New Amsterdam Singers to Celebrate 50 Years Under Music Director Clara Longstreth
The New Amsterdam Singers will celebrate 50 years of leadership under its Music Director Clara Longstreth in the 2017-18 season, with three sets of concerts and three world-premiere commissioned works.
The concerts will take place December 8 and 10, 2017; March 9 and 11, 2018; and May 30, 2018, with commissions by Carol Barnett (December); Lisa Bielawa (March); and Ben Moore (May), in addition to other works.
New Amsterdam Singers (NAS) is known for the breadth and variety of its repertoire. The ensemble specializes in a cappella and double chorus works, presenting music from the 16th century to contemporary pieces, including many it has commissioned.
NAS began life in 1966 as the Master Institute Chorus, conducted by Allan Miller, and was run as an adult education course with Clara Longstreth as assistant conductor and Elizabeth Rodgers as accompanist. On Miller's departure in 1968, Ms. Longstreth became the conductor. When the Master Institute dissolved in 1971, the singers regrouped as the New Amsterdam Singers with Ms. Longstreth at the helm, where she remains today. From 1972-78, NAS was associated with the BloomingDale House of Music; it became fully independent in 1978 under the management of its own elected Board of Directors.
"I had no idea this would evolve into a 50-year commitment!" laughs Ms. Longstreth, recalling how, during those early conducting years, she went back to school to get a post-graduate diploma and then a Master's degree in choral conducting because she felt that "the chorus knew more than I did!"
Now five decades, she has honed her conducting and programming skills, and has become known for creating concerts that are balanced - her primary concern - and for working with many contemporary composers whose music she and the singers have come to love. "Choosing the music is the most fun," she admits, as she seeks out composers whose texts she likes and whose harmonic vocabulary is attractive to her and comfortable for the singers. Her programming instincts have been acknowledged by audiences and the press alike. "Clara Longstreth, the longtime music director of the estimable New Amsterdam Singers, has a gift for devising adventurous programs with interesting juxtapositions," wrote Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times. Allan Kozinn, writing in the same publication, noted: "When a director takes up the challenge of building a cohesive program around a broad theme, we are reminded that programming can be an art."
Overview of the 50th Anniversary Season:
The first concert of 2017-18 is titled Sing, Sing Ye Muses (December 8 and 10, Advent Lutheran Church, Broadway at West 93 St.). Included are works by Dominick Argento, J.S. Bach, Abbie Betinis, John Blow, Dietrich Buxtehude, Jacob Handl, Claudio Monteverdi, W.A. Mozart, and the world premiere-NAS commission of The Darkling Thrush by Carol Barnett for chorus and string quartet, on a poem by Thomas Hardy. Ms. Barnett is an award-winning Minneapolis-based composer.
Hymn to the Dawn (March 9 at Broadway Presbyterian Church at Broadway and 114th St., and March 11 at The Church of the Holy Trinity, 316 East 88 St.) includes works by Carson Cooman, Hugo Distler, Morton Gould, Gustav Holst, Gyo?rgy Orba?n, Per Gunnar Petersson, and the world premiere-NAS commission of Walks of Life by Lisa Bielawa for chorus and brass trio. Ms. Bielawa, winner of the Rome Prize in 2009, co-founded the MATA Festival for emerging composers, in New York City.
Rejoice in the Lamb (May 30, Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church, 554 West End Avenue at 87th St.) includes works by Benjamin Britten, Arvo Pa?rt, and the world premiere- NAS commission of The Wave Rises: Settings of Virginia Woolf by Ben Moore for a cappella chorus. Mr. Moore has written solo songs for singers such as Deborah Voigt, Audra McDonald, and Nathan Gunn. His first opera, A Love Story, received its world premiere in 2015 at the Palm Beach Opera. (See below for complete concert listings).
Clara Longstreth has served on the faculty of Rutgers University, where she conducted the Voorhees Choir of Douglas College. A student of conductor G. Wallace Woodworth at Harvard University, Ms. Longstreth trained for her master's degree at The Juilliard School under Richard Westenberg. Further study included work with Amy Kaiser and Semyon Bychov at the Mannes College of Music, and with Helmuth Rilling at the Oregon Bach Festival. She has guest- conducted the Limo?n Dance Company in performances with NAS and the Riverside Choir, and with NAS and the Mannes College Orchestra in the folk opera, "Down in the Valley" during a Symphony Space "Wall to Wall Kurt Weill" program. In 2009 she received an Alumnae Recognition Award from Radcliffe College for her founding and longtime direction of New Amsterdam Singers.
Over the course of its 50-year history, the chorus of 70-plus singers has performed nine world- premiere commissions in addition to another 14 world premieres, eight American premieres, and 62 New York and New York City premieres. This programming reflects Ms. Longstreth's desire to focus efforts on lesser-known works by pre-eminent composers and on new works by living composers. Among them have been Matthew Harris, Paul Alan Levi, Ronald Perera, Ben Moore, Elizabeth Lim, Katherine Hoover, Alla Borzova, Charles Fussell, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Richard Rodney Bennett, Petr Eben, Robert Paterson, Abbie Betinis, Kirke Mechem, Steven Stucky, LUna Pearl Woolf, Ruth Watson Henderson, and Daniel Pinkham.
New Amsterdam Singers has performed with the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein; American Russian Youth Orchestra at Carnegie Hall; at Tanglewood's Ozawa Hall under Leon Botstein; Concordia Orchestra and Anonymous Four in Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light with Marin Alsop at Avery Fisher Hall; and with the Limo?n Dance Company in Koda?ly's Missa Brevis. On March 13, 2016, NAS presented Golgotha, a 90-minute oratorio for chorus, orchestra, organ, and soloists by the Swiss composer Frank Martin in its first performance since 1952, as part of the Trinity Wall Street Concert Series. In 2013 the singers performed in South Africa, in 2015, in Greece, and in 2017, Iceland.
For further information, call (914) 712-8708 or go online to www.nasingers.org.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Taylor