The April 26 ceremony emphasized what students can do for the world through music; April 27 gala focused on NEC students and the creativity, compassion and conviction they bring to music making.
By Erich Burnett, Guest Correspondent
As a steady rain fell on Gainsborough Street, joy and optimism descended on Jordan Hall for the April 26 inauguration of New England Conservatory President Andrea Kalyn.
In a ceremony full of musical tributes, Kalyn presented an affectionate homage to those who forged the path for NEC’s first 151 years and expressed the importance of the work of music—“as work that can have powerful impact, both within and beyond the profession.”
The ceremony was the first part of a two-day celebration that also included an Inaugural Gala on April 27. Friday’s festivities coincided with #NECNow, the institution’s first day of giving.
Kalyn’s arrival as NEC’s 17th president leaves stakeholders confident in their selection of an individual ideally suited to usher the conservatory into a period of great opportunity and innovation.
“NEC believes in the transformative power of music in the world,” Kalyn said in her inaugural address. “We are educating students to tackle this ever-changing world head-on, to not shy away from change but to meet it with creative confidence, knowing that they’ve been equipped with the tools they need to forge a multidimensional path of meaning, influence, and impact.”
The inauguration was attended by NEC trustees and faculty representing the college and preparatory school. Also on hand were friends and supporters of NEC, students, and members of Kalyn’s family.
Distinguished guests included Berklee College of Music President Roger H. Brown; Longy School of Music President Karen L. Zorn; famed mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves ’88, ’14 hon. DM; Mark Volpe ’98 hon. DM, president and CEO of the Boston Symphony Orchestra; and Chad Smith ’95 BM, ’98 MM, chief operating officer of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and an NEC trustee.
Vice President and Provost Thomas Novak presided over the ceremony. Kennett F. Burnes, chair of NEC’s Board of Trustees, and Laurence Lesser, president emeritus, presented Kalyn for investiture.
Kalyn’s remarks Friday in Jordan Hall, by turns humble, mirthful, assured, and profound, provided an ample glimpse of the course that lies ahead for NEC and its students.
“NEC is a place of connection and collaboration and sharing and community,” Kalyn said. “As one student told me, ‘We are the friendly conservatory.’ There is very much a culture of home here that starts in the studio, but it extends in the classrooms and rehearsal halls, and it lives on in our extensive alumni family.”
While inclement weather forced plans for a post-inaugural Block Party indoors, Brown Hall resonated with a program spanning sounds provided by the Jazz Honors Ensemble Ox Ox, the Panama Ensemble, the Contemporary Improvisation ensemble Tandem Saint, and the West African Ensemble.
“I’m extremely hopeful,” said Kevonna Shuford ’20, “because [Kalyn’s] concerned with how she can make NEC better, but she also wants to make sure there is a sense of community within this place—that our students are being heard and our opinions are being voiced, and we’re getting the support that we definitely need.”
As the day unfolded, NEC supporters ensured the success of #NECNow. In a span of 24 hours, 182 donors pledged $85,612—far surpassing the initial goal of 100 donors.
The following day, NEC hosted its Inaugural Gala, which raised over $1.1 million to date to support the future of music through scholarships. The evening’s performances spanned the artistry that happens at every age on the NEC spectrum, beginning with selections by Suzuki students from NEC’s Preparatory School and concluding with the NEC Philharmonia, which delivered a thunderous Overture to Egmont, op. 84, by Beethoven.
Performances throughout were interwoven with brief, poignant videos, each featuring an NEC musician whose education was made possible through generous scholarship support. One featured musician, jazz vocalist Darynn Dean ’19, earned an NEC Entrepreneurial Musicianship grant aimed at “taking your art and moving it beyond the conservatory walls,” as she puts it. Dean has taught young people in NEC’s Community Performances and Partnerships program, in which students engage with their communities through mentored learning experiences.
To Dean, performing at the Gala meant seizing an opportunity to return the good fortune she has received. “Giving, to me, just felt like finishing the circle,” she says.
Saturday’s Inaugural Gala continued with dinner, desserts, and more music that employed virtually every corner of the conservatory’s Student Life and Performance Center. It was a celebration that honored a spectrum of quintessentially NEC achievements, it was an opportunity to pay forward the goodwill that has touched the lives of so many, and it was a moment to capture a glimpse of the institution’s unmistakably brilliant path forward.