Matthew Szymanski

Photo by Kate Lemmon

About a year ago, Matt Szymanski ’13 M.M. found himself in a series of orchestral conducting auditions, faced with the common interview question, “Why do you want to work for this organization?” After going through the process a few times around, Szymanski realized that he was answering the question half-heartedly: what he really wanted to see was dramatic change in the orchestral model. A lengthy conversation with Aram Demirjian ’11 M.M. and Josh Weilerstein ’11 M.M., fellow alumni of NEC’s Orchestral conducting program, helped clarify his vision. Together, these three tackled the big question of what an orchestra today would look like built from the ground up, and later enlisted feedback and support from faculty, staff, and alumni of New England Conservatory.

The result is Phoenix, a Boston-based orchestra chock-full of NEC alumni and current students, with a mission of revitalizing the presentation of orchestral music for modern audiences. They’re bold. And they’ve looked at every aspect of the concert experience and tried to break down barriers between performer and audience. Venues are nontraditional, performance attire is casual, and program notes share why the music is special to the orchestra members. Concert attendees are encouraged to express their excitement – and maybe even Tweet about it – at any time during a performance, and it wouldn’t be entirely surprising to find a Radiohead transcription right next to a Brahms symphony on the program. “It’s kind of amazing,” Szymanski admitted, “so many people have contributed to our vision…at this point it’s less that fifty percent my own ideas.”

Szymanski thinks that NEC fueled a certain entrepreneurial spirit in him. “The idea that you can and should make your own job is huge in the culture of the school,” he said. “You’re not expected to go into the world and do everything the same way it has been done in the past.” He also credits numerous faculty and staff – including the Entrepreneurial Musicianship team – in helping him gain a solid understanding of how to build an organization.

Asked what advice he has for fellow young entrepreneurs, Szymanski said, without missing a beat, “Work with the right people.” He added, “It’s hard to doubt that your vision will become reality when you have a committed team in place. Everything comes together.”

NEC alumni and current students involved with Phoenix include: Lizzie Burns, Eileen Coyne, Mike Dahlberg, John Diodati, Julia Dombek, Breanna Ellison, Mary Ferrillo, Lisa Fujita, Johanna Gruskin, Dave Hagee, Jessica Hsieh, Zenas Hsu, Maya Jacobs, Zach Jacobs, Dana Kelley, Eunae Koh, Dan Koo, Steve Laraia, Kate Lemmon, Derek Lewis, Brian Maloney, Linda Numagami, Elizabeth O'Neil, Rachel Parker, Michael Rau, Seth Russell, Diana Searle, Elizabeth Stefan, Dave Tarantino, Nick Tisherman, Nash Tomey, Mary Tyler, Maria van der Sloot, Sam Weiser, Danielle Wiebe, and Mason Yu.