New Amsterdam Singers proudly performs music not often heard in New York City--or anywhere, for that matter. We focus our efforts on lesser-known works by pre-eminent composers and on new works by living composers.
The New Yorker heralds Clara Longstreth as "one of the more imaginative programmers around" (2009). After more than 40 years, we believe she's one of the best, as well. In this section of the site you can read more about how Clara chooses music (below), browse our rental library, listen to recordings of NAS in concert, and much more.
Programming for NAS
When I choose music for NAS, one criterion stands above all others: will our singers love it? I find that if the chorus loves the music, they will convince the audience to love it, as well. And if a program looks interesting to the New York Times or to fellow conductors, that’s a great bonus, but the singers’ stimulation and pleasure come first.
Our repertoire is also determined by our size. At 60-70 voices, we are the right group for most double chorus works, for many Renaissance and Baroque works, and for much contemporary work. We are not the group for Beethoven’s Ninth or the Verdi Requiem. We also avoid other very familiar works, however worthy, that are often done in the major halls, in favor of repertoire somewhat off the beaten track. Beyond size considerations is the issue of funding orchestras. We use freelance professional players every year or two for a concert, but the majority of our repertoire is a cappella.
When one does a lot of contemporary music, one is rewarded by having a great deal of new music sent unbidden. This can be exciting, but it is always difficult to find time to look at everything that comes in. I find that I sometimes have to look first at the composers I already know because the style of their new works will likely be right for NAS. The composers I most admire are ones whose tenth work does not seem a replica of their first. NAS has enjoyed doing many works by Ron Perera, Matthew Harris, and Paul Alan Levi over the past fifteen years. I am now finding that the works of Abbie Betinis and Mark Kilstofte, just to choose two examples, reward close study. I look forward to more such discoveries. And we will always return to Bach and Brahms, because every choral singer ought to have sung their great works.
An important step in the selection process is a balancing act: the music needs to be challenging enough to interest our most experienced singers, yet not so difficult that the process of learning is unrewardingly slow. Within a season I also balance periods, styles, languages, sacred/secular, and familiar/new, and within a given concert I balance kinds of learning required, types of rhythmic challenges, degrees of dissonance, amounts of divisi, and issues of unfamiliar languages. I look for good opening and closing pieces, for some fast, some slow, some loud, some soft. And if I find that I have come up with four great works, each of which ends pianissimo, I often add a short brilliant one to send the audience off on an upbeat note.
Thematic programs are the most fun to choose, but not every program needs to fit a tight theme. A theme is only good if every piece is a winner, not included just because it serves the theme. It helps to have on one’s shelves or in one’s memory bank a huge amount of music to choose from, and having done program building for 42 years, I do. Sometimes I think the choosing of a year’s repertoire is the best part of the whole season, but when I get to the first rehearsal in September, I realize, no, it’s the people of NAS that are the most fun of all.
--Clara Longstreth, July 2010