Chamber Music

It's not a one-size-fits-all school. And even our chamber music is not one-size-fits-all.
Lucy ChapmanFaculty, Chamber Music

At NEC we take chamber music seriously, not only for its intrinsic musical value, but for the richness it adds to our community. For many musicians, playing in small ensembles is one of the most rewarding experiences in our lives, and our faculty is dedicated to bringing this joyful experience to our students. We know that this experience is a crucial part of their development as musicians, and we acknowledge the importance of learning the vital and often delicate social and musical skills required to create a successful ensemble.

Let’s look at the chamber music process through a typical school year.

Reading Party

The night before the first day of classes we hold a sight-reading chamber music party to help new and returning students meet each other. Many student-formed groups emerge from this evening’s rousing, chaotic, and always enthusiastic endeavor.


Students who wish to be in Chamber Music register for CHM MUS Section BB, “Wants Chamber Music.” They then submit online applications, due on the third day of fall classes. Many students have a particular group in mind already; others apply individually, asking to be placed in a group.

Roster of Chamber Music

This roster includes between 55 and 70 groups each semester. There are string quartets, piano trios, woodwind quintets, and brass quintets, but also unusual combinations, such as Charles Wuorinen’s Spin-off, for violin, double bass, and marimba, or George Crumb’s Quest, for saxophone, harp, guitar, double bass, and two percussionists. Each group is assigned a faculty coach who works intensively with them throughout the semester. Some students stay with the same group for an entire year; others change groups for the second semester. A violin student may be playing a Shostakovich string quartet in the fall and Baroque arias with a singer and harpsichord in the spring.

Performance Class

After a few weeks of work, the students need to be ready for their first performance class. They will gather with one or two other groups to play for a faculty member who is not their regular coach. A string quartet might play for James Sommerville, principal horn of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, while a saxophone quartet might play for a member of the Borromeo String Quartet. These classes are an important part of our Chamber Music program; they encourage us, students and faculty alike, to open our ears and our minds by looking at the music from a fresh perspective, and help us broaden our view of the NEC community by reaching beyond the world of our own instruments.


After the first round of performance classes, each group will need two more performances in the semester, usually a second performance class in November plus a recital in December (one of the twelve that the Chamber Music Department arranges at the end of each semester.) There are other opportunities, however, that can be counted towards this requirement. For example, many a horn student’s recital has included a Brahms Horn Trio from our department. Sometimes a group will find an outreach concert through the Community Performances & Partnerships (CPP) program. In the 2013–14 season, NEC began a concert series at the Museum of Fine Arts; fall performances included several groups from the Chamber Music Department. Some groups perform on one of John Heiss’s Contemporary Ensemble concerts or with other elective ensembles.

There are many other chamber music performance opportunities, including:

  • Some groups decide to take the Honors Ensembles audition at the beginning of November.
  • Individual students may apply to perform on the Borromeo String Quartet’s Guest Artist Concert, usually scheduled for spring semester.