Six of the CD's tracks were composed in 17th century Latin America. The rest--all by 20th century Los Angeles composers--show off the group's aforementioned versatility, introducing local jazz pianist William Kennerly's first choral piece and giving the music of John Cage (born here) and Igor Stravinsky (lived here) an overt Southern California context.
It's that mix that attracts musicians like Amy Knoles, percussionist for the new music group California EAR Unit and occasional I Cantori collaborator. "They do stuff no one else does," she says, praising Cansino's "fearlessness" as a conductor. "On one piece he had me scratching [a] Martin Luther King [speech] on turntables."
The music of I Cantori inspired Richard Lyons to start Civic Group Records in the hopes of expanding the group's following beyond its core concert-going fans. A Cal State L.A. music instructor, and former film and TV composer ("Dance Fever" was his big hit), he was introduced to I Cantori by Knoles in 1994. Lyons, who produced the CD, has so far invested about $100,000 in his label--"I'm doing it on a wing and prayer and credit cards!"--and has scored independent distribution around the country. Locally, "A Choir of Angels," out for about five weeks, is available at Tower, Virgin , Blockbuster and bookstores from Borders to the Bodhi Tree.
Lyons, 41, has also produced a music video for the I Cantori release, consisting mostly of time-lapse desert photography set to the Peruvian hymn "Hanacpachap Cussicuinin" (Lady of the Flowers). Written by an unknown composer, sung in the Incan language Quechan and dating from 1610, it was the first polyphony printed in the New World, according to scholars. The video is getting play on Classic Arts Showcase, the so-called "classical MTV" channel, and tracks of the CD are getting local airplay on classical stations KKGO-FM and KUSC-FM, and on National Public Radio outlets KCRW-FM and KPCC-FM, among others.
"I don't think there's been a record like this [before], a real L.A. classical record," Lyons says.
"It's what we've always done," Cansino says, "present music of every sort. This record is dominated by Latin American early music, but it's all happened here. Everyone has come here at one time or another."