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Celebrity Series of Boston in 2023-2024

Photo collage of Isata Kanneh-Mason, Klaus Mäkelä, Jess Gillam, Karim Sulayman and Sean Shibe, the Isidore String Quartet, and Renée Fleming
Kanneh-Mason: David Venni; Mäkelä: Marco Borggreve; Gillam: Robin Clewley Photography; Fleming: Andrew Eccles; Isidore String Quartet: Jiyang Chen Photography; Sulayman and Shibe: Courtesy of the artists
Clockwise from top left: pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason, conductor Klaus Mäkelä, saxophonist Jess Gillam, soprano Renée Fleming, the Isidore String Quartet, and tenor Karim Sulayman and guitarist Sean Shibe

In her first season as Artistic Director, Nicole Taney announces a spectacular and diverse mix of performances for 2023-2024.

Celebrity Series of Boston has an 85-year history of presenting stellar performers in the Boston area, and its new Artistic Director has taken up the challenge of building on that history in this exciting new season.

Nicole Taney says her vision for programming comes from the performers themselves: “I'm really interested in artists and their stories and the inspiration for their projects ...and I think that what's driven my interest is what they are working on, the stories that they're wanting to tell.”

So along with the return of beloved musicians like soprano Renée Fleming and the Takács Quartet, and exciting emerging artists in their Boston debut, she has scheduled some fascinating artists with unique narratives.

For example, the November 14th debut of tenor Karim Sulayman with guitarist Sean Shibe is a program called “Broken Branches”, which brings together music from the East and the West: European songs from the 16th and 17th centuries, traditional Sephardic and Arab-Andalusian songs, Benjamin Britten’s settings of Chinese poems and more.

Another unique experience will be cellist Alisa Weilerstein’s “Fragments 1”: a multi-sensory experience, weaving together new works for solo cello with Bach’s 1st cello suite, in an immersive setting that includes responsive lighting and scenic architecture. That’s November 5th.

Another highlight is the debut of the extremely talented Isidore String Quartet, March 27th and 28th. Winners of the 2022 Banff Competition, they are also recipients of a 2023 Avery Fisher Career Grant.

The Isidore Quartet’s is one of four performances taking place twice: once at Longy’s Pickman Hall, and then a second time, the following day at Meadow Hall at Groton Hill Music Center, a fabulous new venue northwest of Boston.

Also in the 2023-2024 season, two of the top orchestras in the world today, both with brilliant soloists and dynamic conductors:

  • Orchestre de Paris (March 15th at Symphony Hall) with a couple of young superstars: 28-year-old conductor Klaus Mäkelä and 19-year-old pianist Yunchan Lim playing Debussy, Stravinsky and Prokofiev, and
  • the Bamberg Symphony (April 23rd at Symphony Hall) with conductor Jakub Hrůša and pianist Lukáš Vondráček. The two of them appeared here with the BSO to rave reviews in 2022. They’ll play music by Wagner, Brahms and Schumann.

Other highlights include pianists Isata Kanneh-Mason, Hélène Grimaud, Jeremy Denk, Daniil Trifonov, Vikingur Ólafson and Sir Andras Schiff; baritone Justin Austin, violinist Diana Adamyan, saxophonist Jess Gillam and the legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

For complete information, including jazz and dance performances, as well as Arts for All! community engagement programs, visit Celebrity Series of Boston.

And to hear my conversation with Artistic Director Nicole Taney, click on the Listen link above.


Alan McLellan I'm Alan McLellan of WCRB and I'm so glad to have Nicole Taney here with me. She's the new artistic director of the Celebrity Series of Boston. Welcome.

Nicole Taney Thank you.

Alan McLellan And I'm glad to be able to say new, even though you've been here for a year, right?

Nicole Taney Oh, not even.

Alan McLellan Not quite a year?

Nicole Taney Just about, I think nine months about . . . ?

Alan McLellan Yeah, almost a year.

Nicole Taney Moved here in August.

Alan McLellan But this is the first full season of the celebrity series that you will have programmed. How does it feel to have it out in the world?

Nicole Taney Ah, it feels exciting and anxiety-inducing, both . . . Just to bring something new and finally have it made public is really exciting. But also, I'm just nervous, but . . .

Alan McLellan Nervous about how it's going to go?

Nicole Taney Yeah.

Alan McLellan Yeah.

Nicole Taney Yeah, of course, of course [Alan laughs]. But I feel really . . . I'm really excited about all the artists that we have on the series. And I think — I'm hopeful that our audience will also be excited too.

Alan McLellan Can you — I'm starting off with a hard question here.

Nicole Taney Great.

Alan McLellan Can you characterize the vision that you're bringing to the series?

Nicole Taney That is a hard question. I've been I've been thinking about vision and what mine is in particular. And because I do think the series has a very strong sort of structure and there's no plan to change that, like people will look at it and see what they expect the Celebrity Series of Boston to have. You know, the past 85 years, it's a mix of artists of classical and jazz and Americana, dance. But I guess my approach is I'm really interested in artists and their stories and the inspiration for their projects that they're working on. And I think that that sort of always what's sort of driven my interest is what they are working on, the stories that they're wanting to tell and how that can influence programing.

Alan McLellan The storytelling as in a very global sense.

Nicole Taney In a very global sense, yes, yes. Sort of bringing themselves to projects. And for example, Karim Sulayman and Sean Shibe, their project Broken Branches, which is on the debut series, Karim has been very interested in the —

Alan McLellan This is the tenor and guitarist.

Nicole Taney Tenor and guitarist, yes. Very interested in exploring sort of this sort of East/West musical influences and how they have affected each other over centuries. So I had the pleasure of working with him on a project prior to coming here. And so when he approached me about this project, I was like, "Yes, let's do it!"

Alan McLellan That's fantastic.

Nicole Taney Yeah.

Alan McLellan Yeah. So it's a jam-packed season of events. And by the way, listeners can check out the entire season at And so you have events from the world of dance, musical theater, jazz, classical. How do you keep track of the worldwide trends in everything?

Nicole Taney Oh, that's a, that's . . . gosh, I spend a lot of time on the internet [both laughing].

Alan McLellan As we all do.

Nicole Taney Yes, I find that I fall down these wormholes when I am online researching one artist and looking at what they're working on and then sort of follow through on who else they're working with and what they're collaborating with. And suddenly 4 hours have passed and I've learned so much, but I'm also like, "I didn't get any emailing done today," but I think staying in touch with agents, the community, talking to fellow presenters, following artists on social media, which is one element . . . and going to see work as much as I can. Finding that balance still though, between our season and wanting to be present for as many performances on our season, but then also trying to go and see new work in between those.

Alan McLellan Because you're thinking ahead several seasons in advance.

Nicole Taney Yes. Yes.

Alan McLellan Oh my gosh, yeah. It's quite a lot.

Nicole Taney It is, but it's really fun.

Alan McLellan I wanted to ask you about some classical music highlights. The orchestras that you're getting are two of the most exciting orchestras in the world, I think. The Bamberg Symphony, April 23rd at Symphony Hall, and Jakub Hrůša and Lukáš Vondráček. Jakub Hrůša, it's the conductor, the chief conductor of the Bamberg, and he and Lukáš Vondráček, the pianist, have been here recently and just had huge results, right?

Nicole Taney They were with the BSO. I want to say a 21-22 season maybe? No, when I talk to their agent about this, about the Bamberg coming to perform with us, I jumped at the chance. I think the program is really exciting, and I love that these two have an existing dynamic with each other. I think that will just bring a really strong and rich program. So I'm excited about both that and the Orchestre de Paris.

Alan McLellan Ah, the Orchestre de Paris. And speaking of going down a wormhole on the internet, I was watching an interview with Klaus Mäkelä, the conductor of the Orchestre de Paris, and he is 28 years old.

Nicole Taney Yes. Yes!

Alan McLellan It's quite remarkable. And to have that much kind of presence, and he's so put together in an interview particularly, but in conducting as well, I saw a few little clips of them. So that's extremely exciting. And can you talk about this young pianist, Yunchan Lim?

Nicole Taney Ah, Yunchan Lim, yes. He won the Cliburn in 2022 and has just taken off like a rocket.

Alan McLellan Yeah, I was reading — apparently, Yunchan Lim was the youngest ever Cliburn [Van Cliburn International Piano Competition] winner. So it's kind of a celebration of youth in that concert.

Nicole Taney Exactly. [both laughing]

Alan McLellan So it's really wonderful to be able to hear concerts by major symphony orchestras like that in Boston, just because we're — we love the BSO, and we we hear them all the time, but we hear them all the time. And what is it, other orchestras? What's, what makes them different?

Nicole Taney To have that opportunity to bring different orchestras here is an exciting part of my job. A stressful one, trying to find the right ones. But I think . . . but also really exciting.

Alan McLellan Yes, it's they are . . . Orchestras are, you know, great big machines to try to coordinate.

Nicole Taney Yeah, to bring over. It's exciting.

Alan McLellan And for vocalists, you have Renée Fleming returning . . .

Nicole Taney Yes.

Alan McLellan Which is so marvelous.

Nicole Taney I'm so looking forward to that program.

Alan McLellan This is in November 12th at Symphony Hall.

Nicole Taney Yes.

Alan McLellan And then two days later, November 14th, is this concert that you were referencing earlier with tenor Karim Sulayman and Sean Shibe, the guitarist.

Nicole Taney The guitarist, yes. I think that program, that's one of the first ones that I jumped on when I started. Karim had emailed me early on and he was like, "I've got this idea. I want to talk to you about it." And I was like, "Yes, let's talk." And it's just . . . I love the way he's thinking about music and, and sort of the exploration of sort of Eastern and Western influences and how there's the Western canon, but there's all this music that was Eastern music, it was influencing instruments, music, and influencing that music that was being created that we know or what we think of in the canon. So it's going to be a great one.

Alan McLellan Yeah.

Nicole Taney And his album, I think is coming out in a couple weeks that will correspond to this program.

Alan McLellan So it's called Broken Branches.

Nicole Taney Yes.

Alan McLellan And that'll be the name of the album too, one would expect.

Nicole Taney Yes.

Alan McLellan Yeah. Fascinating character and fascinating kind of whole world of music that it opens up for us. And then in chamber music, I'm excited by the chamber music just because there's so . . . again, you've got youth there. The Isidore String Quartet.

Nicole Taney Yes.

Alan McLellan March 27th at Pickman Hall. And can you talk about this group just a little bit?

Nicole Taney Sure. They won . . . they just, they've only been playing for a couple of years together as a quartet, and they won the Banff Prize [Banff International String Quartet Competition] this year, or last summer, I suppose, and just recently won an Avery Fisher Career Grant. When they play, it is like watching an ensemble that's played together for years. They have a quality about them that's really, really special. I watched YouTube clips, and you can get that feel from it. And then I had the pleasure of watching them play in a conference room at the Hilton Hotel in New York City in January at a conference [Alan laughs], and I can't wait to hear what they'll sound like in a hall. A proper hall.

Alan McLellan Yeah, a concert in a ballroom at a —

Nicole Taney Right?

Alan McLellan — hotel is probably not the greatest thing.

Nicole Taney And I feel like — not even a ballroom. It was a small conference room that sat about maybe 25 people.

Alan McLellan Wow.

Nicole Taney We just kept rotating in and out so everyone could hear.

Alan McLellan Oh, that's wonderful. So they're playing Haydn, Billy Childs, and Beethoven. They're playing at Pickman Hall at Longy, March 27th. And then at March 28th, the next day they're at Groton Hill Music Center.

Nicole Taney Yes.

Alan McLellan And this is a venue that you're just starting to use as Celebrity Series.

Nicole Taney Yes, yes. We . . . this will be our first season at the Groton Hill Music Center. We are programming four different performances over the course of the season, and it's the idea we want to expand out. We have a number of audience members, ticket buyers, patrons that live in sort of the suburban outside of the Boston area. And, you know, how can we serve them, you know, provide a way for them to have closer, easier access. And so when the Groton Hill Music Center opened, we approached them about programing there, and it's . . . I'm really excited. The venues are gorgeous, and I think it will be both really amazing concerts and what I'm looking forward to developing over the coming years, and expanding as we can, so.

Alan McLellan Yeah, I understand that that venue is gorgeous, and it's wonderful that they have that entire music program and everything out there, but also wonderful that you're connecting them with the whole world and international artists coming in.

Nicole Taney Yeah, yeah. I think it'll be a fun . . . it'll be a wonderful area to build in the coming years.

Alan McLellan So speaking of string quartets, you have the Takács Quartet, playing Haydn and Beethoven, and a new work by Nokuthula Ngwenyama, February 16th —

Nicole Taney Yes.

Alan McLellan — at Jordan Hall.

Nicole Taney Yes.

Alan McLellan Can you talk about how that work came to be?

Nicole Taney Nokuthula Ngwenyama is a, you know, she's a violist by training, but she's a composer that's writing some really interesting work. And I thought, "Yes, let's continue. Let's bring in these new voices where we can."

Alan McLellan Cellist Alisa Weilerstein is doing something new and her event at Sanders Theater.

Nicole Taney She is.

Alan McLellan That's November 5th.

Nicole Taney Yes!

Alan McLellan What is this? FRAGMENTS, FRAGMENTS 1?

Nicole Taney Okay, FRAGMENTS 1. So, you know, Alisa has been on the series a number of times and obviously [is] like a hometown artist. So the series is a commissioner, one of our co-commissioners on this project. And it's a multiyear project that weaves together the 36 movements of Bach's solo cello suites with 27 newly commissioned works. So the resulting collection is divided into six fragments. Each is about an hour long, blending five to six composers.

So within each fragment, individual movements from a single Bach suite are integrated with selected new works. And it's really . . . I was able to see FRAGMENTS 1 and 2 in Toronto this winter, and it was a deeply moving experience. You as an audience member, when you go in, you don't have a program which I think will be maybe a challenge for some people, but it does cause you to listen to the work in a very different way. I felt the audience in Toronto was so focused and still, because you're just listening in a way that you don't have the distraction of a program to like sift through, and —

Alan McLellan Right, you're not looking at the bio or thinking about something —

Nicole Taney Right.

Alan McLellan — might be think of something else but you're — [laughs]

Nicole Taney You could be thinking about something else, but your focus is . . . there's nothing to distract you and you're . . . and because the Bach is being played out of order, I mean, it's woven, these other works are woven into it, it causes you to hear it in a different way, and in how they relate to each other. And it's really . . . there's also, I should say, there's a set piece of sort of these sculptural set pieces that that light up as well.

Alan McLellan Wow, so it's a visual —

Nicole Taney It's a visual —

Alan McLellan — experience, yeah, as well?

Nicole Taney Yeah, it was really — and then when you leave, you will receive the details on the program. So you won't be completely in the dark forever.

Alan McLellan I see.

Nicole Taney Just as you are leaving, you'll get the information on the works that were performed. I do think now that people will know who the other composers are, so when you come in, you'll know the composes in the mix, but not the work's necessarily —

Alan McLellan I see.

Nicole Taney — in the order.

Alan McLellan And you have some very exciting pianists coming in. Daniil Trifonov playing Beethoven's Hammerklavier [Sonata].

Nicole Taney Yes.

Alan McLellan Oh my goodness, yes, because he's quite a dynamic performer.

Nicole Taney He is. And this is, I think, been a rescheduled recital. So we're excited that it'll be . . . he'll finally be here in a recital at Symphony Hall. It's really — really looking forward to that program.

Alan McLellan And Bruce Liu, another young performer making his Boston recital debut, [International] Chopin [Piano] Competition winner.

Nicole Taney Yes. Yes. His video, I don't know if . . . Again, I spent some time on YouTube watching lots of videos. And his winning video has 4 million views. And it's . . . I think I have contributed at least like seven views to that. It's really a spectacular concert and he —

Alan McLellan So this is the Chopin Competition winning video?

Nicole Taney Yes.

Alan McLellan Wow. That's amazing. And another debut features a saxophonist, which —

Nicole Taney Yes, Jess Gillam.

Alan McLellan Or saxophonist [pronounces with British pronunciation, sax-AW-fo-nist], as they say across the pond, I think.

Nicole Taney Is this true? [both laughing]

Alan McLellan Quite an amazing player. I saw — the videos of her are just really exciting. Can you tell me more about her?

Nicole Taney Well, I was excited. I was doing it again. This was on my deep dive of researching artists, and then I was hap— and I was like, "Oh my goodness, this woman, she sounds, she's just, like . . ." Her performing is amazing, her programming is really interesting in that it incorporates sort of more standard classical fare, but then also this more contemporary or modern composers. And then I found out she was actually programmed for, I think, the 2020 season and was a COVID cancellation. So when this opportunity presented herself, her agent emailed me the day I was planning to email her about sort of dates for 23-24, and it just worked out.

Alan McLellan That's wonderful.

Nicole Taney Yeah.

Alan McLellan Yeah. And it — quite exciting. I saw the . . . her performance of [Darius] Milhaud [Scaramouche] at the BBC Proms, at the Last Night at the Proms. I think she played [laughs] this very flamboyant kind of performance, but . . . which is what — I'm sure they encouraged her, but it's, it was really just exciting playing. So that's — I love to see the saxophone in a classical context, and —

Nicole Taney Me too.

Alan McLellan — you know, played well.

Nicole Taney Yeah. It challenges some notions. I think people think saxophone, they think jazz. And so I think it's exciting to sort of see it in a different format.

Alan McLellan And back to pianists for a second. You have a couple of pianists who are also fascinating talkers. Sir András Schiff and Jeremy Denk are both doing kind of talking and playing performances.

Nicole Taney Yeah.

Alan McLellan Can you talk about that a little bit?

Nicole Taney Well, I think Sir András Schiff has shifted into programing in this way where the program is not shared in advance. He reveals the program from the stage. So it'll be —

Alan McLellan Oh, I wondered about that.

Nicole Taney Yeah, it'll be works — All I know is that it'll be classical romantic works, and he will introduce them from the stage and talk about them. And so I think that will be really . . . I mean, he's just an amazing player. It's going to be a concert you won't want to miss.

Alan McLellan Fantastic.

Nicole Taney And Jeremy Denk. Yes, what I love is this is, again, that sort of storytelling and thinking about what they want to say. And his work focuses on female composers and traveling back and forth between 19th century female composers to contemporary composers that will tell a story of history and liberation, which is really . . . I'm really looking forward to that. And that's another program that will be both at Jordan Hall and in Groton.

Alan McLellan And that's December 9th and 10th, right? And András Schiff is November 10th.

Nicole Taney Yes.

Alan McLellan Yeah. Really exciting. And Hélène Grimaud, I'm surprised that she's only now making her Boston recital debut.

Nicole Taney As was I [both laughing]! But I'm really looking forward to hearing her, seeing her at Jordan [Hall]. I think it's going to be . . . Yeah. She's a brilliant artist. And I know she's been at the BSO a number of times, but I'm . . . and she's been on the series, I think, in the past with an orchestra. But this will be her series recital debut. And she too will be in Jordan and then in Groton the next day in January.

Alan McLellan Yeah. All these programs that are so exciting, and I just wanted to ask you kind of in general, what challenges do you see ahead for the Celebrity Series.

Nicole Taney Artistically, or just . . .?

Alan McLellan I'm wondering about the Boston arts scene in general, the kind of how the market for performances has changed, and —

Nicole Taney Since the pandemic?

Alan McLellan Yeah.

Nicole Taney Yeah.

Alan McLellan And what will be in the future?

Nicole Taney Well, I do think I am heartened by what I'm seeing in the halls this spring. I feel like the audiences are turning out and they're so enthusiastic. It's really . . . it's really kind of amazing to see. You know, we just had Itzhak Perlman on last weekend and, you know, the audience was just so excited to be there and chatting, and trying to get people into the house. But like, everyone was sort of chit-chatting.

And, you know, I think I think people want to gather and I . . . and I'm hoping that that means that as we get further away from, I guess, maybe the intensity of the pandemic, that people will be reminded of that feeling of gathering and that the arts can provide that space. So I'm looking forward to kind of coming out of this space and hoping that we'll see that the strength that I'm seeing the spring continue into the following season.

Alan McLellan Well, it's fascinating programing. Thank you so much, Nicole Taney from the Celebrity Series, artistic director. And many future seasons awaits. Thank you.

Nicole Taney Thank you.

Alan McLellan is a host and producer for CRB.