NEC Philharmonia + Hugh Wolff: Walker, Shostakovich, Holst

NEC: Jordan Hall | Directions

290 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA
United States

NEC Philharmonia performs George Walker's Icarus in Orbit, the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 2 with Jonathan Swensen '23 AD as cello soloist, and Gustav Holst's orchestral suite, The Planets.  Sopranos and altos of the NEC Symphonic Choir join the orchestra in the last movement.  Hugh Wolff conducts. 

This is an in-person event with a public live stream. 

Watch Live from Jordan Hall

  • Jonathan Swensen '23 AD, cello
  1. George Walker | Icarus in Orbit (2003)


    Program note

    George Walker was a highly successful performer and composer.  Educated at Oberlin College and the Curtis Institute, he was the latter’s first Black Artist Diploma recipient in both piano and composition.  His career blazed many new paths: he was the first Black soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the first Black winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Music.  Written for the New Jersey Youth Symphony, Icarus in Orbit is a brief and intense tone poem, inspired by the mythological story of Icarus and his father Daedalus, who escape captivity on Crete by attaching bird feathers to their arms with beeswax and flying away.  Daedalus warns his son not to fly too close to the sun, but Icarus, bewitched by the experience, ignores his father.  The sun melts the wax, his wings fall off, and Icarus plunges to his death at sea.  The final frantic flute cadenza captures this tragic moment.

  2. Dmitri Shostakovich | Cello Concerto No. 2, op. 126



    Program note

    Dmitri Shostakovich wrote two cello concerti, both dedicated to and premiered by Mstislav Rostropovich.  Written in just two months, March and April 1966, the Cello Concerto no. 2 was premiered later that year at a concert honoring the composer’s 60th birthday.  Two expansive outer movements frame a short, intense scherzo that features the 1920’s Russian popular song Bubliks for Sale.  (A bublik is a bread roll similar to a bagel.)  Rostropovich recalled a 1966 New Year’s party when Shostakovich delighted in playing this ditty for his guests.  It seems this was the spark that lit the compositional process of the concerto.  The music has many hallmarks of Shostakovich’s late style, with faint echoes of Mahler and Mussorgsky, two composers he admired deeply.  Often spare and somber, low strings, harp, and solo cello combine to form a characteristic dark timbre.  Winds and percussion are employed almost as leitmotifs: the two horns with dramatic fanfares (including a virtuoso passage that links the second and third movements), the tambourine, snare drum and bass drum as bizarre backdrops or punctuation to the cello cadenzas, and the percussion section as a clockwork machine that brings the concerto to an abrupt close.  Like much late Shostakovich, the music is deceptively simple, masking rigorous manipulation of musical motifs and interrelationships between movements.  At times deeply emotional and at others oddly detached, the music’s shifting moods have an almost cubistic quality – as if the composer were constructing a house from various found objects.  The miracle is how Shostakovich makes it sound natural and logical – an organic whole from disparate parts.

    Jonathan Swensen

    Rising star of the cello, Jonathan Swensen is the recipient of the 2022 Avery Fisher Career Grant and was recently featured as both Musical America’s ‘New Artist of the Month’ and ‘One to Watch’ in Gramophone Magazine.
            Jonathan first fell in love with the cello upon hearing the Elgar Concerto at the age of six, and ultimately made his concerto debut at the age of twenty performing that very piece with Portugal’s Orquestra Sinfónica do Porto Casa da Música.

            September 2022 saw the release of Jonathan’s debut recording Fantasia, on Champs Hill Records, an album of works for solo cello, including Bent Sørensen’s Farewell Fantasia, composed for and dedicated to Jonathan and which he premiered in 2021. The album received rave reviews on its release, including from Gramophone, BBC Music, and The Strad which printed “An exciting young talent emerges. I would gladly buy a ticket to see Swensen on the strength of this appealing calling card.”
            Jonathan has performed with orchestras all over the world including The Philharmonia Orchestra (UK), Iceland Symphony Orchestra, The Armenian State Symphony Orchestra, The Copenhagen Philharmonic, Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, Sun Symphony Orchestra in Vietnam, Greenville Symphony Orchestra, Aalborg Symphony Orchestra, Leopoldinum Chamberorchestra in Poland, and the Slovak State Symphony Orchestra, and more.
            Jonathan captured First Prizes at the 2019 Windsor International String Competition, 2018 Young Concert Artists Audition, 2018 Khachaturian International Cello Competition, and 2016 Danish String Competition. He co-created a festival in Copenhagen called “Festival & Friends”, which has had continued success, and was artistic director of this festival in 2020.
            A graduate of the Royal Danish Academy of Music, Jonathan continued his studies with Torleif Thedéen at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, and with Laurence Lesser at New England Conservatory, where he will complete his Artist Diploma in May 2023.

    • Jonathan Swensen '23 AD, cello

  4. Gustav Holst | The Planets, op. 32

    Mars, the Bringer of War
    Venus, the Bringer of Peace
    Mercury, the Winged Messenger
    Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
    Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
    Uranus, the Magician
    Neptune, the Mystic


    Program note

    British composer Gustav Holst cultivated a wide variety of interests, from Sanskrit and Hindu writings to astrology and the occult.  He was curious enough to procure a copy of What Is a Horoscope and How Is It Cast? by Alan Leo, a somewhat notorious astrologer who was born William Frederick Allan and changed his name to reflect the astrological sign of his birth.  Holst was clearly interested in the astrological attributes and the Greco-Roman mythology of the planets, not the astrophysics.  The Planets, his suite for very large orchestra (including alto flute, bass oboe, and euphonium), was written between 1914 and 1916 and has seven planetary movements.  (Pluto had not yet been detected and has, in any case, been demoted from full planetary status). “Mars, the Bringer of War” features an ominous 5/4 ostinato that builds to terrifying volume. It is followed by its foil, “Venus, the Bringer of Peace,” a serene and sensuous poem.  “Mercury, the Winged Messenger” serves as a quicksilver scherzo and “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity,” its boisterous and exuberant foil.  The noble central melody in Jupiter, later adapted to a patriotic poem, has become a much-loved and essential hymn at solemn occasions in Great Britain.  “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age” is appropriately saturnine – a slow movement that builds to a dark and forbidding climax before dissolving into quiet contemplation.  “Uranus, the Magician,” is another scherzo.  Unlike the mercurial Mercury, this scherzo has a manic edge to it, with echoes of Dukas’ Sorcerer’s Apprentice.   The final movement, “Neptune, the Mystic,” is strikingly original.  The 5/4 meter of Mars returns but liquid and amorphous, the antithesis of the hyper-kinetic first movement.  Holst employs some daring polytonality, stacking harmonically distant triads on top of each other: E minor and G-sharp minor, B minor and E-flat minor, F-sharp minor over B-flat major.  The sound is at once dense and ethereal.  The most original feature is the ending: an unseen choir of treble voices undulates more and more faintly between ambiguous harmonies, blurring the line between sound and silence, as if venturing out of the solar system and into deep space.        
    – Hugh Wolff, January 2023


  5. NEC Philharmonia

    First Violin
    Angela Sin Ying Chan
    Bree Fotheringham
    Jeffrey Pearson
    Tiffany Chang
    Wangrui Ray Xu
    Masha Lakisova
    Joy Wei

    Jordan Hadrill
    Hannah O’Brien
    Hanks Tsai
    Minami Yoshida
    Yiliang Jiang
    Bella Jeong
    Eric Chen

    Second Violin
    Tong Chen
    Passacaglia Mason
    Yeonsoo Kim
    Arun Asthagiri
    Tsubasa Muramatsu
    Yilei Yin
    Yixiang Wang
    Youngji Choi
    Claire Thaler
    Ian Hsu
    Nick Hammel
    Chloe Hong
    Hyeonah Hong

    Lisa Sung
    Samuel Zacharia
    Haoyang Shi
    Aidan Garrison
    Chiau-Rung Chen
    ChengRong Li
    Hyelim Kong
    John Harry Clark
    Ayano Nakamura
    Anna Mann
    Yeh-Chun Lin
    Cara Pogossian


    Barna Zsolt Karóly
    Yi-I Stephanie Yang
    Hechen Sun
    Jeremy Tai
    Macintyre Taback
    Josephina YK Kim
    Claire Deokyong Kim
    Pi-Wei Lin
    Heechan Ku
    Anthony Choi

    Willie Swett
    Chiyang Chen
    Daniel Slatch
    Jesse Dale
    Cailin Singleton

    Shion Kim

    Chia-Fen Chang
    Jeong Won Choe ‡
    Jay Kim
    Elizabeth Kleiber §
    Subin Serena Oh
    Erika Rohrberg
    Dianne Seo

    Anne Chao *
    Amelia Libbey ‡
    Erika Rohrberg §
    Dianne Seo

    Alto Flute
    Erika Rohrberg

    Dane Bennett *
    Donovan Bown §
    Gwen Goble ‡
    Nathalie Vela

    English horn
    Nathalie Vela

    Bass Oboe
    Gwen Goble

    Tristen Broadfoot *
    Hugo Heokwoo Kweon
    Aleksis Martin §
    Soyeon Park ‡
    Erica Smith

    Bass Clarinet
    Tristen Broadfoot

    Andrew Brooks §
    Adam Chen *
    Garrett Comrie
    Miranda Macias ‡
    Julien Rollins
    Richard Vculek

    Julien Rollins

    French horn
    Sam Hay §
    Karlee Kamminga
    Xiang Li
    Huimin Mandy Liu
    Paolo Rosselli *
    Tasha Schapiro ‡

    Jake Baldwin *
    Daniel Barak
    Michael Harms
    Sarah Heimberg
    Eddy Lanois §
    Reynolds Martin
    Nelson Martinez

    Jack Earnhart

    Eli Canales
    Lukas Helsel  
    Zachary Johnson  *
    Quinn McGillis §

    Bass Trombone
    Ki Yoon Park

    Jimmy Curto §
    David Stein *

    Eli Geruschat ‡
    Danial Kukuk §
    Parker Olson
    Leigh Wilson * 

    Eli Geruschat *
    Ross Jarrell
    Danial Kukuk
    Parker Olson
    Michael Rogers §
    Jeff Sagurton ‡
    Leigh Wilson

    Yoonsu Cha ‡§
    Shaylen Joos *

    Andrew Chen

    Principal players


  6. NEC Symphonic Choir (sopranos and altos)

    Oluwanimofe Akinyanmi
    Aislin Alancheril
    *Alexis Boucugnani
    Brittany Bryant
    Isabella Butler
    Coco Chapman
    Chen Chen
    Jing Chen
    Ivy Evers
    Molly Flynn
    Siyuan Guan
    Jialin Han
    Wei He
    Blake Hetherington
    Chenzhejun Hu
    *Gabrielle Jaques
    *Molly Knight
    Lucci Zimeng Li
    Qianqian Li
    *Corinne Luebke-Brown
    *Sally Millar
    Hannah Miller
    Sianna Monti
    Daniela Pyne
    Qiu Qiu
    Rachel Solyn
    Anisha Srinivasan
    Claire Stephenson
    Margaret Storm
    Wanrou Tang
    *Chloe Thum

    Yuehan Echo Wang
    Shanshan Xie
    *Aimee Yermish
    * Maggie Zheng

    Zhaoqian Ellie Zhong

    *community member