A Spring Snapshot of RSC Ensembles: Setting the Standard for Mid-Pandemic Musical Collaboration

RSC Conservatory News

289 students. 47 rehearsals. 14 performances. These numbers represent the scope of activities of the Rivers Youth Orchestras, Camerata Strings, Rivers Youth Wind Ensemble, and ChamberMusicLab in the 2020-2021 school year. Evidently, the ongoing pandemic hasn’t been able to stop them from continuing the art of musical collaboration. Keep reading to learn more!

Rivers Youth Orchestras (RYO)

From the emergence of the virus in March of 2020, RYO leadership has thought outside the box to provide meaningful and unique opportunities for its players. Last spring, these experiences included Zoom master classes with seven Boston Symphony Orchestra musicians, an exclusive performance by Liana and Michael Zaretsky, and even a virtual visit from cellist Zuill Bailey. 

RYO returned to in-person rehearsals this year, with comprehensive safety precautions in place and remote options available. Music Director/Conductor Chris Memoli says, “Our students have loved the fact that we’re in-person, unlike other youth orchestras in the area. We’re the only show in town!”

In addition to rehearsals, each of the program’s five orchestras has produced high-quality concert recordings. Hear an example below — Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, performed by the Rivers Youth Symphony. Memoli calls this piece “a staple in the string orchestra repertoire,” and says that his students were excited to engage with it in a live, collaborative setting.

RYO is now accepting auditions for the 2021-2022 season! Auditions will take place online via Acceptd, and the deadline is May 15, 2021. Visit this link to learn more.

Camerata Strings

On Thursday evenings, Camerata Strings convenes in Rivera Recital Hall to rehearse advanced repertoire with conductor Marta Zurad and faculty coach Susanne Friedrich. Their set-up has been different than usual this year, with the 17 players spaced six feet apart, filling the room from front to back. Zurad says this adjustment has had the unexpected benefit of pushing the ensemble “to listen even more actively in order to play well together.” Zurad also shares that the ensemble has discovered “a different intensity in music-making since [they] appreciate what a gift it is to be able to play together” in-person.

Hear the results of their efforts in the recent video below. Susanne Friedrich says of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, “Living in Vienna, Austria, I had played this piece so often that I didn’t hear anymore how exquisite it is . . . Playing it with Marta and my young colleagues has restored my sense of wonder and appreciation for Mozart.” This recording is the third in a series of “performance postcards,” through which Camerata Strings has shared its music and kept in touch with the community. Stay tuned for the next ones, including Igor Stravinsky’s Double Canon and Antonio Vivaldi’s Winter from The Four Seasons.

Rivers Youth Wind Ensemble (RYWE)

RYWE resumed in February as the only regional wind ensemble program rehearsing in-person in the Greater Boston area. The ensemble gathers with Director Jason Bielik every Monday evening in The Rivers School’s Haffenreffer Gymnasium. “Playing indoors requires a lot of planning and thinking outside the box,” says Bielik. He is grateful to be able to preserve the live ensemble experience, while abiding by safety guidelines through the use of a large space on campus.

This spring, the wind ensemble is working on a wide range of literature including Ralph Vaughan Williams’ English Folk Song Suite, Ronald Lo Presti’s Elegy for a Young American, and Frank Ticheli’s Fortress. Bielik says that his main goal is for students to “trust themselves” and “play with a relaxed, open sound.” As students achieve new levels of self-confidence through RYWE, they are sure to have a positive impact upon the entire ensemble’s sound.

RYWE is always looking to welcome new high school-aged woodwind, brass, percussion, harp, piano, and double bass players! To learn more, visit this webpage or email j.bielik@rivers.org


ChamberMusicLab, an intensive full-scholarship program for advanced pre-college students, officially launched its honors division this February. The program welcomed eight impressive chamber music ensembles following two phases of auditions. These groups will receive intensive training throughout the semester and participate in a seven-part master class series. “What is distinctive about the RSC ChamberMusicLab,” says the program’s founder and director Bruce Coppock, “is its focus on teaching in-depth, with an unswerving requirement of attention to detail, quality of execution, and its quasi-professional environment.”

ChamberMusicLab also expects that its students give back to the community, as ambassadors of The Rivers School Conservatory. Here is a recent Honors ChamberMusicLab concert, which was recorded by Weston Media Center for community members to enjoy online and on local TV.

The junior division of ChamberMusicLab (designed for serious middle school students) will begin in the fall of 2021. Junior ChamberMusicLab will have a modest tuition fee but provide double the instruction time of the regular RSC chamber music program, as well as master classes, workshops, and performance opportunities. The audition schedule for Honors and Junior ChamberMusicLab will be announced prior to April 1, 2021. Keep an eye on our website for further information!