New England Conservatory celebrated the largest graduating class in its history on May 21, 2023 at Symphony Hall, awarding honorary degrees to George E. Lewis, Ann Hobson Pilot, and David Zinman. The 152nd Commencement ceremony featured remarks from Lewis as well as Alumni Speaker Mei-Ann Chen ’95, ’98 MM and Student Speaker Brittany Bryant ’23.
“It truly takes a village to raise a professional musician,” said Alumni Speaker and noted conductor Mei-Ann Chen ’95, ’98 MM,
echoing the spirit of collaboration and camaraderie heard throughout this year’s Commencement exercises. “No one can make it alone. Class of 2023, congratulations!”
said Commencement speaker George E. Lewis. The composer and musicologist noted the Great Migration of African Americans from south to north, and his own 50-year participation in the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians as examples of communities taking "personal and collective responsibility" for each other through values of “adaptability, communitarianism, and improvisation.”
Honoring David Zinman, Ann Hobson Pilot, and George E. Lewis
In addition to Lewis, honorary degrees were conferred upon David Zinman, noted conductor of the Conductor Laureate of the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, and Ann Hobson Pilot, who broke boundaries of race and gender as principal harpist for the National Symphony and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Zinman was introduced by NEC Philharmonia conductor Hugh Wolff and honored for both his musical and community-oriented achievements — in particular, his beloved 10pm “Tonhalla Late” concerts, which drew new, younger audiences to orchestral music.
Hobson Pilot was honored for her work as a groundbreaking harpist and champion of underserved students, both by NEC viola faculty member Marcus Thompson and by fellow honoree George E. Lewis, who noted, “I can't believe that I'm addressing you from the very same stage where the great Ann Hobson Pilot made history, paving the way for me to address you today.”
Honoring the largest class in NEC history
Board of Trustees Chair Thomas W. Blumenthal welcomed graduates, families, faculty, donors, and supporters, and President Andrea Kalyn encouraged graduates to trust their skills, knowledge, and experiences:
Due to the size of this year’s graduating class — the largest in NEC’s history — this year’s ceremony moved from Jordan Hall to U.S. National Historic Landmark Symphony Hall, home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) and the Boston Pops Orchestra. Just across the street from NEC, Symphony Hall is a second home for many NEC faculty, many of whom play in the BSO, and students who enjoy free access to concerts as part of their NEC education.
A Jazz processional, a classical interlude, and a contemporary musical arts finale
As families and supporters waited for the ceremony to begin, Symphony Hall was suddenly filled with the sounds of a New Orleans-style jazz rendition of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” and this year’s graduates walked in “second line”-style behind clarinetist Christopher Ferrari ’23, trombonist Michael Gerace ’23 MM, trumpeter Mark Tipton ’24 DMA, and percussionist Alex Yoo ’23.
Additional musical selections gave a nod to the three areas of musical study at NEC — classical, jazz, and Contemporary Musical Arts — with fiddle-guitar duo Carson McHaney ’23 MM and G Korth-Rockwell ’24 representing the Contemporary Musical Arts department for the recessional, and a performance of Tcherepnin’s Suite for Solo Cello Op. 76, Movement 4 performed by Leland Ko ’24 AD, who paired his bow with an enthusiastic thumbs up for his graduating peers.
Awards for students and faculty
Two graduating students were called to the stage many times for awards and honors — Yoona Kim ’23 MM, a Contemporary Musical Arts graduate who was awarded the Tourjée Alumni Scholarship and the Peter Lyman Row Global Musicianship Award. Voice major and Fulbright Award winner Brittany Bryant ’23 was selected as student speaker, but also was recognized with the Award for Excellence in the Liberal Arts and with the esteemed George Whitefield Chadwick Medal. Bryant was also awarded a 2023 Fulbright to continue her studies in Italy.
Notably, two students received the Chadwick Medal, which is given in honor of an exceptional undergraduate annually: Bryant and Jazz Studies senior Christopher Ferrari ’23, heard on clarinet during the New Orleans processional. The Gunther Schuller medal, which honors an exceptional graduate student, was awarded to collaborative pianist Michael Banwarth ’23 MM.
In addition, Olivia Wilkins-Becker ’23, Jacob Earnhart ’23, and Emiliano López ’23 won the Entrepreneurial Musicianship Spark Award; Andrew Minoo Dixon ’23 won the Donald Martino Award for Excellence in Composition; and Cynthia Meyers won the Louis and Adrienne Krasner Teaching Excellence Award.
The ceremony honored new Faculty Emeriti Ruth Lepson, Charles Peltz, and Deborah Stein, and celebrated the retirement of faculty members Karen Holvik, Martha Strongin Katz, Charles Peltz, Richard Ranti, Bert Seager, and Deborah Stein. Also honored were faculty and staff members celebrating major anniversaries, including Lisa Nigris and Robert Winkley (35 years), Frank Carlberg, Patrick Keppel, and Jason Palmer (25 years), and Guy Fishman, Richard Frost, Max Levinson, James Markey, and Cynthia Meyers (10 years).
Enthusiasm and pride
President Kalyn noted the optimism that this year's graduates represent: