Conservatory Faculty Perform Chamber Works by Russian Greats

October 30, 2019


On Friday, November 1, Boston Conservatory at Berklee will kick off its 2019–2020 Center Stage season with Chamber Series: Russian Giants, a celebration of three towering figures of classical music: Sergei Rachmaninov, Sergei Prokofiev, and Dmitri Shostakovich.

Not only will the evening feature a mix of widely known and less-familiar works by the three master composers, it will also be an extraordinary opportunity to witness Boston Conservatory’s wide-ranging faculty talent performing on one stage. Musicians from the school’s Piano Department (Max Levinson and Aleksandr Poliykov), Strings Department (Lila Brown, Judith Eissenberg, Markus Placci, and Rhonda Rider) and Woodwinds Department (Matthew Marsit) will be joined by guest artist Allison Eldredge (cello).  

Faced with the composers’ vast ouvres, Chamber Series artistic director and Professor of Violin Markus Placci chose to focus the program on one representative piece by each composer, each with a distinct character. “I selected works with interesting instrumentation and ensemble configurations,” says Placci. “Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes features a sextet, which is pretty unique, and Jewish klezmer instrumentation; the Shostakovich piece, the most well known of the three, features a piano with a string quartet; and Rachmaminov’s Piano Trio, which has a nostalgic quality, is likely inspired by Tchaikovsky’s monumental trio, so you’re really getting four composers for the price of three,” he jokes. The three pieces also mark distinct periods in Russian history and culture: Rachmaninov’s (1892) during the Russian Empire, Prokofiev’s (1919) during the Russian Civil War, and Shostakovich’s (1940) during World War II.

Because elevating smaller ensemble experiences is a key feature of the Music Division’s curriculum, this and other Chamber Series concerts represent an invaluable learning opportunity for students to observe their teachers performing chamber music. Piano Instructor and Boston Conservatory alumnus Aleksandr Poliykov, who is performing in two of the evening’s pieces, views it as “a powerful educational tool for faculty members to continue setting an example for the young artists, not only in the classroom, but also on stage.” He notes a marked increase in productivity in his studio after students attend a faculty performance, and that the experience “plays a strong inspirational role.”

Professor Judith Eissenberg, a violinist and active chamber musician, concurs, explaining that students value the opportunity to hear their teachers perform whole pieces as opposed to “little fragments” in demonstrations during lessons. "A performance offers insight into a musician's values—musical and beyond,” she says. “Interpretation, sound concepts, ensemble tricks of the trade, but also human relationships, risk-taking, and the full range of emotional expression are all on stage.”

For the performing faculty members, too, these concerts are deeply enriching and artistically satisfying. Placci, a Boston Conservatory alumnus who established the series in 2014, says, “It's wonderful for us to gather and perform together on stage, bringing into our music making those same values and expectations of ourselves that we teach every day to our students.” Poliykov adds, “It’s a beautiful opportunity to have an interdepartmental conversation, using perhaps the most natural, for us, and universal method of expressing ourselves: music.”

Boston Conservatory at Berklee will present Chamber Series: Russian Giants on Friday, November 1 at 8:00 p.m. at Seully Hall in 8 Fenway. The concert is dedicated in memory of Boston Conservatory’s late President Richard Ortner, who passed away on October 10, 2019 after a long and courageous battle with cancer. Learn more and purchase tickets and view the full 2019–2020 Center Stage and Chamber Series lineups.