Home schooled, Pangrazio enrolled at MPC at age 15 and started composing after taking Ferrantelli’s music theory class. The chorus will perform his latest Kyrie Eleison (the phrase is Greek for “Lord, have mercy” and is a part of the Catholic high mass).
The concert is a tune-up for I Cantori’s upcoming summer tour of Croatia, Sicily and Rome. Ferrantelli attributes the group’s popularity abroad (this is the chorus’ sixth tour of Europe since 1992) in part to the fact that there the music is more widely known from an early age. “It seems like children there sing in choirs. Our kids play tee-ball and Pop Warner football,” says Ferrantelli.
The grand finale of this year’s tour will be a performance
during a service at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. No word yet
on whether the Pope will be in attendance or saying the mass,
but for Ferrantelli, a second generation Sicilian, just being
able to perform in the hallowed halls of the Basilica is honor
enough for the former lounge singer. “We’ll never sing at any
venue more exalted than that one,” Ferrantelli says.
I CANTORI DI CARMEL performs its 25th Anniversary concert, “Hear the Voice,” this Saturday at 8:30pm at Carmel Mission Basilica. On Sunday they’ll perform a 3pm matinee at the Pacific Grove Performing Arts Center. For more information, visit icantori.org.