The Candlelight Concert Society opens its 23rd season in Columbia today with a group that doesn't need to check its instruments at the airport.
Chanticleer, which bills itself as the only full-time classical vocal ensemble in the United States, will perform at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre a few hours of music that spans more than 500 years.
The 12-member group, which takes its name from the singing rooster in "Canterbury Tales," will perform compositions that range from Renaissance works by 15th-century composers John Dunstable and Guillaume Dufay to 20th-century artists Stephen Sondheim and Thelonius Monk.
Frank Albinder, associate conductor and a bass-baritone who has been with Chanticleer since 1988, says one reason the group is so popular is that the public can identify with the performers to some degree.
"Everybody can sing," Mr. Albinder says. "If they don't sing now, they sang at some time. It is, after all, the original musical instrument."
Chanticleer was founded in 1978 in San Francisco and has performed throughout the United States and in Europe, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines.
The group is composed of men ages 25 to 43, and leans toward the higher notes with a bass, a bass-baritone, two baritones, three tenors and five countertenors.
The ensemble has made 15 recordings and was signed by Teldec Classics three years ago. Its most recent release is "Sing We Christmas."
Mr. Albinder says Chanticleer was singing medieval chants "before anyone had heard of the Spanish monks," a reference to the group of monks whose recordings of Gregorian chants became a surprise international hit.
The group's appearance at Candlelight is a departure for the concert series.
"We've never really had a choral ensemble, a purely vocal ensemble. It's all a cappella," says Bonita Bush, executive director of Candlelight Concerts.
Chanticleer's concert is the first of 12 in Candlelight's mostly classical music season, which includes three quartets, three trios, three duos and two soloists.
Pianist Richard Goode, who was supposed to open the concert series Oct. 1, sprained a wrist, and his concert was postponed to May 19.
Two regular contributors to CBS-TV' "Sunday Morning," Billy Taylor and Eugenia Zukerman, also will perform in the series.
Dr. Taylor also will lead a lecture and demonstration for Howard County students Jan. 5 at Smith Theatre. His trio's appearance is appropriate because he argued in his doctoral thesis that jazz is America's classical music.
Six of this season's concerts will be preceded by free "Face the Music" discussions on the evening's music. Each discussion will begin 90 minutes before the performance.
Candlelight Concerts did well last season. It had a subscriber list of 322 patrons -- its second-largest -- and filled the 420-seat Smith Theatre six times. Patrons travel from as far away as Washington, northern Baltimore County and Pennsylvania.
Close to 500 subscribers have purchased at least two tickets for Candlelight's Performing Arts Series for Children, which is designed to entertain children from ages 4 to about 11.
Children older than 11 "probably enjoy it, but they don't want to be seen in the company of 4-year-olds," says Chuck Thomas, Candlelight president.
Candlelight Concerts will present Chanticleer 3 p.m. today at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre. Tickets are $20; $14 for seniors and $8 for students. Information: 715-0034.
1995-1996 Candlelight Concerts
Chanticleer: 3 p.m. today
The Ying Quartet: 8 p.m. Dec. 2*
Billy Taylor Trio: 8 p.m. Jan. 6
Sequentia: 8 p.m. Jan. 20*
Cellist Anner Bylsma, fortepianist Malcolm Bilson: 8 p.m. Feb. 2*
Brentano String Quartet: 8 p.m. Feb. 17*
Violinist Earl Carlyss, pianist Ann Schein: 8 p.m. March 16
Pianist Rieko Aizawa: 8 p.m. March 30*
Guarneri String Quartet: 8 p.m. April 13
Flutist Eugenia Zukerman, harpist Yolonda Kondonassis: 8 p.m.
Music from Marlboro: 8 p.m. May 4
Pianist Richard Goode: 3 p.m. May 19
* "Face the Music" lectures that begin at 6:30 p.m.