Vocal Area Network logo VAN Feature

Mark Shapiro and Cantori New York celebrate fifteen years together
by Marilynne Geiffert for Vocal Area Network
Posted October 25, 2005

Mark ShapiroFifteen years ago, the chamber chorus Cantori New York appointed Mark Shapiro as its Artistic Director. "Something about Shapiro just connected with the group," remembers Steven Statsinger, a Cantori bass and founding member of the organization. "There was an electricity that sparked between us when he conducted his concert with us."

Fifteen years later, that electricity is still crackling. The new season's tag-line is "daring to be different," and the programming sizzles with the maverick sensibility that led the New York Times to note: "Adventurous programming, appealing music: the fine chamber choir Cantori New York has a reputation for one and a penchant for the other."

The season's opener salutes Shapiro's fifteenth anniversary with a free concert at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, on Saturday, November 5 at 8 PM. Characteristically, the concert features US premieres of French and German works, and one world premiere. Remarkably, the European works, by Roger Calmel and Berthold Goldschmidt are not new, but were composed in 1970 and 1931, respectively. Still, they have never been heard in the United States. The concert's featured work is the world premiere of An American Persephone, a new cantata by California-based composer Paul Crabtree. Using texts written almost two thousand years apart, the libretto addresses the mythological spirals of human history, weaving together the poetry of Ovid, Edna St. Vincent Millay and the words of a young American social activist. "Cantori is committed to Art in a culture which increasingly focuses on Entertainment," Crabtree comments. "I am delighted that Mark Shapiro champions music which explores the Deep and the Difficult."

Shapiro's inexhaustible curiosity and zealous championing of compositional underdogs often leads him to uncover neglected gems like these. Several years ago, Cantori gave the world premiere of a French composition from nearly a century earlier. "There are so many interesting composers, both past and present, who don't get the attention they deserve," Shapiro says. "There are all kinds of reasons for this, but artistic merit often has nothing to do it." The composers, he explains, may be victims of circumstance, destiny or worse in their own lifetimes. Berthold Goldschmidt's music was banned by the Nazis because the composer was Jewish.

The November 5th concert has another typical Cantori element: unusual sonorities that derive from innovative combinations of voices and instruments. Roger Calmel's Stabat Mater is one of a tiny number of choral works to employ the Ondes Martenot, an electronic instrument that produces a unique, eerie wail. "I first heard the Ondes when I was a student in France," recalls Shapiro. "I went to a concert because my solfège teacher, a leading ondiste-- believe it or not, that's what they call them--was on the program. I couldn't believe my ears. It was love at first yowl."

Shapiro stresses that his programming strategy is to juxtapose unusual works in unexpected ways. "I want there to be a theatricality and tension emerging from the succession of works. I hope the audience will not only enjoy the music but also feel some sort of undertow through the evening, even a kind of suspense."

"It's just heartbreaking to see the McDonald's-ization of the repertoire," Shapiro observes. "Too many groups are caving in to conformist pressures and letting the repertoire dwindle to a handful of familiar, popular pieces. Cantori wants to be about something else: the unexpected, exotic, sometimes troubling beauty that lives on the margins."

Shapiro continues, "Biology teaches us that evolution requires diversity. To stay healthy, classical music needs to be mixing it up. More than they can know, I'm grateful to the singers, board members, donors and audience who, over the last decade and a half, have given generously of themselves so that Cantori's dream might be realized."

Widely regarded as one of New York's leading chamber choirs, Cantori, under Shapiro's direction, has racked up a number of impressive accomplishments, including a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, two ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming, and a CD that was named "Editor's Choice" by Opera News magazine and awarded the highest rating (***) in the Penguin Guide to Compact Discs. For more information, please visit Cantori's website at www.cantorinewyork.com.

Marilynne Geiffert is the president of Cantori New York.

Content Contact: Marilynne Geiffert.
Revision Date: October 25, 2005.
Technical Contact: Steve Friedman.

 Vocal Area Network logo