About the Manhattan Choral Ensemble

The Manhattan Choral Ensemble in Rehearsal

The Manhattan Choral Ensemble in rehearsal with Director Thomas Cunningham

The Manhattan Choral Ensemble (MCE) is one of the premier volunteer choirs in New York City, performing an historically varied repertoire for mixed a cappella choir and choir with orchestra, including works commissioned by and given their world premieres by the MCE. Performing throughout Manhattan and beyond, the MCE strives to connect its programs to the city it calls home through its focus on local composers, concerts in historical landmarks, and neighborhood-themed programming. The group has lent its voices to cultural events beyond its concerts, including a street fair organized by the literary magazine McSweeney’s and the soundtrack to the 2004 feature film The Manchurian Candidate, directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep.


The Manhattan Choral Ensemble was founded in the fall of 2000 by Matt Laufer and Director Thomas Cunningham. From a group of 16 singer-friends rehearsing in a Soho apartment, the MCE grew to an auditioned choir of 40 voices aspiring to the highest artistic levels of performance. In the first few seasons, the organization formed a board of directors and forged its identity, exploring a cappella choral music from the 16th to the 20th centuries and creating concerts that bridged the gap between classical choral music and audience members. By creating a relaxed concert atmosphere and yet striving for artistic excellence, the MCE enabled audiences to live inside the music, providing an insider’s experience of the great choral works.

The MCE does not have a concert “home,” choosing instead to consider all of Manhattan its home turf. From the John Street Church next to Ground Zero to The Church of Saint Jean Baptiste on the Upper East Side, the MCE has performed its Christmas program all over the island, celebrating a different country each year and singing in a church located in an historical neighborhood of immigrants from that country. Large works for a cappella chorus and for chorus and orchestra have been performed in similarly varied locations, from Bach and Handel at Merkin Hall near Lincoln Center, to Stravinsky and Vivaldi at Holy Trinity Catholic Church on the Upper West Side, to Barber and Thompson at Columbia University in Morningside Heights.

In 2004, the MCE began its commissioning project, New Music for New York. Through this project, the MCE has commissioned more than 20 works for choir from aspiring and established composers, focusing on local New York City composers. This extraordinary commitment to fostering new choral music has given the MCE the opportunity to work with some of the leading living New York composers, including George Andoniadis, George Steel, Patrick Castillo, Charles Griffen, and Nico Muhly. Part of this project is an effort to allow chorus members and audiences into the compositional process though intimate dinners with the composers, the exploration of early drafts as the works are created, recorded interviews by Director Thomas Cunningham with the composers, and opportunities for audience members to meet and talk with composers after the premieres. Additionally, the largest commission for each season is given to a composer selected democratically by the members of the choir, giving the membership a voice in the direction of the project.

Mission and Vision

Concert At Merkin

The Manhattan Choral Ensemble (MCE) is a 40-voice community-based choir dedicated to the passionate performance of an international and historically varied repertoire. In celebration of New York City’s rich and diverse heritage, the MCE performs in historic New York spaces and creates concert events in partnership with the city’s cultural organizations. The MCE also fosters the musical life of the city through innovative commissioning projects focused on New York City composers.