New Amsterdam Singers to Premiere New Work
For the third and final concert of its 50th anniversary season, New Amsterdam Singers, led by Music Director Clara Longstreth, will perform the world premiere of The Wave Rises by Ben Moore, a work commissioned by the chorus as part of its 50-year celebration. Moore, whose music has been performed by many leading singers, including soprano Deborah Voigt, mezzo-sopranos Susan Graham, Frederica von Stade, and Isabel Leonard, chose prose texts by Virginia Woolf from many of her writings for this a cappella work. The concert will take place Wednesday, May 30, 2018, at 8:00 p.m., at Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church, 554 West End Avenue, at 87th Street.
The concert also features another major work, Rejoice in the Lamb, by Benjamin Britten, for chorus, organ, and soloists. Britten's text is taken from an extended poem, "Jubilate Agno," by the 18th-century poet Christopher Smart, who wrote it while in an asylum. Britten's work has been a beloved part of the choral repertoire since its creation, in 1943. Shorter works by Britten from his a cappella cycles, Choral Dances from Gloriana, and Flower Songs will also be performed.
The program opens with Nunc dimittis from 2001 by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, one of the sacred works in his tintinnabuli style, which was influenced by the composer's mystical experiences with chant music. At the opposite extreme from this austere contemplative work is Robert S. Cohen's Do you Believe? - a jazzy, irreverent piece on a poem by Maria Seigenthaler, from 2005.
Closing the program are two lively hymns from 19th-century America, one arranged by the legendary Alice Parker, who wrote or arranged 500 works; this one is Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal on the tune Invitation. The other is An Unclouded Day, arranged by Shawn Kirchner on a famous J.K. Alwood gospel hymn of the same name.
Ben Moore's work has been called "brilliant" and "gorgeously lyrical" by The New York Times, while Opera News has praised the "easy tunefulness" and "romantic sweep" of his songs.
The Wave Rises, Moore's six pieces for a cappella chorus, is set to texts by Virginia Woolf that include diary entries, essays, and novels. "I chose excerpts from her writings on the themes of life, beauty and death, including the last paragraph from her novel The Waves" says the composer. "For me, these passages, if not solving life's puzzles, succeed in presenting them in the most personal and meaningful ways. I've juxtaposed passages that express her anguish and joy in the face of life's sorrows and distractions, her experience of the world's fleeting beauty, and her proud defiance of death itself."
Ben Moore is the composer of three operas. Enemies, A Love Story, based on the novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer with a libretto by Nahma Sandrow, premiered at Palm Beach Opera in 2015 and will be performed at Kentucky Opera in November 2018. Odyssey and Robin Hood are youth operas commissioned by the Glimmerglass Festival with librettos by Kelley Rourke. Odyssey premiered at Glimmerglass in 2015 and was seen at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in November 2017 and Minnesota Opera last February, with upcoming performances at Glimmerglass and Seattle Opera. Robin Hood premiered at Glimmerglass in August 2017, was seen at Seattle Opera in February 2018, and will be presented by Houston Grand Opera in June 2018.
Primarily a composer of vocal works, Ben Moore has written numerous songs and choral works. New Amsterdam Singers recently performed his a cappella work, Dear Theo, with texts from Van Gogh's letters to his brother, and The Lake Isle of Innisfree. Born in Syracuse, N.Y., Moore grew up in Clinton, N.Y. and graduated from Hamilton College. He has an MFA from The Parsons School of Design.
Music Director Clara Longstreth
In 1968 Clara Longstreth became conductor of what was then called the Master Institute Chorus. 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. Over these five decades, Ms. Longstreth's tenure and programming instincts with NAS 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."
Clara Longstreth has also 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 Westenburg. Further study included work with Amy Kaiser and Semyon Bychkov at the Mannes College of Music, and with Helmuth Rilling at the Oregon Bach Festival. She has guest-conducted the Limón 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.
New Amsterdam Singers
Hailed as an "outstanding avocational choir" by The New Yorker, New Amsterdam Singers 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.
Over the course of its 50-year history, the chorus of 70-plus singers has performed 10 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 Limón Dance Company in Kodály'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. Tickets are available at the door for $30. Tickets are also available in advance online for $25 (general admission), $20 (seniors), and $15 (students); by phone at the above number; or by mail (New Amsterdam Singers, P.O. Box 373, Cathedral Station, New York, NY 10025).
Photo by Jennifer Taylor