chelsea music festival NYC Makers

NYC Makers: Q&A with Melinda Lee and Ken-David Masur, Co-Founders of the Chelsea Music Festival

Photograph by Frederik Jaeger

Every year the Chelsea Music Festival explores the flavors, sights, and sounds of New York Metropolis by means of a collection of live shows, art exhibits, and culinary experiences in distinctive venues throughout the Chelsea neighborhood. Now in it’s 10th season, the theme of the pageant this yr, 200° due Clara, which begins this Friday June 6th, will honor the 200th anniversary of the start of Clara Schumann, a pioneering German musician and composer of the 19th century. Untapped Cities spoke with the pageant’s co-founders and co-artistic directors Melinda Lee Masur and Ken-David Masur, a husband and spouse workforce who have curated the pageant for the past ten seasons, to study more about the historical past of the pageant and what special features are in retailer this yr, in our latest NYC Makers profile.

In case you are an Untapped Cities Insider, you possibly can attend one of this yr’s live shows at no cost! Insiders can register for a ticket to attend the GHOSTLIGHT Chorus efficiency on June 8th which can be adopted by a late night time jazz piano live performance. Insiders may even receive a special 10% discount on tickets to any of the different Chelsea Music Festival live shows (excludes the June 8th efficiency). Not an Insider yet? Turn out to be a member immediately to realize access to free behind-the-scenes tours and entry to special events all yr lengthy! Study more and register for tickets in case you are already an Insider, right here.

Untapped Cities readers can even enter to win a pair of tickets to the June eighth concert by getting into our giveaway here! A winner shall be chosen and notified Friday by 5:00pm.

Untapped Cities: What’s your favourite “untapped” spot in the metropolis?

Melinda: I really like returning to the grounds at the Basic Theological Seminary—a peaceful oasis in the middle of Manhattan. You variety of overlook that you simply’re in the hustle and bustle of the metropolis and there are little nooks and crannies on the grounds the place you possibly can sit and read or have a picnic. Yearly we hold an event there, with the live performance held in its chapel which has the audience dealing with each other in addition to the performers. A very intimate area.

Ken: I feel I have a pair. Melinda and I, we go out to the neighborhood after every pageant and stroll around to discover new (or new-to-us) spaces, and we’ve been in a position so as to add new venues to the Festival, and that’s been very thrilling. We’ve been in over fifty venues over the course of ten seasons. One that’s new this yr is a collaboration at the gallery Hauser & Wirth. We’ll have an event there in partnership with their current exhibit by the renown artist Lorna Simpson. Composer Jessica Mays has written a bit that is inspired by Lorna’s exhibit and will probably be premiered on June 14th.

And then, as Melinda talked about, type of the purpose why we beloved from the very get go the concept of bringing the pageant into the city was as a result of of the combination of being in the massive city but then also having these many pockets which are fairly peaceable and reclusive. One of those locations is the garden of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, which is one other associate venue that we’re returning to. It’s only a couple blocks away from the Common Theological Seminary and they’ve this backyard with an idyllic pathway between their rectory and chapel where you must duck your head to get into doorways and such issues.

The Basic Theological Seminary, Photograph by Ryan Muir, courtesy of Chelsea Music Festival

Untapped: Leaping off of that, what’s your standards or process for selecting venues for the pageant?

Melinda: Properly as you understand, the pageant merges three disciplines in the arts: the performing arts, the visual arts and the culinary arts. So we all the time attempt to discover areas the place we really feel like we will collaborate in these three dimensions, where the area lends itself to discovery and collaboration. And basic items we do once we go into an area are first check the acoustics and just see if we will picture music being made there. Then actually sensible issues we ask about, whether they have a kitchen the place our chefs can prepare, and so forth.

Ken: Melinda and I, we all the time sit up for strolling via the streets of Chelsea. You realize Chelsea is such a shortly changing neighborhood and you all the time have new venues popping up or repurposed venues and that’s been fairly superb to see and be an element of. I feel we walk into a space and let the area converse to us. After which as a result of we deal with these three foremost areas once we create programming for the pageant, we would like range for the artists. For the composers, because we fee items, some composers we tell them, “Hey, we think that your work is going to be performed at this space.” So they can go go to it or they will imagine what sort of setting it’s in. Wanting into areas is thrilling for us because they create type of a canvas on which all of the artists can create and that is actually site-specific programming. That’s what we’ve carried out from the very starting. We really take pleasure in fascinated by each area, the character and the character, and then what sort of works and what variety of artists and visuals and smells would work the greatest in those spaces.

Typically it’s also a scene search. As an example we had a yr once we did Great Britain and Italy, and we truly went to the Italian Academy at Columbia University to present a whole night event there of music related to Italy and Great Britain and an art exhibit and a reception that was themed. We add venues which might be in our opinion “untapped” for certain audiences. We understand in our programming that there are people who come to our occasions that have by no means been to a concert or there are musicians who’ve never been to an art gallery or never been to a culinary event. You’ve got a mix of rather a lot of these cross-cultured audiences and principally these venues try to accommodate that sort of strategy to the programming.

Untapped: What locations are on your NYC bucket record?

Melinda: This yr we’re celebrating the 200th delivery anniversary of Clara Schumann, a outstanding pianist and composer in her time, and in celebration of that we commissioned ten feminine composers to put in writing works impressed by her and her legacy, but one of the events we needed to placed on for this yr’s pageant was a excessive tea. We’ve by no means achieved a real high tea in New York City, and obviously the Plaza Lodge has an excellent high tea, however we have been testing Woman Mendl’s Tea Salon down at Irving Place that I’d love to attempt in the future. We also have young youngsters and would love them to experience that too. That’s part of the purpose we’ll be doing a particular teatime at the Festival this yr, during our first Family Event on Saturday morning, June eighth!

Ken: There are such a lot of! I feel, that in phrases of bucket lists, New York is one of these locations the place the bucket record continually grows. There have been locations where we’ve needed to go to and because now they don’t exist anymore you realize we’ve been perhaps a few times to our favorite cafe or gelato place and all of a sudden it’s not there anymore. So I feel that this is type of additionally what makes our pageant special, as a result of we realized that some of the packages and occasions that may occur at the pageant could possibly be for the first and last time. That is the purpose individuals have stated this can be a pop up pageant, which is an excellent description in a way, individuals understand this can be a brief term factor, either you have been there otherwise you weren’t.

I feel I don’t have a current burning bucket listing although. It virtually seems like every time we come into the metropolis for the pageant or throughout the yr, we hear about something that’s going to occur and we say “Okay we have to do that.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a present or a theater piece, or a live performance. Like the Excessive Line. I feel those that come to the pageant go, “Okay there are certain things we know we have to check out in Chelsea.” I feel the High Line is one of them. The High Line of course opened the first yr we began the pageant, 2010. They’ve been an exquisite neighbor to have. That was one on the bucket listing.

Untapped: They are opening a brand new half of the High Line this yr!

Ken: Yea, I assume you possibly can add that to our bucket listing!

Untapped: What makes New York City great to you?

Melinda: Wow!

Untapped: It’s an enormous question.

Ken: It’s a very huge query!

Melinda: The individuals and ideas converging in such a concentrated amount of area, it’s pretty intense when you consider it. You realize, you clearly have all the boroughs but, within every neighborhood you’ve so many things happening and so many new initiatives. I really feel prefer it’s this type of hub, or an incubator of new concepts and individuals who really care about their neighborhoods and communities too. It’s really exciting for us to all the time go to. Funny enough, we’ve never lived in New York city while planning the Chelsea Music Festival, we’ve all the time deliberate from afar, so once we truly come into the city we convey so much of child-like curiosity and we’re checking things out. I feel it keeps it really recent for us.

Ken: Yea, I feel to add to that, what we love and, you already know, we did reside in the city earlier than we started the pageant, Melinda and I met in the metropolis on the Higher West Aspect, the power and to a point you’ve obtained to love the potential that New York Metropolis has and will continue to have going forward, of with the ability to surprise you. Each day. Understanding that if you go there, all of your senses are stimulated and it’s unpredictable. The unpredictability of it I feel is, to a level intoxicating. To a point you’re being hypnotized each time you step into New York Metropolis and I feel that that quality of New York has informed some of our programming. I feel Melinda put it higher that as a result of we’ve been planning the pageant from principally out of city, regardless that we go to New York month-to-month for live shows or meetings and such, our planning process of what we need to do with annually’s theme is type of unbiased of all that’s occurring in New York and not too reactionary. We really feel that we have now a long way from that whirlwind.

Melinda: And we have now an unimaginable staff on the floor. We will Facetime with them each time wanted.

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Photograph by Ryan Muir, courtesy of Chelsea Music Festival

Untapped: On the flip-side, what would you modify about New York Metropolis?

Ken: Nicely, I like things not too loud. So you realize, New York at occasions may be fairly loud I really feel. I like it for the pageant once I’m there, I’m completely into it and I would like things to be extremely stimulating. But we all know New York from the subway to only walking on the road…

Melinda: That is coming from someone who often has earplugs in his pocket.

Ken: Haha, that’s proper.

Untapped Cities: What tasks are you working on proper now?

Melinda: Clearly we’re gearing up in the direction of this yr’s Chelsea Music Festival! Once more it’s the 200th anniversary of Clara Schumann and so it’s all the time actually fun to let your work and tasks be anchored by composer anniversaries or type of world events. Next yr, 2020, is the huge 250th Anniversary of Beethoven. My piano trio, The Lee Trio, we’re going to do a venture the place we aren’t solely recording all the full Beethoven piano trios, but we are commissioning composers to write down in response to or impressed by Beethoven. So we’ll take that around the 2020-2021 season on tour. Then as type of an offshoot of that we are going to be bringing Beethoven and these new items to Africa! We now have this undertaking referred to as “Beethoven in Botswana” that we are really excited about. There isn’t a huge amount of classical music in Botswana now but there lots of individuals there that basically care about music and need youngsters and individuals to have publicity to it.

Ken: For me, I’m beginning a brand new position in Milwaukee as the new Music Director of the Milwaukee Symphony and as half of that there’s lots of nice things occurring in terms of programming. In addition, the symphony is constructing a brand new concert hall that’s going to be opening in the fall of 2020, so subsequent yr. There’s rather a lot occurring around that. That will even be why we’re relocating from the east coast to what they call the third coast.

Untapped: Will you still be operating the music pageant from there?

Ken: Yea.

Melinda: Sure it is going to be distant planning as normal.

Untapped: It’s the 10th yr of the Chelsea Music Festival, do you have got anything additional special deliberate for this yr?

Melinda: Yea! As I discussed before, as a result of of the tenth season we needed to ask ten feminine composers to put in writing new items so there might be, these ten world premieres, amongst different world premieres. These ten actually exciting composers vary from young to previous and we’ll be premiering them throughout the course of the ten days. It’s in response and inspired by Clara Schumann and her legacy as composer and a collaborator. We’re additionally doing this unimaginable dinner on June 12th. We’re partnering with Outstanding in the Area and they’re recognized for being this roving culinary experience the place they take big lays of land and do sit down dinners with as much as 200 individuals. Ours shall be scaled down a bit bit given the area at the Common Theological Seminary, but it is going to be sit down, three courses, the chef can be there getting ready it in front of everyone and I hear it’s virtually bought out. We’ve achieved sit down dinners earlier than however this will probably be the largest one we’ve completed scale clever. And in honor of collaboration, personal and professional, we’re also bringing on a husband and wife chef duo, Sawako Okochi and Aaron Israel, to curate our multi-course gala receptions on opening and closing nights of the Festival!

Ken: I feel that usually, we’re very giddy this yr especially with the matter of Clara Schumann creating this body. The first season we celebrated her husband’s 200th anniversary and this season we’re celebrating hers and sort of taking over the topic of female artistry, but more importantly I feel what Clara Shumann did for generations to return. She enabled other composers, each feminine and male, to seek out their voice and encouraged them to actually thrive and I feel we’re doing that with all of the collaborative packages we’re doing and the commissions Melinda mentioned.

Another highlight is the Jazz finale on June 15th which can be led by the inaugural jazz artist from the 2011 Festival, John Patitucci. He’s coming back again with his wife and cellist, Sachi, and we’ve invited again several generations of jazz artists that have come to the Festival before like Helen Sung, Aaron Diehl, and percussionist Rogerio Boccato. It’s going to be really an all star jazz finale occasion. They’re going to deliver their very own Clara Schumann or classical inspired cross-over jazz to the program. It is going to be a very particular one time occasion. In addition to that, Adam Birnbaum is returning with a duo program with his spouse, pianist Katsura Tanikawa, for a late night time event June 8th. I feel the partnerships we’re having this yr are thrilling, especially with the Schumann Haus in Leipzig, which is the place Clara and Robert Schumann first moved to and where they raised their youngsters. I was just there a number of weeks in the past to see the places the place they welcomed individuals into their residence, where they composed items that Melinda and I have performed together. There, they’ve a fantastic mural by illustrator Diana Kohne who has given us permission to recreate that as a backdrop for our circle of relatives occasions in New York, so it is going to really feel like we’re in the residence of the Schumanns. Along with that partnership, as Melinda talked about Beethoven, we’re partnering with Beethoven-Haus Bonn and DHL Group for their BTHVN on Tour world-touring exhibition. I feel it’s very particular because this might be the very first time that one of Beethoven’s pianos will probably be on display in North America. It’s a facsimile of his Broadwood piano. This exhibit is presently at Disney Corridor in LA and we might be the only East Coast cease. The Festival is basically proud to present this exhibit.

Photograph by Christopher Lane, Courtesy of the Chelsea Music Festival

Melinda: I also need to point out we’re tremendous excited to have Julianne Swartz come as our 2019 Visual Artist-in-Residence. She’s this lovely visual artist who created these sculpture vessels made out of ceramic and glass. She’s going to be drawing out resonant frequencies from these vessels and performing with two of our artists on June 13th. I feel that might be actually eye-opening. They’re going to be listening to and improvising with each other and interspersing that with some Bach that our two pageant musicians, cellist Jonathan Butler and Violinist Mariella Haubs, shall be enjoying. Julianne has been given a full-length exhibition in that area and it’ll be on exhibit throughout June and a bit into July.

Ken: That’s at Excessive Line 9, which is a new venue we’re partnering with this season.

Melinda: We’ve additionally had a particular opportunity to work with one of the non-profits in NY city. This yr we partnered with Women Inc NYC and they’re a gaggle that’s imaginative and prescient is to empower young ladies in STEM and STEAM fields. We are placing a day-long occasion together for ten or so of these women the place we may have them meet with Julianne Swartz and study her life as an artist and meet with one of our composers as properly and do some cooking with one of our chefs. It’s a very neat option to give back to the group.

Ken: We should always point out another thing we’ve been engaged on for a number of years and we thought the tenth season can be the right time to release it to the wold, which is our new document label, Chelsea Music Festival Data. We’ll principally launch every thing from the modern commissioned works that we’ve executed over the years to reside recordings of the pageant in addition to jazz and classical. The primary recordings will come out this summer time. The label is one thing we’re extraordinarily proud of and we hope it’ll add a quantity of incredible new creations to the line up.


Julianne Swartz Museum of Artwork and design , Columbus Circle New York Oct 2017, Photograph by Chris Kendall, Courtesy of the Chelsea Music Festival

Untapped: Seems like rather a lot of exciting and fun things are occurring! Wanting again, what tasks are you most proud of from the past?

Ken: We should always start a the beginning. The primary season, Melinda and I, once we started with a weekend of occasions in 2010 at the Chelsea Art Museum, we stated, “Look this is very exciting, but if people don’t come and if there’s no response, we can have a summer off.” However, as a result of the response was so constructive that folks have inspired us to do extra of it, we determined to continue and so I feel we’ve had some superb issues occur. Simply seeing issues on paper and in principle and then truly dwelling them and seeing them realized, that never gets previous to us.

Melinda: The program every year, whenever you see the scope and the vary of things we’re programming, it’s inspiring for us. We’re humbled to be able to present that every summer time to New York Metropolis. I feel like what I’m most moved by is the actually strong internship program that we’ve shaped by way of the Festival. Yearly we’ve got about thirty-five interns and volunteers who descend upon New York city. They are often excessive schoolers, university college students getting faculty credit, or just retired individuals who love being around music and musicians. They actually give the pageant a lot of this family really feel. What we’ve heard from the interns is that they’ve discovered a lot in two weeks and they’ve gained this world of experience working alongside all our staff leads in the totally different fields of audio/visual, hospitality, and operations. It’s really a shifting expertise for us to witness every year.

Ken: In the starting of beginning the pageant, we really needed this to be an experience for individuals, for us to have the ability to welcome buddies and to return again to New York city where Melinda and I met and principally hang out and collaborate with all the great artist and creators we are fortunate enough to keep in touch with. I feel the environment is what’s most necessary. It’s less about the issues we’re doing on paper and the packages individuals are having fun with, that’s one thing, however actually the work that the staff, the environment of familiarity, and to a level the moments when individuals overlook they are in the crazy city of New York. To have moments which are really shifting and profound and enjoyable of course. I feel that has been shifting, as Melinda stated, to us, and to continue to be part of that, as a result of our youngsters have now grown up with it. We’ve got two youngsters that have been born right earlier than the pageant, and one throughout the beginning years of the Festival. For them to have grown up with it, is particular to us.

Untapped: Outdoors of all the superb belongings you guys are doing, what different tasks in the city are thrilling you proper now?

Melinda: Gosh, there’s so much.

Ken: There are lots of things which are occurring. We tend to hear from people who find themselves concerned that always come to the pageant and say, “Hey you guys should check out this or that.” We have now individuals from the backgrounds of the artwork world who invite us to reveals and galleries in the neighborhood or at the museums and some of the new venues like Nationwide Sawdust and those sorts of areas. We’re all the time curious about things we might not truly have the ability to go to or be in touch with additionally, like the poetry and literary societies. unity around town so that’s one thing on our bucket listing, ensuring that we’re in contact with that.

Melinda: It’s all the time really neat to see what the galleries have happening and additionally when the Whitney opened up down in Chelsea that was big for us, to have the ability to see how they constructed that from the floor up, and obviously the Excessive Line enlargement. Then there’s all the time testing new places to eat. We’ve our eyes on this new spot in Chelsea with Georgian meals referred to as Chama Mama and it simply opened up. So we’re going to hit that immediately!

Ken: That’s right!


Images by Evelyn Troester Degraf Courtesy of the Chelsea Music Festival

Untapped: What recommendation would you give individuals starting their careers at present, whether that’s just basically or careers in music?

Ken: I feel it’s surrounding yourself with individuals who you are feeling like you possibly can belief and who provides you with good trustworthy advice and will can help you thrive with your presents. Proceed to seek out what you’re captivated with and what provides you pleasure. We need to be sure that, even with our programming, we need to be sure that it’s fun for us. This is pure for anyone. I feel we will solely program issues annually that we feel strongly about, that may deliver nice pleasure to the individuals doing it and also the people who attend. To seek out that rhythm isn’t all the time straightforward because of course everybody faces hurdles. Beginning out in the arts, if we simply give attention to the arts, nowadays, we see it extra and extra, the stability between what we consider we now have in our artistic DNA and this need we’ve to be totally different from others with a purpose to have a niche of an audience. I feel I might give the advice, as a lot as potential, try to discover out what actually makes you joyful, where you are feeling that is you and how one can sincerely connect and genuinely communicate that creation that you need to an audience with out feeling the have to sell it in a method that creates false expectation.

Melinda: I feel it takes awhile to determine what you actually love, what you like to play, what style of music you really love doing and I feel my advice can be to to determine it out and actually do this. I really feel like so much of musicians feel like they should do all the things. Ken, your dad, my father-in-law [conductor Kurt Masur], would typically give me the advice that your days are numbered and you possibly can actually solely achieve this much, so you actually need to seek out out what you love to do and do this. Really resist evaluating yourself to other individuals and different artists as a result of I really feel like that’s an infinite lure and it leads to rather a lot of dissatisfaction and discontentment. I feel it blocks creativity too. Simply be patient. You asked about different tasks that we do and I feel Ken and I really care about schooling. I have the privilege of working with youngsters at the Boston College Tanglewood Institute every summer time, and simply to be telling them, at a younger age, to be patient. You will see that what your area of interest is and your tasks are, just maintain cultivating your craft and curiosity.

Ken: I additionally assume in some methods it’s who you’re making an attempt to attach with. I feel there’s some artists or individuals on the market who consider “I’m going to be myself and I don’t care what anybody else thinks. I don’t care if i have an audience.” Which appeals to sure individuals and some of them will probably be successful with that, however I personally have discovered that the stability of understanding your audience and what connects us all, what’s the universal thread we all have, is necessary. There are lots of things of course that strike us and the issues that basically push our buttons or strike a nerve with all of us is what we’re making an attempt to get at. Finally, in the enterprise of the arts we are giving individuals something that may stay on in their reminiscence. We are in the enterprise of memory. This is the reason in the beginning of the pageant we thought, “Okay, we don’t just want the aural sense, we want everything that you experience at the festival with all of the senses to point to the theme when you try to recall the experience.” This is the reason we aren’t just going to supply meals but we’re going to supply meals that relates to the matter or the individual you came to discover. That’s what we hope individuals beginning out, considering of their own initiatives and tasks, have the freedom of doing and discover platforms to try this with.

Untapped: Might you tell us one shocking thing about yourself?

Melinda: (laughter)

Ken: Melinda why don’t you say one thing shocking about me and I’ll say something shocking about you.

Melinda: Alright! You’re a very nice table tennis player. When Ken plays towards me he plays often with one hand in his pocket.

Ken: Oh my gosh. Um, there are actually many issues, I feel what all the time surprises me is how good Melinda is at multi-tasking. A pageant like this and three youngsters will train you that. That’s shocking to me. Additionally one other shocking thing about Melinda that’s tremendous shocking to me and is something that I hope to do with her more because she’s so good at it and I’m not, that’s she’s an amazing salsa dancer.

Untapped: Ooooh!

Melinda: Oh my gosh.

Ken: Yes. That’s a very New York thing.

Melinda: Once I moved to New York we have been at the Copacabana every weekend.

Untapped Cities: Enjoyable! What books are you reading right now or what music are you listening to?

Melinda: We’ve been reading all of the letters between Clara and Robert Schumann. We’ve been type of immersed in that world for the previous couple of months. What have we been listening to? This week we’ve been putting on Jamiroquai all the time on the automotive.

Ken: It’s very eclectic. Every part from renaissance, radio plays for the youngsters, new works which are being sent to us and recordings, modern artists and things that we is perhaps engaged on for the pageant. It’s a huge vary. In terms of reading books, what’s in my bag right now, obviously for the upcoming theme is actually the wedding ceremony diary of Clara and Robert. They decided once they received married to have a wedding diary. They stored it going for 4 years. They have been impressed by the Mendelssohns who did this for a number of weeks for his or her wedding ceremony. They have been shut associates with the Mendelssohns, the great Felix Mendelssohn and Fanny. What they did is every week they might share their thoughts about each other and would write them, and would write who got here to their house, what variety of live shows they went to, what they are composing, what variety of books they’re reading, what are the youngsters doing, that Franz Liszt got here to town and played at their home or that the Mendelssohns come or Brahms got here. There’s a e-book now that has these four years value of the marriage diary so I have that there. In fact also a guide on Beethoven quotes simply because we’re gearing up for the preview of the exhibit. Melinda do you’ve anything?

Melinda: I feel that’s good for now.

Untapped: You coated lots! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us!

In case you are an Untapped Cities Insider, you’ll be able to attend one of this yr’s live shows without spending a dime! Insiders can register for a ticket to attend the GHOSTLIGHT Refrain performance on June eighth which can be adopted by a late night time jazz piano concert. Insiders may also receive a particular 10% discount on tickets to any of the other Chelsea Music Festival live shows (excludes the June8th performance). Not an Insider but? Develop into a member at present to realize access to free behind-the-scenes excursions and entry to special events all yr lengthy!

For all other Untapped Cities readers, you’ll be able to enter to win a pair of tickets to the June 8th occasion by getting into our giveaway here!

Take a look at our different NYC Maker Q&As with Dan Barasch, Co-Founder of The Lowline and Richard Southwick, Architect for the TWA Lodge.

chelsea music pageant, NYC Makers