by TONY WOODCOCK
As we approach Commencement and the end of the school year, I am saying farewell to NEC just as many of you graduating students will do on May 17. Like you, I am moving into a new chapter of my life, which will provide I am sure as many adventures as the last nearly 20 years in the States. As the poet Hermann Hesse once wrote: “In all beginnings dwells a magic force/For guarding us and helping us to live.” To a considerable extent, we are all going to be engaging in a very similar journey. Good fortune to us all.
Looking back over my eight years at NEC, I am extraordinarily proud of the Conservatory’s accomplishments and its current eminence. And you students—and your teachers—are largely responsible for this distinction. It has given me great joy to observe your artistry, your collegiality, your entrepreneurial savvy, and the importance you place on being citizens of the world.
There have been so many performances and events that I recall as intensely pleasurable and profoundly moving: the two Symphony Hall concerts by the Philharmonia and Hugh Wolff; the celebrations of our Jazz and CI 40th Anniversaries, our “Evening in Valhalla” and opera productions such as Paul Bunyan, Turn of the Screw and our most recent Così fan tutte. I have also been thrilled to see the work of UGOS really develop in recent years and their production of Albert Herring in March was stellar. The work of the Chamber Choir and Chorus has also really burgeoned into something of great quality.
There have been other moments to cherish: the extraordinary intimacy and passion of chamber music performances by NEC musicians outside Brigham and Women’s hospital on the terrible days following the Boston Marathon bombing; the poetry readings and dramatic performances by students in our Liberal Arts classes and the very impressive creative writing from our students in the Hear Here! Programme. And I have looked with wonderment at the creation of professional opportunities that some of our recent alumni have pulled out of thin air like A Far Cry, AcousticaElectronica, and Dan Gabel’s Abeltones and High Society Orchestra.
In the last few months, I have had occasion to travel and listen to musicians from around the world, including the Guildhall School’s international Reflective Conservatoire Conference, which drew over 400 participants from every continent. From all corners, I have heard how the music world and the lives of musicians are undergoing great change. And you, students and graduates, are going to be right in the middle of it. It will be you who have the responsibility to lead the charge. You will be responsible for preserving the essential, soul-affirming core of music that is a foundation of our civilization. You will have to guide music back to its central place in society from what is currently, sadly, a position on the margins.
For this, you will need to open yourselves to new collaborations, new idioms, new cultures, new ways of presentation, new ways of teaching. You will need maximum flexibility of mind, versatility, willingness to dare, the ability to strip yourselves bare of preconceptions and old habits. (It’s like moving out of a house, divesting oneself of most material things we possess and stepping out unencumbered but nearly naked—a process with which I am all too familiar at the moment .)
For this, I wish you courage, a spirit of adventure, resilience in the face of failure, and endless resourcefulness. It is a battle worth fighting and about which I feel total confidence in your ability to prevail. My warmest good wishes and affection to all of you.