New England Conservatory Students & Alumni Awarded Three Avery Fisher Career Grants

The Balourdet Quartet, Julian Rhee, and Clayton Stephenson join NEC’s illustrious, decades-long list of career grant recipients.

Avery Fisher Ceremony

On Wednesday, March 20, 2024, at 6 p.m., Deborah Borda, Chair of the Avery Fisher Artist Program, along with Nancy Fisher, daughter of the late Avery and Janet Fisher, will announce the recipients of the 2024 Avery Fisher Career Grants. Among the honorees at The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space at WQXR, three are current students or alumni of New England Conservatory: the Balourdet Quartet, violinist Julian Rhee, and pianist Clayton Stephenson.

The Avery Fisher Career Grants are awarded annually to up to five musicians and ensembles with the potential for significant careers in classical music. Each recipient receives an award of $25,000 to be used for specific needs in advancing a career. Among the 2024 recipients are violinists Angela Bae ’22 MM, ’23 GP and Justin DeFilippis ’17, ’22 GD, ’23 GP, violist Benjamin Zannoni ’22 GD, ’23 GP, and cellist Russell Houston ’22 GD, ’23 GP, who comprise the Balourdet Quartet. The Balourdet Quartet studied under Paul Katz in NEC’s Professional String Quartet Program. Previous NEC quartets to win Career Grants include the Calder Quartet (2014), Jupiter String Quartet (2008), and Borromeo String Quartet (2007).

Balourdet Quartet
Photo credit: Andrew Hurlbut

Violinist Julian Rhee ’22, ’24 MM has been praised for his "sophisticated, assured tone, superb intonation, and the kind of poise and showmanship that thrills audiences" (The Strad). Rhee, who studies under Miriam Fried, is also the Silver Medalist of the 11th Quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. A member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center CMS’s Bowers Program beginning in 2024, Rhee has performed at and attended festivals, including the Ravinia Steans Institute, Marlboro Festival, Rockport Music, and North Shore Chamber Music Festival.

Julian Rhee
Photo credit: Andrew Hurlbut

Pianist Clayton Stephenson ’23 Harvard/NEC, ’25 GD adds an Avery Fisher Career Grant to an ever-growing list of accomplishments. Notably, Stephenson won the Grand Prize at the Inaugural Nina Simone Piano Competition in 2023 and has also garnered acclaim as the first Black finalist at the 2022 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. He was recognized as the 2022 Gilmore Young Artist, a 2017 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, and a Young Scholar of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation. A student of Wha Kyung Byun, Stephenson also joins fellow alumni of the Harvard/NEC dual degree program who have received Avery Fisher Career Grants, including violinist Stella Chen ’16 Harvard/NEC, pianist George Li ’13 Prep, ’19 Harvard/NEC, ’22 AD, and pianist Charlie Albright ’12 Harvard/NEC.

Clayton Stephenson
Photo credit: Clayton Stephenson

Fewer than 200 grants have been awarded since the program’s inception five decades ago. With the addition of this year's recipients, NEC students, alumni and faculty have received 39 grants—more than 20% of all grants—dating back to current clarinet faculty Richard Stoltzman's win in 1977. In 2023, pianist Evren Ozel ’21, ’23 MM, who also studies with Byun, and flutist Emi Ferguson ’05 Prep received grants. The full list of NEC-affiliated grant recipients can be found on the conservatory’s website.

Violinist Njioma Chinyere Grevious, who attended NEC Prep between 2011 and 2017 through Project STEP, was also awarded a grant this year.

Performances by all five recipients will follow the announcement. Hosted by WQXR's Elliott Forrest, the Career Grants performances will also be webcast live at 6 p.m. by WQXR, New York’s all-classical music station, at, and broadcast on Thursday, April 11 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, April 13 at 7 p.m. on 105.9 FM.