Contemporary Classical Music Alumna Felicia Chen Receives Alumni Entrepreneurial Grant

December 03, 2018

Felicia Chen (M.M. '17, contemporary classical music) did not grow up with aspirations of becoming a doctor or engineer like her parents. At times, she felt like she didn’t fit into the traditional mold of an Asian American woman because of her pursuit of a singing career, and  when she entered the world of contemporary classical music, she struggled to find role models who shared her cultural background. “I’ve had to carve my own path,” she reflects. “I’ve also had to be more purposeful to seek out artists who are like me.” This experience has inspired Chen’s mission of promoting cultural diversity within her performances—a mission brought to life through Mazumal, a duo Chen created with Boston Conservatory at Berklee classmate and cellist Olivia Harris (M.M. '18, contemporary classical music).

Chen is one of three recipients of the 2018 Boston Conservatory at Berklee Alumni Entrepreneurial Grant, which is designed to empower alumni to explore and develop their unique programmatic ideas in the arts. Chen's award will help Mazumal further their artistic mission of supporting and championing underrepresented voices in part by commissioning composers and collaborators.  

The name Mazumal is a mixture of words that represent both the benevolence and malevolence of female deities from Chen’s Taiwanese and Harris’s Afro-Caribbean ancestry. This summer, Chen and Harris took their act on the road, having been invited to perform at the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies at University of California, Berkeley. They also participated in a residency at the Hartt School at University of Hartford, and as ensemble fellows of the Cortona Sessions Contemporary Chamber Music Initiative in Cortona, Italy.

While each performance features Chen’s vocals and Harris’s cello, their concerts are anything but carbon copies. One show may be followed by a discussion of diversity within contemporary classical music, while another performance may feature a piece by a composer or poet from a marginalized community. Harris hopes people will walk away from their concerts with a new social understanding of contemporary classical music. “I would like for people to begin to recognize that other people can do this too, and do it well.”

For Chen, it is clear that her personal mission is rooted deeply in Mazumal. She recently returned to the Conservatory with Harris for a performance and discussion about appropriation, tokenization, and allyship in contemporary classical music. “It’s not just that we are visible and that we’re giving visibility to composers and poets, but that people can see that [diversity] is possible.”

For information on upcoming performances and projects, visit mazumal.com.