The New England Conservatory is beginning to live-stream free Philharmonia (string ensemble) concerts this weekend from Jordan Hall. The performances will entail 20 string players under a single conductor, Hugh Wolff, Lina Gonzáles-Granados, or Christopher Wilkins, and will explore the diversity and beauty of the string ensemble repertoire. All are eager to return to live performance. (NEC has implemented low-latency technology across campus and in the homes of students and faculty, reducing latency to under 15 milliseconds, making it much more like being in the same room with other artists.)
In addition to the larger-ensemble live streams, NEC will be recording and streaming a number of other concerts, including the Balourdet String Quartet (in residence), plus the 36th year of First Mondays concerts curated by cellist Laurence Lesser. (Much more on this from a conversation with Mr. Lesser comes below.)*
A couple of nights ago NEC hosted a talk on cultural equity and diversity as part of their Perspectives Forums. Four distinguished alumni shared their vision of what NEC looks and feels like when it has lived up to its commitment of cultural equity and belonging. This series continues monthly.
All virtual performances listed below are free and open to the public. Additional fall concerts are to be announced HERE.
NEC Philharmonia with Hugh Wolff conducting string works by Michael Abels, Chen Yi, and Antonín Dvořák from Jordan Hall.
Sat, October 3 | 7:30pm ET | streamed live from NEC’s Jordan Hall
Tickets: Free live stream HERE.
Michael Abels | Delights and Dances
Black American composer Michael Abels was born in Arizona in 1962 and grew up on a farm in South Dakota. His compositions include award-winning scores to the films “Get Out” and “Us.” His 2007 work, “Delights and Dances” for string quartet and string orchestra, was written for the Harlem String Quartet. Filled with blues, bluegrass, and Latin dance elements, it’s a brilliant showcase for the string quartet and, as its title suggests, an infectious romp for all.
Chen Yi | Shuo
Chen Yi was born in 1953 to a family of medical professionals and amateur musicians. Her education was interrupted by the Cultural Revolution, when she spent two years working in rural China. There she was exposed to Chinese folk music. Her compositions often explore the territory between traditional Chinese music and Western modernism. Shuo means “initiate” in Chinese; it also refers to the first day of each lunar month. Thus, the initial materials of the piece come from Chinese folk music: a mountain song for the opening viola solo and later a lyrical melody from the Shui people of southwestern China. These are developed in rich contrapuntal fashion.
Antonin Dvořák | Serenade in E Major, Op. 22
Thirty-three year-old Antonín Dvořák, struggling for recognition and the means to feed his young family, was the happy recipient of a stipend from the Austrian government in early 1875. Among the judges awarding the prize was Johannes Brahms. That spring, Dvořák wrote his Serenade in E major, Op. 22 in just two weeks. Full of the Bohemian atmosphere that forms the bedrock of Dvořák’s style, the music unfolds in five concise movements. Dvořák’s astonishing melodic gift is on display in all five, as is his sophisticated handling of the small string ensemble. The work significantly enhanced Dvořák’s growing reputation and has remained one of his most popular pieces.
About the Balourdet Quartet
Event: Sun, October 4 | 2:00pm
Tickets: Free stream HERE
The Balourdet String Quartet, NEC’s current quartet in residence in the Professional String Quartet Program, is presented by the Mannes School of Music at the New School, as part of their 2020-2021 Schneider Concerts, in collaboration with New England Conservatory.
Immediately following the performance, stay online for a conversation with the musicians and composer Jessie Montgomery hosted by violinist Cho-Liang Lin. Lin is a member of the Schneider Concerts music advisory committee and is a past mentor of the Balourdet Quartet. Audience members may join the conversation.
BALOURDET STRING QUARTET:
Angela Bae and Justin DeFilippis ’17, violin
Benjamin Zannoni, viola
Russell Houston, cello
Beethoven String Quartet No. 1 in F Major, Op. 18 No. 1 (1801)
Jessie Montgomery “Strum” (2006: revised 2012)
Bartók String Quartet No. 4, Sz. 91 (1929)
This concert will be approximately 1 hour in length.
About First Mondays at Jordan Hall
Mon, October 5 | 7:30pm
Mon, November 2 | 7:30pm
Mon, December 7 | 7:30pm
Tickets: Free stream HERE
This fall Jordan Hall comes to you, with streaming editions of First Mondays at Jordan Hall—as brilliant with music as ever, performed by some of the world’s best chamber musicians. Now in its 36th season, First Mondays are fresh and full of imaginative pairings of well-loved classics with new work, performed in one of the finest places on the planet to hear music of this caliber.
Monday, October 5 | 7:30 p.m. ET
Beethoven | Variations on “Là ci darem la mano”, WoO 28 (1795) – Theme from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, K.527 (1787)
John Ferrillo, Amanda Hardy, oboes
Andrew van der Paardt, English horn
Mozart | Kegelstatt Trio in E-flat Major, K.498 (1786)
Yoonah Kim, clarinet
Paul Biss, viola
Victor Rosenbaum, piano
Beethoven | Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Opus 97 (1811)
Soovin Kim, violin
Laurence Lesser, cello
HaeSun Paik, piano
Monday, November 2 and Monday, December 7 programs and performers to be announced.
About Tuesday Night New Music
Tue, October 6 | 8pm
Tickets: Free stream HERE
Tuesday Night New Music is a student-run, faculty-supervised concert series directed by Robert Bui ’21 under the supervision of composition chair Michael Gandolfi.
About the NEC Philharmonia
Lina Gonzáles-Granados: Montgomery, Shostakovich, & Frank
Sat, October 17 | 7:30pm
Tickets: Free live stream HERE
NEC Philharmonia presents string works by Jessie Montgomery, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Gabriela Lena Frank, conducted by NEC alumna Lina Gonzáles-Granados ’14 MM, ’15 GD. Performed live in Jordan Hall and streamed to your home.
Jessie Montgomery | Strum
Shostakovich (Barshai) | Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a
Gabriela Lena Frank | An Andean Walkabout
Hugh Wolff: Eastman, Copland, & Bartok
Sat, October 31 | 7:30pm
Tickets: Free live stream HERE
NEC Philharmonia and conductor Hugh Wolff presents string works by Julius Eastman, Aaron Copland, and Béla Bartók, performed live in Jordan Hall and streamed to your home.
Julius Eastman: The Holy Presence of Joan D’Arc
Copland: Quiet City
Christopher Wilkins: Walker, Romero, Assad, & Britten
Sat, November 14 | 7:30pm
Tickets: Free live stream HERE
NEC Philharmonia with conductor Christopher Wilkins presents string works by George Walker, Aldemaro Romero, Clarice Assad, and Benjamin Britten, performed live in Jordan Hall and streamed to your home.
George Walker: Lyric for Strings
Aldemaro Romero: Fuga con Pajarillo
Clarice Assad: Impressions
Britten: Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op. 10
Interview with Laurence Lesser*
FLE: So how are you coping with live-performance deprivation?
LL: Andrea Kalyn our president and I had conversations about what to do about concerts during the pandemic, and both of us agreed immediately that it’s very important for every institution that can possibly share its art with the public. For First Monday, in particular, following the health protocols carefully, made painfully clear we couldn’t live stream in-person concerts. Typically, we could admit a defined number of musicians for 30 minutes; thereafter the space needed to be emptied for an hour to clean the air. Thus, our hopes were dashed about having any in-house audiences, even of people within the conservatory community.
We then needed to figure out how to record our programs in Jordan Hall or to welcome a video from an external source which would not actually have the backdrop of Jordan Hall but nonetheless would be appropriate for the program would presenting. And in that regard. I’m happy to say that the first concert which is coming right up on Monday, October 5th, was entirely recorded at Jordan Hall. That being said, and because two of the pieces have woodwinds, we had to move in a certain direction.
So in the first piece on the program, the beautiful Variations on “Là ci darem la mano,” for two oboes and English horn, which the young Beethoven based on the famous Mozart aria, the three wind players would have sit 12 feet apart. The Jordan Hall stage has plenty of room, but it still demanded a very unusual setup. Then we faced the challenge about the recording successfully when players could only spend 30 minutes on stage, before the stage air cleared for an hour.
Last Wednesday they managed both to settle the sound and perform the piece, which is not much more than 10 minutes long in the short, allotted time span. Though basically we’re presenting our videos in concert style which means they’re not edited, oboist John Ferrillo thought that they might need to re-do one or two of the variations. After few takes, the video and audio people agreed that they could manage. I’ve gotten the reports back that it went well.
The instrumentation of Mozart’s beloved Kegelstatt Trio allowed violist Paul Biss, and pianist Victor Rosenbaum to sit six feet apart, though clarinetist Yoonah Kim needed to remain 12 feet away. Before the final session, they rehearsed the 27-minute piece in the permissible 30 minutes; everybody then went away for an hour and then laid it down in a wonderful single take.
Violinist Soovin Kim, pianist HaeSun Paik, and I will be closing the program with the prerecorded stream of Beethoven’s Archduke Trio. I will deliver an introduction as well as to participate with my cello.
We got in a reasonable amount of rehearsal time, since our studios have been deemed officially able to have three people playing together. The only thing that was problem for me was my slow recovery from two eye surgeries for glaucoma. I was having trouble seeing the music while wearing a mask, as my eyeglasses fogged up. I couldn’t figure out how to get beyond that, so in the rehearsal, we meticulously distanced, and at every point, we have meticulously followed the rules about leaving the room to let it air out.
So, during the rehearsals I was the only person not wearing a mask. In Jordan Hall , none of us wore masks, but a lot of care and thought went into that calculation.
And so, this prerecorded program, which is going to be shown Monday night at 7:30, begins with my usual introductory remarks. In this case, in the place where we would ordinarily have the intermission, I talk about the Archduke.
As a sidebar, I’d like to ask you about how the NEC has instituted a low latency internet connection, which presumably allows Zoom-like chamber music or multiple player work without having appreciable delays. Do you have any experience electronically performing with other people?
No, but I’ve heard a lot about it. Nick Kitchen is now running the Heifetz Institute, which should have been gathering students in Virginia. After the pandemic came, he and Ben Roe, the executive director, who used to be the station manager of WCRB, determined to do the entire six weeks of the summer online.
Though latency is irrelevant for teaching one student, trying to combine different players required some great adjustments and technical knowhow; according to second-hand reporting, they found that people had to listen even more carefully to one another to figure out how to be together and how to layer it, sometimes doing pieces over again to get it better and better. I’ve had no experience with that, but I would like to point you a video in which 19 former and current members of my cello studio electronically combined for the second movement from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. It may start out with a certain stiffness, but it eventually gets into an impressive groove. This made for a satisfying contribution to what I hope will be NEC’s only virtual commencement.
Let’s talk again in a month about the second First Monday. It falls on an important Election Eve, and I wish I knew exactly what we are going to do. I really want to make an American program around Dvořák’s American viola quintet, which he wrote in Spillville Iowa and based on African-American and Native-American tunes.
Regarding election night, mayhaps the last words should come from James Russell Lowell’s (with my slight improvements) hymn text “Once to Every Man and Nation, Comes the Moment to Decide.” And Ebeneezer is a great tune. Please sing with great force.