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Degrees: Donald Palma

Double bassist and Artistic Director of the NEC Chamber Orchestra, New England Conservatory, Massachusetts, US

Wednesday, 01 May 2013

At the New England Conservatory (NEC), we look for students who have a solid technical foundation, are naturally musical and who have developed or are in the process of developing a refined way of hearing. During the course, they are immersed in a rich culture of diverse musical styles.

Although competition is a necessary part of our profession, students here are supported by a cohesive faculty and by the interaction with their peers. The atmosphere isn’t exactly relaxed, but rather energised, open and liberating, while at the same time providing many challenges. We encourage students to express their opinions. In the NEC Chamber Orchestra, which I direct, for example, the orchestra’s members discuss the phrasing, musical direction and overall interpretation of the programmed works. This requires score study and knowledge of musical styles. The objective is to allow the students to take over the leadership as they gain experience in the orchestra, which is not conducted. With every piece, the leadership rotates. This helps students to refine their leadership and ensemble skills in a small orchestral setting, and to develop a positive way of communicating their musical intentions to their colleagues. I hope it also serves to open the ears of players to more sophisticated way of hearing.

I enjoy working with the NEC students so much that I turned down an invitation to the Grammy Awards in 2000 to do a NEC Chamber Orchestra concert. I missed a great party, but the students’ transcendent performance that evening convinced me that I had made the right choice.

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