Piano Department’s Winter Concerts Highlight Diverse Piano History at NEC

A conversation with Bruce Brubaker, Chair of the Piano Department and Curator of Piano Programming, on the winter 2022 piano concert series.

This winter, the NEC Piano Department presented a dazzling three-part series of concerts highlighting musicians who taught or studied at NEC throughout its remarkable 150-year history. Featuring students from the Piano Department alongside NEC Jazz majors and students from the Preparatory School, programs included music by Florence Price, Ferruccio Busoni, Jaki Byard, Gunther Schuller, Cecil Taylor, J. Rosamond Johnson, Chou Wen-chung, Quincy Porter, and more.

In a conversation with Bruce Brubaker, Chair of the Piano Department and Curator of Piano Programming, he discussed how these concerts came together, and how they highlighted the unique and diverse history of piano at NEC.

How did you select the composers who would be featured – they were all affiliated with NEC in some form or another?

Bruce Brubaker: Every musician represented was once either a faculty member or student at NEC. Over the conservatory's long history, a remarkable, diverse group of musicians has been part of the NEC community.

Was this a new series or something that has happened in the past?

Each year, the NEC Piano Department presents several concerts focused on a theme or music by a particular composer.

Video: This highlight from part three of this year's series features Sandy Ssu-Hsuan Li '22, performing Quincy Porter's Sonata (1930).

How did you curate the programs across the three evenings?

In each program, there were some ideas or similarities or connections between pieces that helped tell the whole story of music at NEC, in Boston, in the world. In this year's project, for the first time, NEC Jazz pianists participated in the concerts.

What was the process of connecting the students to the pieces they performed?

Each piano faculty member was involved in matching students from their class to particular pieces.

Andrew Li Beethoven Piano
Andrew Li '23 performs in the 2020 Piano Department series celebrating the piano works of Beethoven.

It's not every day that Prep students are playing alongside NEC college students.

This has been a feature of these concerts for several years. There are so many gifted piano students in the Prep program and it is a chance for us to hear them in Jordan Hall.

Did anything surprise you in the curation and research of these programs?

It pleases me very much to hear so much extraordinary music, mostly not well known, played so well by our students. Very few music schools in the world could produce an event like this, from the point of view of the quality of the compositions and the performances!

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For further reading on NEC’s unique piano history, please see this recent article at the Boston Musical Intelligencer by Roberto Poli ‘00 MM, ‘02 AD, NEC Prep Faculty member in Piano.