Julie Scolnik ’78

The question classical music organizers have been struggling with for years is how to interest the younger generation.  When many people hear the terms “classical music” and “chamber music,” they immediately think of stuffy people playing music by long-dead composers. While there are a lot of people who know that’s not true—that today there are more fantastic young musicians than ever coming out of conservatories, in fact—if you ask the average man on the street, “Would you like a couple of tickets to a chamber music concert?” he’ll probably say, “Hmmmmm...”

As a musician, I chose to attend Wesleyan rather than a conservatory because I thought to myself, “If music is life, how can you expect to express anything through music if you don’t know about anything else?”  I had also gone to Exeter, where the interrelationship of all the arts and humanities made an impression on me, and I didn’t want to be only around musicians, who can sometimes tend towards one-dimensionality.

My time at Wesleyan greatly influenced how I design concert programs. I try to make programs accessible by providing a bit of the background of my inspiration as well as how the music relates to literature and philosophy, for example, or to other pieces on the program. I juxtapose newer works with some of the beloved classics, to allow people to hear the music in a different way.

At Mistral, our motto is, “Unstuffy, Unpredictable and Unmatched,” and we try to portray that in everything we do. During our concerts we talk about the pieces, we do a question and answer period—kind of like a jazz concert, really. We try to break down barriers between audiences and the musicians by offering an intimate concert experience where people are allowed to laugh, to ask questions, and even to clap in-between movements if they feel so moved—we try to make it fun. I also tell personal stories before the concerts begin—memories of certain pieces and when I first fell in love with them, or other reasons I was inspired to program those pieces.

In addition to the opportunity to get involved in fervent musical conversations, people seem to love our innovative programming. Some of our past titles include “Music, Marriage and Madness” (the music of Robert and Clara Schumann and Brahms), “In Marcel Proust’s Salon,” “Souvenirs from Abroad,” “The Gypsy Spirit,” and “Intimate Letters.”

I think one of the things Wesleyan prides itself on is the wide net that they encourage students to cast. I heard and loved a speech I heard Michael Roth give (when my daughter was visiting the school) about hoping the football players will take modern dance and that the students who come to study Chinese might end up being physics majors. Wesleyan encourages people to think outside the box and about the interrelationship of academics and all the arts. I definitely think that if I went to a conservatory during those four years, I wouldn’t have thought so creatively. It might even be why people respond so well to our concert series, Mistral.

Julie Scolnik ’78 lives in Boston, Massachusetts, where she is founder and artistic director of Mistral. Founded as Andover Chamber Music in 1997, by Scolnik and her husband, physicist Michael Brower, Mistral is an ensemble of international concert artists who shrug off old traditions and perform with an irresistible blend of high spirits and serious music-making, and connect in a singular way with their audiences.  Visit MISTRAL at mistralmusic.org.