Concert programmers often try to create thematic links between seemingly disparate works. But the New Amsterdam Singers event on Thursday at St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church on the Upper West Side was united by only what was described in the program as “unusually appealing texts.”
The ensemble, directed by Clara Longstreth, has a strong track record of championing contemporary music. Some of the alluring texts were featured in works by living composers, including Eric Whitacre, Matthew Harris, Michael Dellaira and Ben Moore, who is also a painter.
A highlight was Mr. Moore’s moving “Dear Theo,” set to excerpts from letters by Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, an art dealer who supported Vincent throughout his career. The work, sung by mixed choir and the soprano Allison Gish, the alto Rebecca Dee, the tenor Nathaniel Granor and the bass Rick Bonsall, is set to texts that cover a wide swath of the painter’s life and struggles.
The selected texts, evocatively set to reveal the nuances of the emotive prose, included the mournful “At times I feel already broken,” “I must leave a souvenir” and “I found a woman.”
Mr. Whitacre set his lovely, lilting “She Weeps Over Rahoon” for women’s voices, English horn and piano to a poem of the same title by James Joyce. The pianist Pen Ying Fang was the deft accompanist; Andrew Adelson played the English horn solo beautifully.
Mr. Dellaira set his engaging, vividly scored “Nobody” to Emily Dickinson’s poem “I’m Nobody! Who Are You?” The oboe provided a dramatic underscoring for the increasing urgency of the word “nobody,” a connecting theme in the piece. The choir was at its best in this work, singing with crisp diction, buoyant pulse and commitment.
The other new work on the program was Mr. Harris’s samba-inspired a cappella “Drinking Song” for men’s voices, set to a poem by Yeats.
Paul Hindemith set his harmonically rich, characterful “Six Chansons” to poems by Rainer Maria Rilke; the choir rendered them with flair. The lineup also included Bernstein’s French choruses from “The Lark” — about the life and trial of Joan of Arc and presented here in an arrangement for men’s voices by Craig Carnahan.
The program opened with Poulenc’s lighthearted “Petites Voix” for women’s choir, set to verses by Madeleine Ley, and concluded with Cecil Effinger’s lyrical “Four Pastorales,” which ends with an evocative oboe solo and soaring final verse.