Grace Notes
May 2017
Upcoming Concert:
Thursday, June 1, 2017 at 8 p.m.

Life is But a Dream

Poetry and folk song inspire new American works

Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church
554 West End Avenue (at 87th Street) 

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In this issue…
Concert Notes from the Music Director

Commissions, Premieres, and Poetry

As the NAS board began to think about how to celebrate the chorus’ 50th Anniversary in the 2017-2018 season, the singers came up with the idea of funding three commissions, one to be performed at each of the season’s three concerts. This plan is in progress, with the three composers already at work to meet their summer deadlines.

Last summer, through a lucky coincidence, we learned that Matthew Harris was contemplating a Book Seven of his enormously popular Shakespeare Song cycles. This was an opportunity that spoke to me, given our long history with the composer. So we decided on a fourth commission to precede the other three, which would serve as a kickoff to the 50th season and be performed at the end of the present season, on June 1.

NAS has performed much of Harris Book 1, 2 and 3 of the Shakespeare Songs and all of Books 4, 5, and 6. We have also performed many of his non-Shakespeare works. In 1993 we performed and recorded five songs from his early sets, and this was the beginning of a mutually fruitful relationship. We gained a group of madrigal-like pieces that were so appealing that we have included them on every tour program to other countries. Matt Harris got a review from Fanfare 1994 of his songs in the NAS American Journey album that positioned him for many commissions and reams of new reviews. It went like this: 
“There is a young composer... who I now regard as a genius. Harris has obviously absorbed all the musical influences available in our great mongrel culture (and) has spun this dross into pure gold. I strongly urge that you go out and buy this disc.”

In 1998 NAS commissioned Ronald Perera to write a piece for us which has had a similar success. The piece, for chorus and an orchestral ensemble, was on the theme of immigration, called The Golden Door. We recorded that, and the happy result has been that the piece did NOT die after its first performance (as many new works do) but has been performed a good many times by other choruses.

Perera’s 2015 cycle, When Music Sounds, was commissioned by Harvard University for a much admired course taught by Tom Kelly called First Nights. NAS will present the first New York performance of that piece in June.

The music of Robert Paterson is a newer discovery for NAS. We sang A New Eaarth in May of last season, and will present a New York premiere of Life is But a Dream in June. Paterson has pulled off a daunting feat in turning a well known children’s round, Row, Row, Row Your Boat into a fantasia in four languages and multiple harmonies. Not simple, but wonderful, and a great climax to our program.

When I looked for an overview of the music on our June 1 program, I was struck by one aspect of the poetry many composers had chosen to set. The poets use words to take the reader, or listener, to a special place in his imagination. They present a vision of a space apart from daily life. Here are six examples:

“Come unto these yellow sands and there take hands.” (Shakespeare)
“The morning stars the treble led on time’s first afternoon.” (Dickinson)
“A shining city of song in the beautiful land of dreams.” (Longfellow)
“My dazzled face in such a shining place.” (Dickinson) 
“Lord, I do fear thou’s made the world too beautiful this year” (Edna St. Vincent Millay) 
“And when we find ourselves in the place just right, twill be in the valley of love and delight.” (Shaker song)

Our composers have more than the matched these visionary words with inspiring music. Come hear us!

Clara Longstreth, Music Director

Composer Robert Paterson - Life is But a Dream

Re-imagining a childhood classic

It was a coveted, sought-after commission from the Chamber Choir of Europe, and American composer Robert Paterson was thrilled to get it. That is, until he received the details of the commission. The ensemble’s conductor, Nicol Matt, had asked him to write an a cappella piece on Row, Row, Row Your Boat

“At first I was not happy about this,” says the Buffalo-born composer who has degrees from the Eastman School of Music (BM), Indiana University (MM), and Cornell University (DMA). “I tried to dissuade him. For about a month I thought about it, and then I decided: I’m going to do crazy things with this piece in different languages. The European choir has singers from all over the Continent. I can take some words and settings and combine everything.”

The result of his months-long endeavor will be revealed on June 1, 2017, at 8:00 p.m., when New Amsterdam Singers (NAS) performs the New York premiere of Life Is But a Dream, along with works by other American composers. The place: Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church, 554 West End Avenue (at 87th Street).  

Be prepared! The text begins with the familiar Row, Row, Row Your Boat round but then turns into an exuberant treatment with excursions into German, French, Italian, and Latin versions of the original, and harmonic excursions into unrelated keys. “I liked it because of the cool harmonic changes and lively rhythm,” says NAS Music Director Clara Longstreth, who first heard it on a Musica Sacra CD conducted by Kent Tritle. “I like it better and better as we get to know it in more depth.”

The composer says that in writing the piece he became fascinated with the subtle differences of word meanings in various languages. “I was fascinated by how one would mean ‘stream' and another would mean ‘river'," he explains. “It’s all sonic word play. It was fun in rehearsals to hear the European singers coaching each other in the other languages!”

Paterson, who admits to a passion for writing choral music, has composed 80-plus works in multiple genres. He was named Composer of the Year by the Classical Recording Foundation, and has received the Copland Award, a three-year Music Alive! Grant from the League of American Orchestras and New Music USA, the American Composers Forum, two ASCAP Young Composer Awards, and fellowships at Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, Aspen Music Festival, among other accolades. His opera, Three Way, is heading to BAM, June 15-18, 2017.

“As I was writing Life Is But a Dream, I thought a lot about ‘democracy’ — how much of which language do I leave out or put in?” he notes. “And how much of the original do I need to demonstrate, and how much do people know?”

Those questions will be answered on June 1 with the performance by the New Amsterdam Singers. As Gramophone once wrote of the composer: “Robert Paterson could probably set a telephone book to music and create something that captivates.”

Lucy Kraus 
Meet the Composers graphic
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Life is a Cabaret!

The Birds & Bees singing it Our Way

Each year NAS schedules special events as fund-raising benefits, and appropriately enough they usually include music.  This season was no exception, as several of our talented solo artists created and performed two separate cabaret acts, both of which were enjoyed by wildly enthusiastic audiences!

In February a trio of “songbirds” consisting of Robin Beckhard, Kate Leahy and Barbara Zucker-Pinchoff presented “The Birds and The Bees,” a hilarious collection of love songs, just in time for Valentine’s Day and all beautifully performed.  In addition to the show, a delicious meal was provided by our resident chefs extraordinaire, John Duncan and Dennis Goodenough, and a Silent Auction was held offering a dozen highly desirable items, including a week in an island cottage off the coast of Maine! Accompanying the ladies on piano was one of New York’s most sought-after cabaret music directors, Paul Gordon Greenwood, in addition to talented NAS member David Ortiz on acoustic guitar.  The evening attracted a capacity crowd of just under one hundred audience members.

Not to be outdone, in April two of the gentlemen of the chorus, Michael Milton and Jason Hill, performed their cabaret “Our Way” on two separate nights at The Triad theatre on West 72nd Street. Covering an astonishing variety of musical styles, including everything from country western to opera, they brought to mind many famous performers of the past, including Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Beverly (you had to be there) Sills. Once again accompanied by Paul Gordon Greenwood, they were joined by special guests Kate Leahy and David Ortiz, rounding out an unforgettable evening of song and humor.

NAS is fortunate to have such an extraordinary depth of talent in the chorus, and equally lucky that they’re willing to spend the extra time and effort putting on professional and entertaining evenings like these.  Bravissimo!  Bravissima!

Brian Farrell



Upcoming Concert Details
Life is But a Dream
Poetry and folk song inspire new American works

Thursday, June 1, 2017 at 8 p.m.
Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church
554 West End Avenue (at 87th Street) 

Colin Britt World, I cannot hold thee close enough
Ben Moore Two Yeats Songs
    When You Are Old
    When I Was One and Twenty
      World premiere of choral version
Irving Fine Father William
Eriks Esenwalds, arr. Amazing Grace
Dominick Argento Fata Morgana (from A Harvard Triptych)
Ron Jeffers, arr. Workin’ for the dawn of peace
Aaron Copland, arr. Simple Gifts
Stephen Hatfield, arr. O Sapo
Andrew Rindfleisch Me! Come! My Dazzled Face!
Ronald Perera When Music Sounds
      New York premiere
Matthew Harris Shakespeare Songs, Book Seven
      World premiere, NAS commission
Robert Paterson Life is but a dream
      New York premiere

Tickets: $25 ($30 at the door)

(Seniors and Students discounts are available)



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