The Sheffield Chamber Orchestra has entered into an aggressive five-year plan to bring new music to audiences in JP and across Boston, but the premieres might be a little closer to home than one might imagine.
Sheffield – boasting several members from JP, as well as Executive Director Christine English being from JP – announced this month that they have commissioned new work to premiere over the next five years from five of the hottest new composers in the country.
The exciting part is it could be in your living room.
That’s because Sheffield’s unique hook is that they recruit hosts in JP and other neighborhoods in Boston, and then roll out intimate string chamber concerts in homes and small spaces. Since 2014 they’ve been quietly playing in backyards and foyers, and now they’re looking to up their profile and find new people to host their plethora of upcoming performances.
“It’s inspired by the old tradition of how Chamber music came into the world,” said Sasha Callahan, of JP. “Originally, this music was heard in salons of people’s homes and that’s how a lot of the great repertoire was first heard in that way. We’re reviving that tradition, but maybe in a more democratic way because anyone really can host…It’s a very intimate and visual experience. The feedback from audiences is that they enjoy seeing us breath and communicate and to be able to experience the music up close. It’s very different than going to a concert hall. We hear a lot of people tell us they don’t like Classical music, but they loved the Haydn piece we played at their house. When you present Classical music on this scale, people will come to it and not worry about what they don’t know. Because of that, we’ve grown very rapidly.”
Said English, “Much of the great Classical music, all of that was heard and happened in the space of a home. This is two things – music by musicians of the highest caliber, but in houses that feel real to us…This will be unique because these are living composers we’ve commissioned and we can ask them questions. You can’t ask Mozart what he meant by measure three, but you can ask a living composer what he or she meant when they composed measure three. There is all of this interpretation we can do here that with traditional music we can’t do now.”
Sheffield is prolific in its touring and plays hosted concerts at a pace of at least 40 per year. Now, they have a wonderful problem in that they’ve commissioned composers Osvaldo Glijov, Kevin Day, Jessie Montgomery and Kenji Bunch and a fifth to be named later, and they need more places to roll out the new work. These living composers will be producing new music through 2027 for Sheffield to premiere in its repertoire of intimate musical settings.
“This is a major leap in confidence and growth for our young organization, and a great honor to commission these talented composers,” said Executive Director English. “This initiative helps us contribute to the rich history of new chamber music in a way that reflects the world we live in. This is possible because of the support and encouragement of our equally ambitious and visionary board.”
English said they are now trying to expand beyond their existing base of hosts and audiences.
“With that expansion of music, we want to expand our base so we have more audience members and hosts and more people to hear the music,” she said. “We have a solid base built on word-of-mouth. We’re really trying to expand beyond that and we want other areas of Greater Boston and Boston to get involved and let people know who we are.”
Callahan said hosting is not as complex as one might think. She said she’s played in tiny apartments with people squeezed into couches and sitting on stairways, and also in large living rooms with room for folding chairs – and has also played in backyards and gardens too. Most times, if one wants to become a host, a member of Sheffield will come to take a look at the space and figure out if it’s right for them and how a concert could take place. Typically, the host can invite those they wish to attend the concert, and the remaining attendees would come from the strong base of supporters that Sheffield already has. Typically a concert would have 25 to 30 audience members.
“It’s a very peaceful experience for everyone,” she said. “It’s very nourishing for the musicians and the composers and I think our audiences feel that way too.”
Sheffield rolled out its 2021-2022 Season offerings earlier this month to organizational supporters, and began its annual “host drive,” aimed at regional music enthusiasts who want to bring the group’s music to their homes or other intimate spaces. The Sheffield Chamber Players’ 2021-2022 Season includes two Fall and two Spring programs that will be offered to hosts and played in other intimate locations.
•W.A. Mozart — String Quintet No.5 in D Major
•Kenji Bunch — String Circle
•Leonora Duarte — Sinfonias 3, 4 & 5
•L.v. Beethoven — String Quartet No. 10 in E-flat major, Op. 74 (Harp)
•D. Shostakovich — String Quartet No. 10 in E-flat major, Op. 74
•Germaine Tailleferre — String Quartet
•Robert Schumann — String Quartet No. 2 in F, Op. 41
•Kevin Day — String Quartet (Prem.)
•W.A. Mozart — Clarinet Quintet
•Evan Ziporyn — Be-In
•Julia Wolfe — Four Marys
•L.v. Beethoven, Osvaldo Golijov — Two Bagatelles