Who: The King’s Singers
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14
Where: Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, UC Davis
Tickets: $35-$70 general, $17.50-$35 students; www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787
The King’s Singers will make their first visit to the Mondavi Center on Valentine’s Day, presenting a program at 8 p.m. that will feature quite a few American standards from the 1930s and 1940s, drawn from what is now commonly referred to as the Great American Songbook.
The six-member male vocal ensemble from England has been touring and recording since the late 1960s.
Their program will include sunny, sophisticated versions of tunes by Rodgers & Hart, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. Derived from the King’s Singers new album “The Great American Songbook” (released on Signum Records earlier this fall), the tunes evoke nostalgia for a golden age of American musical culture.
For baritone Christopher Gabbitas, these songs, written during a golden era of American songwriting (mostly for stage and screen), belong in the same category as German lieder or French chansons.
“These songs were written by classically trained composers and they endure because of their exceptional integrity,” Gabbitas said. “The beautifully crafted nature of these songs make them classics already. They have the weight of history and form a journey through the emergence of a nation through its pop culture.”
Considering the depth and breadth of the source material, song selection for this program was no easy task. The final list features 17 well-known tunes, songs that the King’s Singers “utterly loved.”
They are heard in new arrangements by the rising British jazz composer and bassist Alexander L’Estrange. His harmonically colorful re-workings of these standards maintain the integrity of the source material while reflecting The King’s Singers hallmark vocal blend and witty approach. The result is a program where the ensemble is able to luxuriate in an Irving Berlin standard like “(Dancing) Cheek to Cheek” as well as bring their distinctly British sense of humor to a daffy rendition of Cole Porter’s “Let’s Misbehave.”
The group recruited a pair of a cappella gurus — Bill Hare (“The Voice,” Street Corner Symphony) and Danny Ozment (NBC’s “The Sing Off”) — to create one of the group’s most unusual recordings to date. After bringing the songs up to performance standard in rehearsal, each piece then was deconstructed and recorded part-by-part, resulting in a sparkling, modern sound that offers a 21st-century counterpoint to The King’s Singers previous recordings of other American standards in the 1970s on albums such as “Swing” and “Out of the Blue.”
A second bonus disc offers another twist on the material with orchestral versions of eight tracks, recorded with the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra and featuring orchestrations by Jonathan Rathbone.
The King’s Singers are performing a cappella versions of these songs live this winter as they cross Europe and the United States.
The six voices in the King’s Singers are David Hurley, countertenor; Timothy Wayne-Wright, countertenor; Paul Phoenix, tenor; Christopher Bruerton, baritone; Christopher Gabbitas, baritone; and Jonathan Howard, bass.
Tickets are $35-$70 general, $17.50-$35 for students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787.