Christian Wolff Festival

NEC Celebrates Composer Christian Wolff, last of the New York School of composers.

NEC Celebrates Composer Christian Wolff in Six-Day Festival, March 12—18

Festival Curated by Stephen Drury Features World Premiere Songs from Brecht: The Exception and the Rule

Wolff to be in Residence with NEC Students, Give Lectures

"No matter what we ends by being melodic." --Christian Wolff to John Cage

Christian WolffChristian WolffNew England Conservatory will celebrate Christian Wolff, the last surviving member of the New York School of composers, in a six-day festival, March 12—18. Wolff, who along with John Cage, Morton Feldman and Earle Brown revolutionized music in the 20th century, will be in residence throughout the celebration, coaching students in his music and giving a lecture on his history working with Cage and Feldman. Wolff's longtime collaborator Keith Rowe, legendary improviser and member of the British free improvisation group AMM, will also join the concert festivities, and work with NEC students on Wolff's "open" scores. NEC faculty pianist Stephen Drury is the festival director. All events at NEC are free and open to the public.

The highlight of the week will be the world premiere of Wolff's Songs from Brecht: The Exception and the Rule, commissioned by the Callithumpian Consort, a loose aggregation of NEC students, alumni, and new music enthusiasts directed by Drury. The work will be given a dual debut with the concert version to be performed at NEC on March 17, and the fully-staged version, with Bertolt Brecht's texts, produced at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on March 18.

Another recent work by Wolff, Quodlibet (2007), will be given its U.S. premiere. Music from Wolff's entire career, alongside classics of the 20th century, including works by John Cage, Morton Feldman, and Earle Brown, will be performed in a series of multiple nights of back-to-back concerts, providing a rich context for the scope of Wolff's compositional discoveries.

Performing forces for these concerts include the NEC Contemporary Ensemble, the Borromeo String Quartet, the NEC Percussion Ensemble, nec shivaree, the Callithumpian Consort, the NEC Wind Ensemble, student soloists, and select small ensembles. Students from NEC's jazz studies and contemporary improvisation departments will also perform alongside classically-trained NEC students in several performances.

According to festival director Stephen Drury, Wolff has changed the way musicians across the spectrum think about composition and performance, jazz, rock, and hip hop. Most profoundly, Wolff has impacted how classical musicians interpret their own craft

Born in 1934 in France, the child of German parents, Wolff and his family moved to the United States in 1941. He became an American citizen in 1946. He studied classics at Harvard University (he is a specialist in the work of Euripides) and upon graduating took up a teaching post there which he kept until 1970. Subsequently, he began to teach classics, comparative literature, and music at Dartmouth College, following in the tradition of Charles Ives and Wallace Stevens who sustained two careers during their lifetimes. Since retiring from Dartmouth in 1999, Wolff has been more active than ever as a composer, fulfilling commissions, recording, and performing with his own ensembles and with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. He has, to date, completed over 175 works for soloists, small and large chamber ensembles, orchestras, vocalists, and other music created for unspecified instrumentation.

Chronological list of Wolff's works to be performed at NEC

1950 Duo for 2 Flutes
Duo for violins
1964 For 1,2, or 3 People
1968-71 selections from Prose Collection
1969-70 Tilbury 1-4
1970-71 Burdocks
1973-74 Changing the System
1973-74 selections from Exercises 1-14
1977 Dark as a Dungeon
1979-1980 Three Pieces (Rock About, Instrumental, Starving to Death on a Government Claim)
1983 Piano Song (I am a dangerous woman)
1988 Exercise 26 (Snare Drum Peace March)
1992 Tuba Song
1993 Merce
1996 Violist and Percussionist
2000 selections from Berlin Exercises
2004 Another Possibility
2006 selections from Microexercises
2007 Quodlibet (U.S. premiere performance)
2010 Songs from Brecht: The Exception and the Rule (world premiere)

Schedule of concerts and events during Wolff's residency

March 12, 2pm, St. Botolph #113: public lecture/question and answer session with Christian Wolff on his compositions, and his history with working with John Cage and Morton Feldman
March 15, 5pm, Williams Hall & 8pm, Brown Hall: Duo for 2 Flutes, selections from Tilbury 1-4, selections from Exercises 1-14, For 1, 2, or 3 People, Berlin Exercises, selections from Prose Collection, Changing the System, Sonata
March 16, 1pm, Pierce Hall: public Liberal Arts themed lecture by Christian Wolff on why the ultra-modern should always look back to the ultra-ancient
March 16, 2pm, Pierce Hall: public improvisation masterclass with Keith Rowe, Christian Wolff's longtime collaborator
March 16, 5pm, Brown Hall & 8pm, Jordan Hall: Quodlibet (U.S. premiere performance), Piano Song (I am a dangerous woman), Three Pieces (Rock About, Instrumental, Starving to Death on a Government Claim), Exercise 26 (Snare Drum Peace March), selections from Prose Collection, Dark as a Dungeon, Another Possibility, Tuba Song
March 17, 5pm, Brown Hall & 8pm, Jordan Hall: Songs from Brecht: The Exception and the Rule (concert version; world premiere), Burdocks, Duo for violins, Violist and Percussionist, Merce, selections from Prose Collection, Edges (featuring performers Christian Wolff and Keith Rowe)
March 18, 10am, St. Botolph Hall, #113: public masterclass with Wolff discussing his own compositions with NEC composition students
March 18, 7pm Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: Songs from Brecht: The Exception and the Rule (fully-staged version; world premiere) For more information including ticket prices to this concert, visit the Gardner Museum website

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 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 Collaboration Programs, 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 and jazz.

NEC presents more than 600 free concerts each year, many of them in Jordan Hall, its world- renowned, 106-year old, beautifully restored concert hall.  These programs range from solo recitals to chamber music to orchestral programs to jazz and opera scenes.  Every year, NEC’s opera studies department also presents two fully staged opera productions at the Cutler Majestic 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
Public Relations Manager
New England Conservatory