June News at NEC: Performances, Awards, & More

NEC alumni, students, and faculty win Live Arts Boston grants, perform music in support of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter, and are featured in the New York Times, Downbeat, the Financial Times, and more.

The Boston Foundation logo, with subtitle: Innovation. Information. Impact.

Four NEC alumni were awarded Live Arts Boston 2020 grants from The Boston Foundation:

  • Christiane Karam ’05 MM (Contemporary Improvisation) is creating Voyage (Safar), a joyous coming together of a multitude of musical and cultural influences that tells a story of war, immigration, resilience, and ultimately triumph.
  • Jussi Reijonen ’13 MM (Contemporary Improvisation) will be composing a musical work which aims to bring new experiential perspectives into otherness and transcultural phenomena through the lens of a Third Culture Individual.
  • Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol ’00 MM, ’04 DMA (Jazz Studies), who is also on NEC faculty, will premiere an extended piece for jazz orchestra featuring a new digital, split-key keyboard with 17 keys per octave, while voicing an artistic response to the stereotyping of Muslims in today’s politics.
  • Unitas Ensemble, led by founder Lina Gonzalez ’14 MM, ’15 GD (Wind Ensemble Conducting; Choral Conducting) will present a series of concerts featuring traditional and popular Boleros and Tangos reimagined for chamber orchestra.

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A new recording of "Stay On It," recently released by Lincoln Center, was produced by a collective of independent arts organizations: Castle of our Skins, founded by NEC alumni Ashleigh Gordon ’08 MM and Anthony R. Green ’08 MM, Challenge the StatsContemporaneousKyle Marshall ChoreographyLincoln Center and The Dream Unfinished

The recording includes NEC alumni Ashleigh Gordon ’08 MM and Robyn Smith ’19, ’21 MM.

This tribute is dedicated to essential workers of color in the United States. Today, we join with our friends at The Dream Unfinished to share video of a work by Julius Eastman, a composer and visionary whose music explored his identities as a gay man and a Black American. #BlackLivesMatter

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Piano department chair Bruce Brubaker participated in a global panel on the effects of COVID-19 on classical music. The conversation was hosted by the Global Foundation for the Performing Arts as part of ResiliArt, a global movement for arts professionals launched by UNESCO.


The Global Foundation for the Performing Arts (GFPA) is extremely concerned by the devastating impact of the current crisis on the livelihoods of cultural professionals and the cultural fabric of our societies. During the lock-down period, we have relied heavily on culture including dance and ballet performances for emotional support, while the very creators of these artistic expressions have been left with little to no economic or social assistance.

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NEC faculty member Marcus Thompson is among many esteemed panelists for "Learning to Listen: Panel on Black Experience Within Classical Music," presented by Young Concert Artists and The Violin Channel.

Mr. Thompson, who also teaches at MIT, discussed the positive impact of accountable hiring practices in the sciences as part of a conversation regarding immediate practical steps that would support equity in classical music.

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NEC Preparatory School alum Débo Ray gave a performance with Celebrity Series at Home.

"Could we make it better?" she sings in the refrain of her opening song, an original titled "Make It Better." "At the time [I wrote this] I felt like I didn't know what was up and what was down," she said, "and I feel like that now, with everything that's going on.

"It's hard to know what the next step is supposed to be. But: sometimes we just need to make things work one day at a time."

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Grace Clifford smiles and plays the violin

Violinist Grace Clifford ’21 MM has been named a 2020 Freedman Classical Fellowship finalist:

“My project reflects my belief in the importance of access to music education and arts programs for all children, and wishes to celebrate the enduring contribution and importance of some of Australia’s historic Schools of the Arts,” said Grace Clifford, who is currently studying at the New England Conservatory in Boston. The 22 year old’s project involves a performing tour and the commissioning and recording of a new work for solo violin by an Indigenous Australia composer.

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Three smiling NEC Prep students with the Give Bach logo

NEC Prep students Raunak Kumar, Anna Choi, and Haley Kwoun have started Give Bach, a virtual concert series featuring the unaccompanied Bach Violin Sonatas, Partitas, and Cello Suites. These concerts raise money for COVID-19 relief and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Using virtual performances from students and leaders in the classical music industry, we hope to bring people together to fight for a better world.

The concert series runs from June 13 – July 8.

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Agarita Community Celebration flyer

Sarah Silver Manzke ’13 MM's chamber ensemble Agarita gave what they believe to be the first classical music ensemble concert in the U.S. in a major concert hall with a live audience, with COVID-19 safety protocols in place.

The performance took place on on Saturday, June 13 in the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts in San Antonio, TX and was free of charge.

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