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New England Philharmonic seeks for its next leader as it seek for new members

New England Philharmonic seeks for its next leader as it seek for new members

The New England Philharmonic has spent much of the last 44 years distinguishing itself from the crowd in a city riddled with amateur orchestras. In the ensemble's early years, the foundations for the future were laid. The orchestra's distinguished status grew during the tenure of Richard Pittman, who took over as music director in 1997 and led the orchestra headlong into challenging contemporary music territory that would be unimaginable for an average volunteer ensemble that rehearses once a week.

The orchestra is now rehearsing and performing after a silent season due to COVID-19, but without its longtime leader, who suffered sever hamstring injury last spring. The NEP is searching for a new music director for this season, and whoever it is should be eager to carry the orchestras mission on and off the podium.

Daniel Fryburg, who was the orchestras general manager until Oct. 1, said in a telephone interview that the organization is seeking for someone to help the NEP stand out and take us to the next steps in its history.

A warm stage presence and a willingness to connect with the community is requisite, he added. Contemporary music is sometimes a little less approachable, and thats largely because the audience doesnt understand it. We really want a music director who can approach the audience and explain why the music sounds like this or what the composer was aiming for. So when they listen, they fully understand the music.

When the ensemble, which became the Mystic Valley Chamber Orchestra in 1977, began with familiar repertoire such as Mozart and Beethoven. But even in those early years, the orchestra focused on new music, setting up a call-for-scores competition and establishing 'composer in residence' programs both of which still exist today. Music from the last hundred years became music's bread and butter in the new millennium under Pittman. Pittman guided his volunteer players through many of the major works for orchestra, chorus, and soloists, including Albert Bergs dark modernist opera Wozzeck and Benjamin Britten War Requiem; world and local premieres from Bernard Hoffer, David Rakowski, or Hannah Lash; 20th-century concertos that always seem to be on the fringe of repertoire;

This season, the search for a successor begins. Five concerts are scheduled for the 2021-22 season. Eric Nathan, the former NEP composer-in-residence and Boston conductor, will perform the first session on Oct. 16. (Hes not auditioning for the music director position.) Adam Kerry Boyles (Dec. 5), Nicholas DeMaison (Feb. 26, Nicholas deMadame (February 26, Tianhui Ng (May 1), and Yoichi Udagawa (June 18) are among the musicians selected to perform at the orchestra.

Louise Myers, a violinist, knows exactly what shell be looking for when those candidates enter the rehearsal room.

I want to have someone come in and understand that expression and playing must be done with passion and dedication, she added. I want to have fun this is still a volunteer group, he said.

Myers has been with the group since its inception, and shes noticed that musicians stay around for years on end in the NEP longer than in other amateur groups she's joined. [Dick] created an orchestra that people really, really want to play in, said Myers, who has penned a few retrospectives of the orchestra and serves as its unofficial historian.

Pittman had several requisites for a successful rehearsal, she added. Players were expected to be in their seats and ready to rehearse on time. Chatter between stands was discouraged, and if a cellphone went off, Myers was not ... able to talk, he said.

But, she was quick to add, his rule was never tyrannical. He was a very firm person, but he was also incredibly encouraging and very much in need of remuneration as sage and guide, she said. Over all these years, the orchestra has been my conservatory. I think Ive learned more than some people who are now going to [music school] than other people.

Meghan Titzer, an insurance professional who has been playing violin with the orchestra for ten years, recalls being terrified during her first few seasons. It was like, Oh my gosh, I dont even know what I got myself into, this isn t my cup of tea, she said in a phone interview.

She still feels nervous at the beginning of a rehearsal cycle, but shes noticed how much playing the orchestra slew of challenging material hasaided her as songwriter, and she hopes that the new director will be as clear on the podium as Pittman was.

If he dropped a beat, it meant that something was wrong, like if il was sick, said Titzer. I could count on one hand the number of times that happened in 10 years, he says.

Pittman joined the NEP after serving as the helm of the professional contemporary chamber music ensemble Boston Musica Viva for nearly three decades, having founded it in 1969. He had connections with numerous notable composers through that ensemble, which were also a valuable resource for the NEP. "I have a vivid memory of times when we would have difficulties with some music notation.." He would say very casually, Well, Ill ask Elliott, or Im going to check with Gunther,' referring to [composers] Elliott Carter and Gun Ther Schuller. These were his friends, Myers said.

Wed end up with composers doing stuff for us regularly that they wouldnt do for any other ensemble that wasns not professional, says Titzer. A lot of them showed up because of Dick, says the former.

Pittman celebrated a half-century with Boston Musica Viva in 2019, and he seemed to have no intention of slowing down or stepping back from any of his obligations, which included leading the Concord Orchestra. Pittman suffered a serious stroke in the second week of March 2020, as the threat of the epidemic sent the arts world into hibernation. Just a few days earlier, he had been on the podium leading Boston Musica Vivas annual family concert on stage. According to Boston Musica Viva executive director Robert Pape, the conductor is currently in therapy and is working on recovery, and the NEP hopes that he will be able to serve in some capacity as music director emeritus.


Oct. 16, 8 p.m. Brookline All Saints Parish is a parish dedicated to All Souls. 855-463-7445,, 8 55-462-7345.

A.Z. Madonna can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten.

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