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New Music for New York

The MCE’s Commissioning & Premiering Project

In our 2004-5 season, we initiated what we hope will become an annual tradition of commissioning and premiering new works by exclusively New York-based composers. We begin this project in accordance with our mission—to foster and celebrate New York choral music culture.

Our project is designed to promote a range of high-caliber compositions each year, while also developing longer term relationships with composers and enabling the choir itself to participate in the entire process. The project works like this: First, we commission (in the fall) three short works from area composers that we perform in May. Then the choir votes on which composer of the three it would like to re-commission for a longer work to be performed the next May. Once this is done, the choir gets the chance to participate in the process by which the chosen composer develops that longer piece.

This first year was a tremendous success. We commissioned works by extremely talented composers, and the works they produced were tremendously well-received by our membership and our audience alike. Featured in our May 2005 concert at Columbia University were A.J. McCaffrey’s “Meeting the British,” George Andoniadis’s “Birds,” and Nico Muhly’s “I Cannot Attain Unto It.” The choir selected Mr. Andoniadis to commission a second, longer work for our May 2006 concert.

2005 Premieres (click the MP3 link to hear the piece performed by the MCE)

George Andoniadis, Birds (mp3)

Mr. Andoniadis has composed numerous theater scores and much vocal music, both solo and choral, and has received world premiere performances from the Gregg Smith Singers, the Bowdoin College Chamber Choir, the University of Southern Maine Chamber Singers, and the Choral Art Society of Portland, Maine. His music has also been featured on concerts of the Ohio University Chamber Singers and the Lancaster Chorale. For more information, visit:

Birds is a composition born of sadness but living as an expression of joy and hope. The words were written by Andoniadis’s 11-year old niece, Hallie Geier, who died last year in a car accident. “She lived an amazingly full life for her short time here with us and this poem is an example of her fertile and powerful imagination,” Mr. Andoniadis said. “The words create striking images and then express a yearning that we all have felt as we see the miraculous flight of birds in the sky. As a composer, I simply tried to paint the poem with notes and in so doing to communicate Hallie’s spirit and perhaps speak with her soul.” Birds is dedicated to Hallie’s sister, MJ.

A.J. McCaffrey, Meeting the British (mp3)

A.J.’s music has been performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, as well as by several Boston-area ensembles. He has been featured on Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s The Next Next new music series, and has recently been named Composer-in-Residence for the Radius Ensemble, a Boston-based chamber group. He currently lives in the Boston area, where he is the Chair of Theory and Composition at the Community Music Center of Boston.

In a reading of his poem, “Meeting the British,” Paul Muldoon identifies the speaker as the spirit of the Ottawa, meeting a pair of British officers around the time of the Pontiac Rebellion in 1763. “The eventual betrayal of the native North Americans by the British in this poem struck me as quiet and intimate, almost shockingly so,” Mr. McCaffrey said. “In setting this text to music, I wanted listeners to discover this stillness gradually, as if by accident.”

Nico Muhly, I Cannot Attain Unto It (mp3)

The American Symphony Orchestra under Leon Botstein premiered Mr. Muhly’s Fits & Bursts at Avery Fisher Hall in February 2003, and the Juilliard Orchestra under Jeffrey Milarsky premiered his Out of the Loop at the Juilliard Theater. Out of the Loop went on to win an ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer’s Award. In April 2004, his So to Speak was premiered by the Juilliard Orchestra under Jeffrey Milarsky in Alice Tully Hall. For more information, visit:

I Cannot Attain Unto It is a setting of a section of Psalm 139 arranged such that certain syllables repeat and cycle around each other. The harmonic motion of the piece is through common tones, a method in which a single note is sustained through two related or unrelated keys. The use of the repetition is meant to be at once devotional and hypnotic. Mr. Muhly said he has been drawn to the psalms since he was a young child. “Their obsessive repetition and turns of phrase has always fascinated me. Every time I set one, I learn something new about the strategic use of repetition.”