David Lang's the public domain for 1,000 voices premieres on Lincoln Center's main plaza
by Kathleen Engles for Vocal Area Network
Posted August 8, 2016

the public domain--Green strand rehearsalOn August 13, 2016, 1000 volunteer singers will fill Lincoln Center’s main plaza to perform the world premiere of the public domain, a choral work written by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lang and conducted by Simon Halsey, Director of the London Symphony Chorus. In this unique, open event, the commissioned choral piece written specifically for 1,000 voices will be performed for the public and by the public in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival.

The Lang piece was inspired by the themes of community and honoring the collective knowledge we all share. Singers of all levels of experience and expertise, ages and backgrounds, and from all five boroughs of New York City and the Metro area will participate in this massive choral event. The idea behind the performance is that, as vocalists sing and speak the lyrics to the original score and move around the outdoor space, audience members will experience the work in multiple formations and as a large, single gathering.

The choral performance includes five groups (or “strands”) of 200 singers, each led by a conductor referred to as a “strand leader,” all of whom work under the main direction of conductor Halsey. Deborah Simpkin King, a conductor and chair of the New York Choral Consortium (NYCC), is one of the strand leaders who has been rehearsing her singers since late June, in preparation for the August performance.

“The Lang piece and the whole production are groundbreaking from both an artistic and a sociological perspective,” says King, a new-music advocate, who sees the event as a special opportunity to nurture interest in the arts and choral singing in New York City.

According to King, the strongly improvisational nature of the piece makes it both challenging and exciting to conduct and perform. For example, several of the factors affecting the performance, such as the size of the audience, where the audience will stand once the performers begin to move through the public space, what the audience’s reaction will be, even how long each of the twelve “parts” of the piece will take to complete, cannot really be known until the time of the performance.

One of the qualities that distinguishes the public domain performance from other musical performances, in addition to its magnitude, is the strong sense of collaboration that exists on multiple levels of the process -- between the singers and the conductors; between the main conductor and the strand leaders; among the conductors themselves. Ronnie Oliver, conductor and NYCC Programs Chair, notes that the collaborative process has been “woven throughout the work of the creative team (composer, conductors, choreographers) from the beginning, and continues with every communication.”

According to King, if the positive comments and inquiries about joining a choir recently heard from participants in rehearsal are any indication, the public domain may already be inspiring an increasing interest in choral singing. “There are so many things that work to divide us in this world, almost working against any fostering of inclusion and community,” says King. “The fact that we have this piece of art that’s a collaboration of shared leadership and purpose is really a small miracle, even perhaps a glimpse of what a utopian society could be.”

Lang's the public domain will be performed on Saturday, August 13, 2016 at 5 PM at Josie Robertson Plaza, Lincoln Center, New York City. For additional information, visit mostlymozart.org/thepublicdomain/.

Kathleen Engles is a communications professional and a freelance writer.