The New Amsterdam Singers, a 70-plus singer choir in New York City, specializes in producing numerous world, American, and New York premieres. Its unusual programming reflects its desire to promote lesser-known works by pre-eminent composers and on new works by living composers. It is rare to find such a strong singing group that is able to present these contemporary works.
Led by music director, Clara Longstreth, the New Amsterdam Singers (NAS) celebrated its 50th anniversary during the 2017-18 season. It has been hailed as an “outstanding avocational choir” by The New Yorker and 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.
But it’s not just about music insists Longstreth as she said, “We come from a huge variety of backgrounds and professions. We’re teachers, lawyers, doctors, costume designers, writers, horticulturalists, accountants — you name it. But we all love to sing, and that’s what binds us together.” One longtime singer responded to a recent survey of our members, ‘I came for the music. I stayed for the community.’ We actively pursue opportunities to collaborate with other performing artists, from choruses around the world, to dance groups, to instrumentalists like the Harlem Chamber Players. Because we’re a mid-sized group, we can perform a wide variety of music, from large-scale works with orchestra, to a cappella madrigals. And we are committed to keeping choral singing alive and well by commissioning new works as often as we can.”
This month, on Friday, May 19, Longstreth will lead the NAS in “I Have Had Singing” on Friday, May 19 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, May 21 at 4:00 p.m. at Broadway Presbyterian Church at Broadway and 114th Street. This program will showcase choral works by American and British composers from the 20th and 21st centuries. The considerable and careful decision-making process of choosing this music is beautifully recorded here by Clara Longstreth.
Steven Sametz’s classic I Have Had Singing is one of several works on the program featuring texts about the powerful act of singing and the lasting joy that it can bring, even in times of adversity. Sametz set an excerpt from Ronald Blythe’s Akenfield, Portrait of an English Village, in which an elderly horseman recalls the pleasures of singing amidst a difficult life. Composer Mark Kilstofte wrote Everyone’s Voice in 2022 on a World War I poem by Siegfried Sassoon with the war in Ukraine on his mind. Craig Hella Johnson composed Song from the Road in 2018 on a poem by his friend and collaborator Michael Dennis Browne.
After introducing the lively, rhythmic works of composer Rosephanye Powell to New Amsterdam Singers audiences in 2021 and presenting a work by her on every concert this season, the chorus will perform her Wait on the Lord, a setting of Old Testament texts. Michael Dellaira wrote The Campers at Kitty Hawk as the third part of a trilogy called USA STORIES on texts by John Dos Passos. This ingenious work recounts the first flight by the Wright Brothers. The propulsive rhythm echoes the sound of a plane engine starting up in this exceptionally winning piece.
Also on the program: Americans Irving Fine and Scott Joplin and British composers E.J. Moeran and Benjamin Britten. Moeran, an English composer who lived in the first half of the 20th century, wrote a charming set of a cappella pieces on Elizabethan poems. Each piece begins like a conventional madrigal, but Moeran tweaks the form by adding quirky harmonic shifts to beguiling effect.
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 New York City performance since 1952, as part of the Trinity Wall Street Concert Series. In 2013 the singers performed in South Africa; in Greece in 2015; in Iceland in 2017; and in Bulgaria in 2019.
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 Longstreth at the helm, where she remains today. Her tenure and programming instincts with New Amsterdam Singers 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 Douglass College. A student of conductor G. Wallace Woodworth at Harvard University, 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.
For further information, go to www.nasingers.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets are available in advance online for $25 (plus a service charge) and at the door for $30. Student discount tickets are available at the door for $5 with a current student ID.
Photo credit: Valerie Terranova Photography