About 45 million viewers tuned in for Sunday Night Football and were treated to a surprise virtual visit to NEC's Jordan Hall, as NEC Philharmonia appeared with actor John Malkovich in a pre-game teaser, aired on CBS prior to the AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"Every year we create epic opening music videos...in order to get the fans pumped up."
It all started with an email from NFL composer Helmut VonLichten to Philharmonia conductor Hugh Wolff: "every year we create epic opening music videos...in order to get the fans pumped up." Fortunately, the logistics fell to Margie Apfelbaum, NEC's Director of Large Ensemble Administration and "a huge Pats fan."
A whirlwind ensued: Apfelbaum prepared two schedules for the week, depending on whether the Patriots won the divisional playoff the weekend before: one with the CBS shoot, and one with a sad face.
NEC students were still away on winter break, so orchestral staff reached out individually to every player to confirm the roster. Most Philharmonia players were in, though a few were away on auditions and one declined on account of being a Pittsburgh fan.
Most Philharmonia players were in, though a few were away on auditions and one declined on account of being a Pittsburgh fan.
On Wednesday morning, a CBS truck rolled in at 6 a.m. in the snow and began setting up in Jordan Hall, and then 80 Philharmonia players in concert attire filed in at 8:45 a.m. "It was a miracle on Gainsborough Street," said Apfelbaum.
"It was just really fun to do something like this at a conservatory. I feel like this was a very Hollywood type of gig," shared violist Damon Taheri '18 GD. "It was all handled very professionally. And we had no idea that John Malkovich was going to be there until he arrived on the stage—we were all shocked and surprised and it just made it so much more exciting."
"Mr. Malkovich was very friendly, and very complimentary of our work," said bassist Katie Knox '20, who saw the gig as an important learning opportunity:
"For a lot of us it was our first experience with professional television.
We're already so exposed to tips and tricks for how to be ready for concert work, but a lot of gigs for classical musicians these days are based on film scoring; I know musicians from NEC who have gone on to play in house bands for late night talk shows. So this was an important experience to have.
Knox went on: "I can say with 100% confidence that I wouldn't have had a lot of experiences that I've had without NEC. Things like going on tour, or playing Symphony Hall, or being hired to play in BSO subgroups.
Being here has given me the chance to do a lot more than I would have expected."
While NEC students were pleased with the on-the-job experience, shoot director Pete Radovich was impressed by the professionalism of NEC players:
"The musicians were all students at the school and incredibly talented," Radovich told Sports Illustrated.
After the pre-game teaser aired, the Patriots earned victory in last night's Championship, which means they're on to the Super Bowl on February 4th. The NEC community will be rooting for them, each in their own ways: while Apfelbaum has her full Patriots regalia ready for game day, Taheri hesitated when asked if he's a big football fan: "I feel kind of bad, but...not really? My excuse is that I'm European," he said with a laugh. "But I'll probably watch the Super Bowl now that the Patriots are in it."