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“Can you imagine living your life as a little note? Always ignored. Always overlooked next to all those big notes.” Thus begins one of Joseph Flummerfelt’s favorite quips, as he fights to give the little notes the attention they deserve. Flummerfelt shared this bit of insight just last week at a rehearsal of the Manhattan Choral Ensemble (MCE) with whom he is preparing a performance of the Brahms Neue Liebeslieder Waltzes, among other pieces.
Flummerfelt is an institution in the New York City choral world. Chorus Master to the New York Philharmonic, former Artistic Director of Westminster Choir College, and Musical America’s 2004 Conductor of the Year, he has no shortage of former students and fans all over the world. His arrangement of Danny Boy “just shows up everywhere,” he said. Today it's widely performed by choirs throughout the U.S. and abroad.
Though he retired from his position at Westminster Choir College in 2004, he is very busy these days travelling around the country and the world, giving masterclasses and serving as a guest conductor. Still, it is rare to find him doing what he does best right here in New York City – conducting a chorus in a performance of his favorite small masterworks.
That’s why the concert on Saturday, May 10 is such an important event. The man who counts Igor Stravinsky, Nadia Boulanger, Robert Shaw, and Samuel Barber as colleagues, mentors, and friends; the man who helped establish the Westminster Choir as the gold-standard for choral excellence; and the man who has overseen nearly every choral performance of the New York Philharmonic since 1979 is giving a special concert as guest conductor of the Manhattan Choral Ensemble, a 40-voice choir founded 13 years ago by Flummerfelt’s former student, Thomas Cunningham.
The evening performance will feature favorite pieces from the maestro’s illustrious 30-year conducting career, including works by Mendelssohn, Brahms, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky, with a closing set of his own arrangements of beloved folk songs, including Danny Boy. At the piano will be Flummerfelt’s longtime collaborator, the extraordinary keyboardist Nancianne Parella, and prominent New York City organist Daniel Beckwith, himself also a former student of Flummerfelt.
“The MCE is an exceptional choral ensemble committed to the performance of interesting repertoire. I very much look forward to working with this fine group on a program of music I love,” Dr. Flummerfelt commented recently when asked about the upcoming performance.
The MCE's Music Director and Founder, Thomas Cunningham, is currently on a one-year sabbatical in New Zealand and is thrilled to have Dr. Flummerfelt at the podium as the last of three guest conductors to lead the group this season. Earlier, the group was led by Andrew Megill and Deborah Simpkin King.
According to Cunningham, “Maestro Flummerfelt has been a source of inspiration to the MCE since its inception while I was his student. To have him conduct the MCE in a program of his choosing is a dream come true for me and a truly extraordinary opportunity for audiences in New York City. This is a night not to be missed.”
Details at: manhattanchoralensemble.org.