Central City Chorus is one of the premier mid-sized choirs in New York City. From its modest start in 1981 as chorus-in-residence at Central Presbyterian Church, Central City Chorus has grown into a highly accomplished 55-voice chorus of dedicated volunteer singers. Hailed by The New Yorker as the City’s “fine avocational choir”, the Chorus performs a variety of music spanning a wide range of periods and geography, from a cappella works by Byrd, Bruckner, Glass, Howells, Mäntyjärvi, Monk, Palestrina, Poulenc, Rachmaninov, Victoria, and Whitacre, to choral-orchestral masterpieces like Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, Mozart’s Mass in c minor, J.S. Bach’s Magnificat and Weihnachtsoratorium, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, and the rarely-heard Requiem by Delius.
The Chorus has collaborated with the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony in a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at Riverside Church, with the Astoria Symphony in a performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah, the Empire State Youth Orchestra in a performance of Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, the Adelphi Symphony Orchestra in Britten’s The Company of Heaven, and the internationally acclaimed REBEL Baroque Orchestra in performances of Bach’s Messe in h-moll, Händel’s Dixit Dominus and Nisi Dominus, and Mozart’s Requiem.
A strong advocate for contemporary music, Central City Chorus gave the world première of James Bassi’s Harpsonnets, choral settings of Shakespeare sonnets, in 2004 with a reprise in 2016 on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s passing. (Harpsonnets was accepted for publication by Oxford University Press in 2006.) The Chorus has also presented several New York City premières including Emma Lou Diemer’s cantata, A Feast for Christmas (which Choral Journal called “a major addition to the choral repertoire”), Steve Heitzig’s choral suite, Leaf Songs, based on the poetry of the American poet Wendell Berry, and Carol Barnett’s The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass.
Central City Chorus enjoys an active and successful commissioning program, producing works like Requiem for the Living, by Elliot Z. Levine, a founding member of the world-renowned vocal sextet Western Wind Ensemble; Redness by Kristin Kuster, composition faculty member at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor; The Tightened String: An Elegy for 9/11 by Jonathan David to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attack of 9/11; and Counting Time in Central City by Frank J. Oteri, a composer advocate at New Music USA and co-editor of NewMusicBox, in celebration of the Chorus’ 35th anniversary.
The first conductor of the Chorus was Judith Otten, a professional singer. She was followed in 1982 by Michael May, a pianist who worked both in the U.S. and in Europe. He was succeeded a year later by Charles W. Pilling, who was hired straight out from the Yale School of Music as Central Presbyterian’s Minister of Music. Under Pilling’s leadership for the next 15 years, the Chorus grew to prominence. After his untimely death in 1998, the chorus was led by David Friddle and then Kevin Scott. In 2001, Susan Medley assumed the position of Music Director and Central City Chorus relocated from Central Presbyterian to a new artistic home at the Church of St. John the Baptist.
Revitalized and renewed under Medley’s energetic and innovative leadership, the Chorus become a vital participant in the musical life of New York. In 2004, Mark Kaczmarczyk took over the Chorus and he was followed a year later by the noted singer and organist, Stephen Black. Since 2010, under the leadership of its ninth Music Director, Phillip Cheah, the Chorus continues to achieve greater heights and delight its audience with its innovative, thoughtful programs and consummate musicianship, earning the accolade of “valuable choir” by The New York Times while advancing its mission to “share the joy of singing”.