What's New: Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol in Downbeat, Due Donne in the Boston Globe, and More

News about NEC students, alumni, and faculty members including Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol, MaryAnn McCormick, David Loebel, Celeste Pellegrino, Larisa Bainton, Melissa White, Laurel Barnett, and more.

Alum and faculty member Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol ’00 MM, ’04 DMA releases a new album this week, The Rise Up, conducted by Ken Schaphorst and featuring Dave Liebman as well as members of NEC's Jazz Orchestra.

Says Sanlıkol: “I have been saddened and personally affected by the recent political turmoil and malignant stereotyping of Muslims and minority communities in the U.S. lately. As a result, I decided to construct this piece around three episodes from Middle Eastern history which chronicle dark and traumatic events followed by human inspiration and/or transcendental creation in order to demonstrate my belief and hope that we, humanity will rise up and above these difficult times too.”

Read: Downbeat preview

Read: All About Jazz review

Listen: full album

MaryAnn McCormick

MaryAnn McCormick was profiled in Opera News, discussing her performing career, her development of stagecraft and technique, and her teaching approach.

McCormick now balances an active performing career with teaching at New England Conservatory...Her singing is consistently impressive for its energy, integrity and economy—McCormick never makes an unnecessary move, vocally or dramatically—and for the rich, poised beauty of her mezzo-soprano, which sounds extraordinarily fresh for a voice that has been deployed professionally for almost thirty years. [...]

“I tell my students that this is what we’re practicing for. We’re practicing like an athlete, to achieve a sense of a muscle memory. You’re teaching your body how to position itself to sing properly. It’s not that you forget that when you walk onstage in an opera or a recital, but you need to get that to a certain level of physical readiness—like a car that is tuned up before it hits the road—in order to think about things like the phrasing.”

Opera News: Truth Teller

Action shot of David Loebel with conductor baton in motion, while members of the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra play.

David Loebel, conductor of NEC's Symphony and Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, penned a piece for the Cleveland Orchestra in honor of George Szell, his “North Star among conductors:” 

An orchestra is a string quartet with a hundred people in it. Szell saw the conductor’s job as helping (or, in his case, forcing the musicians to listen to each other as intensely as a great string quartet must. He insisted that the players not just sit passively, blindly following somebody waving a stick, but that they actively engage with every musical gesture; for me, this has meant that my highest goal is to rehearse in such a way that I make myself almost completely unnecessary.

Read more: Still Second to None, by David Loebel

Animated characters created in Nintendo's Animal Crossing, for an online performance of Humperdinck's opera Hansel and Gretel

Celeste Pellegrino ’20 MM and Larisa Bainton ’20 MM were highlighted in The Boston Globe for their staging of the first opera to be performed in Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

“Animal Crossing" reigned over the Nintendo Switch's online store for three months straight as millions downloaded the game while stranded at home. Two of those people were singers Celeste Pellegrino and Larisa Bainton, who cofounded the Due Donne Productions opera company last year while graduate students at New England Conservatory. Due Donne had received a grant from the school, initially to fund live performances. After the pandemic hit, the school still wanted to give them the grant, Bainton said. They just had to find a new way to use it.

Fortunately, they already had their big idea: the world's first opera staged inside “Animal Crossing." A small cast recorded a 35-minute version of Engelbert Humperdinck's “Hansel and Gretel," sung in English with piano accompaniment. The cofounders built sets on their islands, and downloaded costumes and other set dressings found in the game's thriving custom-design community.

The Boston Globe: 3 Boston music groups thinking outside the Zoom box

WBUR: Virtual Virtuosos: Local Singers, Hamstrung By The Pandemic, Staged An Opera On Animal Crossing

Melissa White: Breaking Down Barriers

Violinist Melissa White ’12 of the Harlem String Quartet was interviewed on the Performing Labor podcast about virtual performances, conservatory training, breaking down barriers, and what she learned from touring with jazz musicians. “The audience wants to be in on the experience,” she says.

Listen now: Performing Labor

Laurel Barnett school portrait.

Laurel Barnett, a rising senior at Westwood High School and NEC Preparatory School student, has earned the Girl Scout Gold Award for her music program at the Westwood Senior Center:

“Having volunteered for several years playing the violin at the Senior Center and nursing homes in Westwood, I have always felt that music is an important form of therapy,” said Barnett.


In March, the COVID-19 pandemic closed the senior center and halted her plans to take the group on a trip to see the New England Conservatory’s Youth Symphony. Barnett adapted by creating a YouTube channel, where she posted videos of students singing or playing instruments and a recorded lecture from a New England Conservatory orchestra conductor.

Read more: Girl Scout Earns Gold Award for Music Program

Martin Luther King smiles and waves next to Coretta Scott King, also smiling

A new documentary, Legacy of Love, tells the early story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and NEC alumna Coretta Scott King, who met in Boston while he attended Boston University and she attended New England Conservatory.

WBUR: Boston Brought Them Together: Documentary Explores The Early Days Of MLK And Coretta Scott

WGBH: A Conversation With 'Legacy of Love' Filmmaker Roberto Mighty

  • Joshua Weilerstein ’09, ’11 MM hosted Opus 2020, a benefit concert to aimed at ensuring voting access for potentially disenfranchised Americans. Performers included Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Jonathan Biss, Alisa Weilerstein, Noah Bendix-Balgley, and Anthony McGill.
  • Katherine Balch ’14 Tufts/NEC has been awarded the 2021 Elliott Carter Rome Prize for Composition.
  • Conductor Lina González-Granados ’14 MM has been awarded the Twenty Questions has featured recent interviews with jazz and contemporary improvisation faculty members including Ran Blake, Joe Morris, Jason Moran, and Anthony Coleman.

  • Grace Clifford ’21 MM spoke to Limelight Magazine about the joy of returning to chamber music after quarantine.

  • Yitzhak Yedid ’98 MM has won the Azrieli Music Prize.

  • Colorado Symphony oboist Nicholas Tisherman ’16 used music to advocate for COVID-19 economic relief.

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