Berklee Alumni Kirill Gerstein Plays Bach At the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s “Casual Fridays”

by Stephanie L. Carlin and Ayanna Jacobs-El

The Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) has been trying out a new program called “Casual Fridays” which aims to make attending concerts more affordable and appealing to younger audiences. For performances on those nights, attendees and orchestra members are allowed to wear casual clothing and enjoy the concert experience in a more relaxed atmosphere.

On February 9th, the BSO held a special “Casual Fridays” performance that featured three exceptional pianists, Thomas Adès, Kirill Gerstein, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet playing J.S. Bach’s Concerto in D minor for three pianos, BWV 1063. Conducted by the animated Andris Nelsons, all three pianists showed great skill and complimented each other’s ornamented passages with ease and elegant delivery. Gerstein, who is very familiar with Bach’s work and performed the concerto from memory, won the International Bach Competition at the young age of 11. We had the opportunity to conduct a brief interview with the remarkable pianist.

Berklee Groove: You were admitted to Berklee at just 14 years old with a masters degree by 20 years old! How did you get through college being the youngest in your class?

Kirill Gerstein: I grew up in Russia and started early at Berklee in a summer program. Then, I was admitted and I took many summer semesters and grew into Berklee nicely. After that, I went on to get my master’s in music and then studied more afterward. I was very lucky to have Gary Burton and Phil Wilsons as my mentors and the composition teachers I had were also very helpful and kind.

BG: What’s it like playing with Thomas Adès and Jean-Yves Thibaudet?

KG: Jean and I were good friends beforehand. They were very efficient in the use of time. Not much time to talk. Only listen and play.

BG: Casual Fridays seem very relaxed and high-tech. What would audiences expect from an event like this at the BSO?

KG: I think that it’s a nice idea. The app is nice and it’s a smart experiment. There’s a talk about an aging audience but Boston has been dealing with that issue very successfully. The fact that they program the way they do, I think that’s all good and well.

BG: What advice would you have for Berklee students now?

KG: I’m very wary of giving advice because what we all know what I’m going to say. I can see with great pleasure the development of Berklee and to see the merger coming together, I think the scale of music is unprecedented. My advice, that’s a little obvious, but take advantage: if you’re a classical performance major, look into jazz. If you’re performing jazz, look at classical. If I were going to Berklee now, I would not want to be bound. I’d want to experience.

Composer Sean Shepherd

The following piece was the world premiere of composer Sean Shepherd‘s Express Abstractionism. In four movements, the piece took the audience on an auditory journey that held many of the same expressive elements found in film scores.  The fascinating piece was full of contrast from harmonic textures, dynamics, and instrumentation. The composition was inspired by five visual artists Lee Krasner, Gerhard Richter, Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, and Alexander Calder. During the performance, audience members seated in the technology section accessed the ConcertCue application on their phones to view program notes, a score, text, and art that streamed synchronized to the live performance.

The final piece was Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56, “Scottish.” The beautiful Symphony explored a multitude of ideas from soaring string passages to playful themes played throughout the orchestra. The BSO perfectly executed the musical genius of Mendelssohn’s piece and audience members of all ages seemed thoroughly engrossed in the 40-minute musical treat.

We appreciate that the BSO is attempting to bring in younger audiences through their “Casual Fridays” program. We are sure that the shorter concert time, less expensive ticket prices, and casual attire are appealing to first-time concertgoers and even regular attendees interested in experiencing what the BSO has to offer.