Music for the Eyes and Oars

By Corinne Ramey

The Wall Street Journal highlights Music of the Americas and Make Music New York's R. Murray Schafer celebration in Central Park on June 21.

On Friday afternoon, the helicopters, birds, car horns and other ambient sounds swirling around the Central Park Lake will have some competition: 144 choral singers, many of them in rowboats.

As part of Make Music New York, the annual series that stages concerts in outdoor public spaces around the city, the singers will perform "Credo," a 46-minute choral work by the Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer, on and around the man-made 20-acre lake at 5 p.m. While mounting a large-scale work is never easy, this one has brought the producers at the Americas Society a unique set of logistical challenges, including: discovering whether singers can row and sing; dealing with the acoustic and visual aspects of a large outdoor space; and figuring out how long the singers can really be stuck in boats without a bathroom break.

Mr. Steel leads a rehearsal at a Manhattan church.Earlier this week, with the setup still in flux, the plan, according to Americas Society music director Sebastián Zubieta, was to put half the singers in boats in a semicircle formation on the water, and half in a semicircle on the land. The audience will be positioned within the circle, both in boats and ashore. George Steel, the general manager and artistic director of the New York City Opera, will conduct from an elevated platform.

During a recent interview at the lake, Mr. Steel seemed to relish his role as "the talent, not the producer," and was eager to do whatever was asked of him, whether that meant conducting on land or in a boat, rain or shine. "I'm a producer, and it's very easy, on the producing side, to tell other people to do crazy things," he said.

Last week, Mr. Steel, Mr. Zubieta and eight singers conducted a mini-trial in the park. All of them, including the conductor, rowed into the lake and sang a couple of pieces. (Mr. Schafer, known for his environmentally specific "soundscape" music, wrote "Credo" in 1976 for 12 distinct choirs, double basses and a tape part. The singers on Friday have been plucked from eight nonprofessional choirs around the Greater New York area, including the Collegiate Choral, the Manhattan Chorale Ensemble and the Astoria Symphonic Choir....)

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