March 25, 2013

NEC Announces 2013 Honorary Degree Recipients, Commencement Speaker

Philip Gossett, Italian Opera Expert and General Editor of Rossini and Verdi Critical Editions, to Give Commencement Address

Annual Exercises to be Held May 19, 2013 in NEC’s Jordan Hall

New England Conservatory will bestow honorary doctorates on five distinguished musicians at its 142nd annual Commencement Exercises, Sunday, May 19 at 3 p.m. in NEC’s Jordan Hall. The recipients are Italian opera scholar Philip Gossett, jazz pianist Randy Weston, innovative drum head and drum set manufacturer Remo Belli, renowned collaborative pianist Graham Johnson, and NEC composer, flutist, and conductor John Heiss. In addition, the Conservatory will bestow an honorary doctorate on composer and conductor Oliver Knussen at a specially convened ceremony preceding the Boston Modern Orchestra Project concert, April 14. Knussen will be Master Composer-in-Residence at NEC, April 8—9 and will also be conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra, April 12—13 at Symphony Hall.

Gossett, general editor of the massive Verdi and Rossini critical editions and consultant to NEC on its recent production of Rossini’s La Gazzetta, will give the commencement address.

In addition, approximately 250 graduating students in the class of 2013 will be awarded degrees and diplomas including the Bachelor of Music, Graduate Diploma, Master of Music, Doctor of Musical Arts, and Artist Diploma. Other speakers will include President Tony Woodcock, Provost Thomas Novak, and a student speaker to be announced.

The Exercises are free and open to the public.

Photo credits: Philip Gossett by Dan Dry ; Randy Weston by Cheung Ching Ming; Graham Johnson by Clive Barda; Remo Belli from Remo Inc; John Heiss by Miro Vintoniv.

Biographies of the Honorees

Music Historian Philip Gossett: Commencement speaker
Director of the Center for Italian Opera Studies (CIAO), Philip Gossett is one of the world's foremost experts on opera. A music historian and Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of Chicago, he specializes in 19th-century Italian opera, specifically the works of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi. Author of two books on Donizetti and of the recent Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera (University of Chicago Press, 2006), Gossett serves as  General Editor of The Works of Giuseppe Verdi  (University of Chicago Press and Ricordi) and of the Works of Gioachino Rossini (Bärenreiter).

Among the operas he himself has edited or co-edited are Rossini's Tancredi, Ermione, Semiramide, and La Gazzetta, the American premiere of which edition NEC staged in April. Gossett is currently working on a new edition of Verdi's La forza del Destino. In the US, he has consulted with the Houston Grand Opera (in 1979 for the first production of the critical edition of Tancredi, with its then newly-discovered tragic ending, starring Marilyn Horne); with the Metropolitan Opera for its November 1990 production of Semiramide; and with The Santa Fe Opera in 2000 for Rossini's Ermione and in 2012 for the performances of the new critical edition of Rossini's original Maometto II of 1820. In an ongoing relationship with Chicago Opera Theater, he has assisted in its productions of the reconstructed Il Viaggio a Reims in 2003, Mosè in Egitto in 2010 and Verdi’s Giovanna d'Arco in fall 2013.

In 1998, the Italian government awarded him its highest civilian honor, Cavaliere di Gran Croce. He most recently won the Mellon Distinguished Achievement Award, an honor that carries with it a prize of $1.5 million. Early in 2004, Newsday wrote of Gossett that "some encomiasts claim that soprano Maria Callas did as much for Italian opera as Toscanini or Verdi. Musicologist Philip Gossett arguably has done as much for Italian opera as any of those geniuses."

Remo D. Belli: Founder, Remo percussion
Remo D. Belli, professional drummer, inventor, entrepreneur, businessman, educator, music therapy advocate, and philanthropist, is the music industry’s personification of a renaissance man. He is the founder and CEO of Remo, Inc. the world’s most successful manufacturer of drumhead technology. For more than a half century, the company has been known for innovation and excellence. Today, Remo, Inc. has manufacturing facilities in the United States, Taiwan, and China, and its products are sold in more than 80 countries.

Belli became a professional drummer at age 16 during World War II. After a stint in the Navy, he played with jazz and swing groups and moved to Hollywood, California. He toured with jazz singer Anita O'Day, actress Betty Hutton and trumpeter Billy May.

In 1952, along with drummer Roy Harte, Belli opened Drum City, a prestigious and successful Hollywood drum shop catering to professional musicians. Along with dealing with famous percussionists from all over the world, he also serviced the percussion equipment needs of the Hollywood motion picture and television industries. His clientele included celebrities such as Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis, Mel Torme, Peggy Lee, Mae West, Ralph Edwards, Gary Cooper, and Little Ricky.

In 1957, he sat behind a set of drums and played for Mae West when she performed in southern California. That gig, he recalled, was one of his last bookings as a band member: that same year he became a synthetic drumhead manufacturer.

With the assistance of chemist Sam Muchnick, Belli had developed a drum head prototype made of DuPont Mylar. The result was the Remo WeatherKing drum head. It was a revolutionary new product in the percussion industry and led to the founding of his new company: Remo, Inc.

Following the success of the WeatherKing drum head, Remo set about creating additional innovative and exciting products for the percussion industry. From concert halls to football fields, the hallmark of all Remo drum products is true sound, durable wear and the ability to foil the damage of climate changes—the enemy of all percussion instruments.

Having the heart of a drummer, Remo Belli was interested in far more than just making products. In 1963, he helped found the Percussive Arts Society (PAS) to promote education and the enhancement of Percussive Arts. He also took an active role with the National Association for Music Therapy – encouraging drumming as a therapeutic activity for children, patients with physical and/or emotional disorders, and as a recreational activity for the “Well Elderly” community. Strong believers in the power of music making, both he and his wife, Ami Belli, MD have supported and funded scientific drumming research projects and both Remo and Ami are powerful advocates for Recreational Music Making.

Collaborative pianist Graham Johnson
British pianist Graham Johnson has established a reputation as a leading accompanist through his collaborations with the world's foremost vocal artists. Born in Rhodesia, Johnson attended the Royal Academy of Music in London. There he met the accompanist Gerald Moore, whose influence was instrumental to Johnson's own career. After graduation Johnson pursued further studies with Geoffrey Parsons, another respected figure in the world of vocal accompaniment. Fresh out of school, Johnson received a high-profile career boost when the tenor Peter Pears selected him as the official accompanist for his first master classes at Pears' and Benjamin Britten's annual Aldeburgh Festival. During periods when Britten -- Pears' longtime accompanist -- was ill, Pears frequently called upon Johnson as a replacement. In 1975 Walter Legge, the impresario and EMI records producer, selected Johnson to accompany his wife, soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf.

In search of creative new ways to explore the art song repertory, Johnson founded The Songmakers' Almanac in 1976. With the approval and guidance of Gerald Moore, Johnson formed the Almanac to seek out neglected piano/vocal works and to build recitals incorporating several singers. Over a quarter of a century Johnson planned and accompanied over 150 Almanac recitals. In addition, he regularly presented summer recital cycles for the London South Bank and Wigmore Hall series and was invited by Alte Oper of Frankfurt, Germany, to give a seven-part cycle of music on texts by Goethe.

One of his most frequent partners has been his Royal Academy classmate Dame Felicity Lott. He has also partnered with some of the most distinguished singers of the second half of the twentieth century, including Victoria de los Angeles, Peter Schreier, Marjana Lipovsek, Felicity Palmer, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Elly Ameling, Tom Krause, Jessye Norman, Dame Margaret Price, Arlene Auger, and Brigitte Fassbaender. He is best known internationally for his recordings of Schubert's complete lieder on Hyperion Records with such singers as Dame Janet Baker, Philip Langridge, Stephen Varcoe, Thomas Hampson, Lucia Popp, Thomas Allen, Ian Bostridge, and a number of his regular collaborators. Johnson's other recordings include the songs of Hahn, Bizet, Britten (including his realizations of Purcell), Gounod, Ireland, and Mendelssohn.

Johnson is Senior Professor of Accompaniment at the Guildhall School of Music and has led a biennial program for Young Songmakers since 1985. He is the author of several books, including The Songmakers' Almanac: Twenty Years of Recitals in London (Thames Publishing), The French Song Companion (Oxford University Press; 2000), Britten, Voice & Piano: Lectures on the Vocal Music of Benjamin Britten (Guildhall; 2003) and Gabriel Fauré: The Songs and Their Poets (Guildhall; 2009). Pending projects include a three-volume study of Schubert songs and vocal ensembles, and their poets, for Yale University Press.
Johnson was made an OBE in the 1994 Queen's Birthday Honours list. He was The Royal Philharmonic Society’s Instrumentalist of the Year in 1998. In June 2000, he was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. In 2002, he was created Chevalier in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. He was granted Honorary Membership in the Royal Philharmonic Society in 2010.

Awards for his recordings include the Gramophone solo vocal award in 1989 (with Dame Janet Baker), 1996 (Die schöne Müllerin with Ian Bostridge), 1997 (for the inauguration of the Robert Schumann series with Christine Schäfer) and 2001 (with Magdalena Kozena).

In February 2013 Graham Johnson received a special citation and medal from the Jerusalem Music Centre in Jerusalem, Israel, where he also gave master classes in piano accompaniment and took part in several concerts of Lieder by Franz Schubert.

Jazz Pianist/Composer Randy Weston
Pianist Randy Weston was raised in Brooklyn, New York, the son of parents from Jamaica. As a boy he listened to Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Art Tatum, and began studying the piano himself. The bebop and R & B music that swelled within New York City proved to be a major influence, but it is a melding of those styles with African rhythms that have made Weston’s sound so distinguishable.

Mentored by Thelonious Monk, Weston left his R & B gigs with musicians such as saxophonist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson in the early 1950s to play bebop with trumpeter Kenny Dorham.

In 1960, inspired by Nigeria’s newly won independence from the United Kingdom, Weston fell in love with African music. He began to experiment with elements of tribal music as well as those of High Life, Nigerian pop music. On his 1960 album Uhuru Afrika (for which Langston Hughes wrote the liner notes), Weston composed for large ensemble, and employed traditional African percussion and rhythms as a framework for a jazz suite.

Weston’s affinity for African music became the force behind dozens of albums released over the next four decades. He even moved to Morocco between 1968 and 1973, and absorbed the rhythms of traditional Gnawa music.

Because he often recorded on obscure record labels, and because he was often outside of the United States, Weston spent many years under the radar. However, his talent was rediscovered in the early 1990s when he recorded Caravan, Well You and Needn’t, and The Spirits of Our Ancestors. The former two are tributes to Ellington and Monk, respectively, and the latter is a two-disc study of African music.

At 84 years old, Weston still performs, records, and teaches worldwide. A handful of his compositions, including Hi-Fly, Little Niles, and Berkshire Blues, are considered jazz standards.

John Heiss: NEC Composer, Flutist, Conductor
John Heiss is an active composer, conductor, flutist, and teacher. His works have been performed worldwide, receiving premieres by Speculum Musicae, Boston Musica Viva, Collage New Music, the Da Capo Chamber Players, Aeolian Chamber Players, Tanglewood Festival Orchestra, and Alea III. He has received awards and commissions from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, Fromm Foundation, NEA, Rockefeller Foundation, Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities, ASCAP, and the Guggenheim Foundation. His principal publishers are Boosey & Hawkes, E.C. Schirmer, and Elkus & Son.

Heiss has been principal flute of Boston Musica Viva and has performed with many local ensembles, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

His articles on contemporary music have appeared in Winds Quarterly, Perspectives of New Music, and The Instrumentalist. Along with Juilliard faculty Joel Sachs, Heiss has designed and written a book/CD-Rom classical music primer for Blue Marble Music entitled Classical Explorer.

Starting in the 1970s, Heiss has directed many NEC festivals dedicated to composers or themes, and has spearheaded visits to NEC by many composers, including Ligeti, Lutoslawski, Berio, Carter, Messiaen, Schuller, and Tippett. His classes on subjects like Stravinsky and Schoenberg, Ives and Bartok, and Music Since 1945 are always in great demand. He also leads the NEC Contemporary Ensemble, a handpicked group of outstanding instrumentalists and singers he chooses each year to perform intensively coached programs of important 20th and 21st century works. Many NEC alumni count their experiences working with “the pitch doctor” (as Stravinsky famously dubbed him for his extraordinary ear) as among their most valuable learning experiences.

At Commencement 1998, John Heiss received NEC's Louis and Adrienne Krasner Teaching Excellence Award.

For further information, check the NEC Website or call the NEC Concert Line at 617-585-1122.  NEC’s Jordan Hall, Brown Hall, Williams Hall and the Keller Room are located at 30 Gainsborough St., corner of Huntington Ave. St. Botolph Hall is located at 241 St. Botolph St. between Gainsborough and Mass Ave.


Recognized nationally and internationally as a leader among music schools, New England Conservatory in Boston, MA offers rigorous training in an intimate, nurturing community to 720 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral music students from around the world.  Its faculty of 225 boasts internationally esteemed artist-teachers and scholars.  Its alumni go on to fill orchestra chairs, concert hall stages, jazz clubs, recording studios, and arts management positions worldwide.  Nearly half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC trained musicians and faculty.

The oldest independent school of music in the United States, NEC was founded in 1867 by Eben Tourjee. Its curriculum is remarkable for its wide range of styles and traditions.  On the college level, it features training in classical, jazz, contemporary improvisation, world and early music. Through its Preparatory School, School of Continuing Education, and Community Programs and Partnerships Program, it provides training and performance opportunities for children, pre-college students, adults, and seniors.  Through its outreach projects, it allows young musicians to engage with non-traditional audiences in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes—thereby bringing pleasure to new listeners and enlarging the universe for classical music, jazz, and contemporary improvisation.

NEC presents more than 900 free concerts each year, many of them in Jordan Hall, its world- renowned, century-old, beautifully restored concert hall.  These programs range from solo recitals to chamber music to orchestral programs to jazz, contemporary improvisation, and opera scenes.  Every year, NEC’s opera studies department also presents two fully staged opera productions at the Cutler Majestic Theatre or Paramount Theatre in Boston.

NEC is co-founder and educational partner of From the Top, a weekly radio program that celebrates outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country. With its broadcast home in Jordan Hall, the show is now carried by National Public Radio and is heard on 250 stations throughout the United States.

Contact: Ellen Pfeifer
Senior Communications Specialist
New England Conservatory
290 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA 02115