The musicians — both students and alumni — of Berklee College of Music in Boston are singing and playing their music this month, beginning with Berklee Night at the Boston Pops.
On June 12, Berklee Night at the Boston Pops will feature Grammy- and Oscar-winning singer-songwriter and Berklee alumna Melissa Etheridge. She will showcase four up-and-coming artists from her alma mater in the first half of the program at Symphony Hall.
The Berklee artists — recent graduate Sarah Walk, and current students Sarah McKenzie, Deni Hlavinka and Ahmad El Haggar — were selected by Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart to perform at the event. Each artist will pair with a Berklee student arranger to create orchestrations of their works to be performed with the Pops.
The event is the latest in an ongoing collaboration betwee Berklee and the Bosto Pops. In recent years, students have gained exposure performing at the JazzFest and EdgeFest series at Symphony Hall. Many Berklee faculty members are also members of the Pops, including Julianne Lee, Gus Sebring and Owen Young. Berklee professor Bill Elliott arranges for the Pops and is coaching the student arrangers for this concert.
The concert is Etheridge’s first-ever appearance with a symphony orchestra, and kicks off her two-night run with the pops. She attended Berklee through 1980 and returned to the college in 2006 to deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary doctorate.
Sarah Walk, a native of Minneapolis, is a singer, pianist and songwriter, currently writing and recording new music in Los Angeles and London. Sarah McKenzie is a pianist, vocalist and composer from Melbourne, Australia. She was a backup vocalist for Michael Buble on his Call Me Irresponsible tour, and was the opening act for Grammy-winning trumpeter Chris Botti in 2011. Her second album, Close Your Eyes, won the 2012 ARIA award for Best Jazz Album. Deni Hlavinka is a singer, pianist and songwriter from Stephens City, Virginia. Her band, The Western Den, released their debut EP and toured as the opening act for Melissa Ferrick. Later that year, they released a self-produced Christmas EP to raise funds for victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Ahmad El Haggar is a vocalist and oud player from Cairo, Egypt. He recently joined music legend Carole king on stage at the MusiCares Person of the Year ceremony to perform a Middle Eastern-style version of her song, “Home Again,” that he arranged specifically for the event. His Egyptian rendition of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” has almost 120,000 views on YouTube.
For tickets to Boston Night at the Pops with Melissa Etheridge at Symphony Hall, are $24-$94 and are available at bso.org.
Later in the month, Berklee will host its first American Roots Weekend for acoustic musicians who perform bluegrass, blues, folk, country, acoustic jazz and swing on instruments such as violin, viola, cello, bass, mandolin, guitar and harp. Berklee string instructor Joe Walsh, a mandolin player who has performed with Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris, Bela Fleck and others, will lead the weekend.
The American Roots Weekend is part of Berklee’s popular summer programs. Leading roots musicians and educators will teach the program, including bassist Viktor Krauss, who has worked with Bill Frisell and Lyle Lovett; Matt Munisteri, who has toured with Mark O-Connor and Madeleine Peyroux; Grammy Award-winnoing banjo player Alison Brown; Mark Simos, who has written songs for Alison Krauss; and renowned violinist Matt Glaser, director of Berklee’s American Roots Program.
Berklee has created the American Roots Music Program in recognition of the richness of American roots styles, including blues, gospel, folk, early country music, bluegrass, old-time, cajun, western swing, polka, Tex-Mex, and others. The music is the lifeblood of America’s cultural heritage, with artistic validity. The program produces concerts, hosts visiting artists, designs and implements curriculum, creates and hosts faculty development sessions, and designs and implements symposiums and seminars. It examines the core of what it means to be a musician in all idioms, and contemplates the roots of our western musical traditions ranging from Bach to traditional African music.